For the very adventurous outdoor painter, room — and weight — are crucial things to consider when it comes to packing for plein air. PleinAir Today visited with artist Gary Geraths, who offered up some sage suggestions.
Even beginner plein air painters like me find out very quickly that equipment matters. Not only are quality and durability important factors to consider, but weight and bulk are significant considerations during those long treks into the wilderness.
Packing for Plein Air
Full-time art professor at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and self-proclaimed painting fanatic Gary Geraths recently contacted me with some interesting thoughts about this very subject. “Unless I’m in an area where I’m going to set up a long-term base camp, I don’t use an easel,” Geraths began. “Even when I do, it’s stripped-down, with custom homemade fittings to make it sturdy and usable for pastel, watercolor, or panel paintings. I’ve been working in watercolor and gouache recently. I tried oil, even custom-built my own wet-panel box that would securely hold a few oil paintings in racks, but with all the hiking and climbing, they still smeared or ran. Right now, my materials can fit into a sleeve that can be strapped onto a climbing pack. I sometimes use an umbrella as well, but again it fits on the outside of the pack.
“In general, my painting kit weighs about 2 3/4 pounds if I don’t count the water in the bottles (one for drinking, one for painting). In the photo, you can see my general setup placed on a red survival tarp. I cut down the ends of the brushes (about 8 in total, larger combo chisels and rounds — one with a fine pointed tip for those pesky thin branches). I use a Winsor & Newton watercolor kit and took the pans out, replacing them with custom gouache colors and another small 10-color kit. I also purchased heavy-duty cloth water bowls for dogs. They’re very cheap and easy to find.
“The pack rounds out with a custom watercolor sketchbook (12 x 7 inches at most) and a handbook landscape-format sketchbook. I used these sketchbooks for a three-week artist trip down the Colorado River, and even after getting wet as we went through the rapids, they would dry out flat as a board. Part of the idea is that by keeping the gear as simple but useful as possible, it allows the artist great mobility to find unique places and scenes to artistically express ourselves. I don’t think this subject is explored to the extent it could be, and I hope this generates some conversation.”
There can be little doubt that each artist has a unique setup and strategy for remote plein air painting. “In some cases,” Geraths continues, “an easel would be just about impossible to take. Even carrying oil gear seems too much in some places.” Indeed, it seems much easier to compose a lightweight pack when working in water-based media. We’d love to hear from some of the extremely adventurous oil painters out there. How do you make it work? Tell us in the comments below.