John Cogan

Add some of these unexpected plein air art supplies to your stash to make painting outdoors more convenient, more fun, and perhaps, even more interesting.

By Suzie Baker

I have joked that the best way to make a lot of money as an artist is to sell art supplies! We are suckers for art materials and gadgets, aren’t we? Sometimes, however, the best tools aren’t sold in art supply stores. By the way, I don’t get free swag from any of the products mentioned here — but I’d sure love to (hint, hint, Honda, Elta, and Wondershade).

Here is my list of must-have tools of the trade, plus some from my fellow art buddies. (Note: Don’t miss the last one!)

1. Travel Stickers

A fun way to decorate my easel and give me street cred while out standing in the field! (Note my clever wordplay to make you think I’m out-standing in the field.)

Moll stick (aka back scratcher), also shown in use above

2. Retractable Back Scratcher, aka Moll Stick

This cost me less than four bucks at my local pharmacy. It’s curved, scratching end, rests on top of the canvas to steady my hand for detail painting, and fits neatly in my brush folio. Plus, I can use it to get oil paint onto those hard-to-reach places on the back of my clothing!

3. Wondershade

This umbrella is clearly not marketed to artists because it’s only in the $60 range on Amazon. Please don’t tell them that we artists are accustomed to paying much more for our fancy umbrellas. It was my favorite art purchase two years ago.

It is large and hasn’t replaced my easel umbrella, but I find it so useful that I sometimes ship it to myself when I fly. I find it utterly indispensable during hot shows (I’m thinking of you here, Easton Plein Air).

Its tripod base with hanging hooks to hold my backpack make it plenty sturdy. Its silver lining keeps it from casting a colored light onto my easel and canvas while also protecting my skin from UV rays.

4. Sunscreen

Specifically, Elta MD Sunscreen, recommended by my dermatologist! Painting outside a lot has made me a little paranoid about protecting my sensitive skin.

I apply this stuff every morning and love it! I’ve only ever used the tinted one, but it comes in untinted varieties, too. Elta — combined with a sensible “mom hat” and long sleeves — keeps my skin protected.

5. Minivan

My beloved 2005 Toyota Sienna just got replaced with a 2018 Honda Odyssey, and I love them both. They are roomy, comfortable on long drives, fuel efficient, and, best of all, your teenagers won’t want to drive them!

Once I surrendered to the practicality of a minivan I didn’t look back. Shout-out to fellow minivan drivers Jim Wodark, Jason Sacran, and John Lasater! Go ahead, admire us for our super-coolness!

Fellow artists Debra Latham, Krystal Brown, and I fit ourselves, our gear and all the loot we purchased at the 2018 Plein Air Convention in my Honda. Later that year, I took out the second-row seats to fit in a cot for a trip to plein air events in the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Just the thing for a few nights camping in the National Parks before checking into my host accommodations.

I also quizzed some of my buddies to see what non-art art supplies they find indispensable:

Bruce Gomez includes a sponge brush in his kit for dusting, blending, and softening the edges of his pastel paintings.

Charlie Hunter
Plein air art supplies
Charlie Hunter – plein air art supplies

Charlie Hunter’s top art supplies that aren’t include:

1. Cotton Swabs. “Although an inexpressive mark making tool, cotton swabs are invaluable for lifting paint when one is counting on one’s surface to be the lightest light,” he says.

2. Ettore 6-inch Brass Window Washer’s Squee-Gee. “The go-to mark making tool when you need a hard man-made edge in a painting. Careful, though — it is easy to become over-reliant on it, thus reducing one’s work to repetitive shtick.”

3. Stim-U-Dents. “Not only do they fight gingivitis, they are unparalleled for scraping into wet paint with their unique triangular shape.”

4. Stretched Canvas Wedges. “You’ve got bags of these, right? Finally, a use for them! Use them for scraping into wet paint when a Stim-U-Dent is just too damn small.”

Jim Wodark

Jim Wodark doesn’t leave home without a cordless, bluetooth speaker in his plein air kit.

Lyn Boyer

Lyn Boyer is not without her portable, backup, battery charger for her cell phone when she is out painting all day.

Bill Cramer

Bill Cramer leaves room for his “water bottle.”

Amery Bohling

Amery Bohling shows off her roll of Viva paper towels, a staple in so many of our indoor and outdoor studios!

John D. Cogan

John D. Cogan keeps his acrylic paint fresh and instantly accessible in this plastic sorting container.

Hai-Ou Hou

Hai-Ou Hou; Well, I’m going to let this one speak for itself.

So, what are your favorite art supplies that aren’t? Use the comments section below to tell us about them!

Suzie Baker, “Vineyard Glow,” 2018, oil on linen panel, 6 x 12 in.

In recent years, Suzie Baker has gained national acclaim, earning a stellar reputation for her versatility as both a plein air landscape artist as well as a studio painter of still lifes, figurative works, and portraits.

In the Art Renewal Center’s 13th International Salon, she was recognized in both the Plein Air and Figurative Categories. Among the many other awards she’s received recently are Best in Show and Artists Choice Awards at the Outdoor Painters Society’s Plein Air Southwest (2018), Best in Show at Shadows on the Teche (2018), the Irvine Museum Award and Montage Award at the 2018 Maui Plein Air Invitational, an Award of Excellence from American Women Artists’ Tucson Desert Art Museum Exhibition (2017), and the Artists’ Choice Award at the 2017 Telluride Plein Air Festival.

Her award-winning paintings have been featured in such publications as Plein Air Magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, and Southwest Art. Also known as a generous and uplifting teacher, Suzie has just produced her first art instruction video with Streamline Publishing titled “Color Magic for Stronger Paintings.”


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  1. My best art cart is really a file transport found at office supply stores. It keeps my art supplies handy in the studio, and fits on the back seat of my car for traveling, when the handle is collapsed. I carry everything I need in it including a small folding chair and an easel in a bag. How handy is that.

  2. How many paper towels do you use? I have seen great artists use dozens in a 2 hr painting. Use the blue shop towels rather than ordinary kitchen towels. I only need one or two to do a plein air, or a day’s studio work. Buy them by the bulk at Costco, etc. Probably better for the environment, also.

  3. BUG SPRAY, also a small vice grips for opening stubborn tubes of paint and many other uses, binoculars, compass, whistle and a small level to make sure my easel is even.

  4. I am a female and I have just returned from painting plein aire and it was spoilt by my need/fear of needing to go to the toilet. I have now rushed out and bought the P-mate (same as a She-wee). Great idea and it will put my mind at rest in the future. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed the the article, more for the memories it brought back. An artist I know went home with several gallon tins of assorted colours of water based house paint. “This should keep me going for a few years!”, “More like generations.” said his wife.

  6. I was a knitter for thirty years until arthritis in my thumb prevented me from continuing. So I got back into painting, co founded a Plein Air group in my hometown and the rest is history. I never go without a knitting needle. I wrapped one end (not the knitting end) with a rubber band. It is the perfect Moll.

  7. This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a while, thank you so much! Chock full of great info, and amusing too. You won my heart with your mini van, because I also have one and I agree it’s great for all the reasons you list. I haven’t put a cot in into it yet but it’s nice to know I could!
    I have one additional suggestion: bug spray. I always pack a small bottle of bug spray…you never know when a cloud of gnats or a bunch of pesky biting flies will decide to descend. There are natural alternatives for chemically sensitive folks, all types will at least help in a bad bug situation! Of course, good to pro-actively ward off ticks too. If you already mentioned it and I missed it, chalk it up to enthusiasm!
    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Yes, those ample side pocket on my mini van door have, lip balm, sunscreen, lotion, those dental floss things and bug spray! Boy do I feel sorry for people with tiny cars. 😉

  8. I take a small rug, towel, or piece of old plastic table cloth to stand on while in the grass. I get bit on the ankles even when I spray. I do spray around the cloth also. I hate itchy ankles!! This seems to help a lot! Keep on painting!

  9. Small pepper spray in your paint box. Good for animals and people if you are threatened. Be safe, and a small first aid kit is always good. You can put some band aids and wound cleaner in a baggie.

  10. Great article…my favorite not-art tool is a Mr. Clean sponge for wiping out larger or small areas of watercolor

  11. Great, great article ! Thanks for your time and sense of humor. I take a flat, small package of wet ones with me. They are so useful for clean up of my acrylic paint. There is a cleaner called “Soil Love” that will remove oils from brushes and paint of any kind from clothing. Get it online, you will love it.

  12. Small leather man tool (used for tightening screws, opening paint tubes etc)
    Small canvas bag to collect used paper towels (I use shop towels which I cut up into quarters) so I’m not throwing out plastic.

    • I hope you find it useful! I still have both and sometimes even use both at the same time – I’ll shield my feet or legs with my EasyL one and use the big one too. Who cares about looking funny when you are protecting our skin eh?

  13. Hi Suzie, Thanks for this great Article!
    Also, the great tips & helpful supplies suggested!
    I’m an advanced beginner & always like to learn from the Pros!
    Thanks again,

  14. Many great ideas..
    I my pleinair go to’s are also:
    1/2 yoga mat. -Put down where I set up- bug and wet barrier. Other 1/2 lays flat in back of hatch to keep things from sliding or for laying larger wet paintings to dry on way home.

    S Carabinner clips – assorted sizes.
    Fast easy clip on for bags, water bottles or preventing flyaway paper towels.

  15. Loved reading your article! I’m new to Plein air painting and I’m joining my first outdoor painting session this week and love to be prepared. So much great advice from both the article and the comments. Thanks again!

  16. Thanks for all the ideas! My 11-year-old daughter is learning to paint and wants to try plein air. (We’re trying the water mixable oils.) I’m not a painter so this article plus the comments are so useful!

  17. I keep one of those flat round plastic jar openers that have advertising on it from some bank or someplace and is perfect for opening small tubes of paint. They are light weight and stuff in any corner.


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