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Painting Outdoors

I have talented friends who paint outdoors in fields, meadows and beaches here in California.  I admire their ability to make beautiful art while tracking slipping sunlight & shadows, fending off cows, swatting mosquitoes, and keeping their easels from poking an ant hill.

plein air painting and the public
Painting in public places

Plein Air Painting in Watercolor

Plein air painting is a courageous endeavor. So is the urban sketching movement; it’s not easy to draw in a garden or the subway with people watching over your shoulder, dispensing advice on your work-in-process, and waxing poetic about their great aunt Harriet who used to paint daisies on canvas shoes.

The Right Tools for the Job

My ventures in painting plein air are infrequent, but I enjoy sketching and painting when I’m away from the studio. I’ve tested travel palettes, brushes and supplies that give me the option to sketch and paint on airplanes, in a hotel, at a friend’s house or on a sailboat, and I’m sharing a few of those products here as gift ideas.  

If you’ve got an artist in your life, or your own wish-list needs fodder, I hope this gift idea for artists list is helpful. (Note: some of these links are affiliates, which costs nothing to you. If you make a purchase, I make a small commission, and I thank you for your support.)

painting out doors
A long time ago; painting street scenes from a shady spot in Old Town Newhall, California (Photo: Nick Smirnoff)

Gift Ideas for Artists

Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Sketchers Pocket Box

This tiny box of pigments tucks away in a pocket, or a bag, so it’s easy to carry on a hike, a walk through a city, or a flight to far off places. W&N’s Cotman line is a grade below their professional series (hence the affordable price), but I use these pigments frequently with no issues; they’re bright, responsive and they mix well, and the little case makes an effective, small footprint palette while traveling (see it open in the photo below).

Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Album, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25)

I have several of these wonderful notebooks in different formats (they’re made vertical, square and horizontal, with a variety of papers), and I love to travel with them because they fit into a bag, and the binding is similar to a hardcover book, keeping the content pages pressed flat and secure from bending while being bumped around in a back pack. The quality of the moleskine books feels like something special in your hands.

Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush Assorted Tips, Pack of 3

These handy little brushes make it easy to add washes of pigment to pen and ink or graphite sketches even if you haven’t got a bowl of rinse water. The reservoir of the brush handle hold just enough water to wet your pigments, paint, and then blot to a paper towel before selecting another color. They’re convenient and quick if you’re on a hike or out in a meadow sketching and you’re craving the addition of some color on your line drawings.

Sakura 30062 6-Piece Pigma Micron Ink Pen Set, Black

I have this set of Sakura pens in my studio, and another just like it in my travel bag. I love the variety of tips, and they stay in place under watercolor washes, and layers of scumbled colored pencil. If you participated in the Inktober drawing challenge, you probably saw these pens in a lot of drawing snapshots posted on social media. Same thing with the Zentangle craze; they’re used widely and artists like them.

Empty Metal Watercolour Box : will hold 12 Half Pans or 6 Full Pans

If you have watercolors already, and you use tube paints, you can make your own travel box by squeezing the colors you currently use on your palette into this little metal paint tin for travel. You have the option to carry 12 half pans, or 6 full pans of color in the layout of the box. Just squeeze your pigments out in the arrangement you prefer, and let them dry fully before you head down the trail to paint wildflowers and butterflies.

Artist’s View Finder

One of the challenges I have when painting outside is choosing which view to paint with all that horizon in front of me. I need a way to frame my options and this handy little view-finder helps a lot.  It’s also nice for selecting a cropped section of a still life or a roomscape.  The outer-frame of the view finder is just wide enough to block out surrounding distractions of shapes so I can focus easier on which elements of a composition are the most appealing to tackle in ink or paint.

Landscape Painting Inside & Out by Kevin MacPherson

Kevin MacPherson is very good at articulating what he does with brushes & paint on a canvas. A lot of artists who paint well don’t have  extraordinary skill at describing what they’re doing. That’s not a bash on art teachers; I believe some folks are just born with a deep well of words and a love for communicating, and Kevin is one of those people. That’s a huge bonus for those of us who’d like to understand how he makes such beautiful paintings, and this book is full of inspirational art and sagely advice to encourage a search for beauty and a steadfast practice with paint.

field palette
Painting on a boat; small, packable art supplies
Retractable Travel Brush Set for outdoor Painting

One day, I had an urge to paint while sitting on a sailboat. I had a travel palette with me, but forgot to pack a brush. Back on terra firma, I searched online for retractable brushes that you can toss in a bag, and found this 3-brush set with a round, a flat and a filbert brush, in a #4, #8 and #12.  I keep the brushes in a zip lock bag so I can toss it into luggage or the moist environment of a boat locker. They’re synthetic, so they’ve got some spring, which is nice.

What’s on your wish list for art supplies this year?

Thanks for visiting, and I’ll see you in the next post!


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painting on a boat
Scenery from a boat in a marina. Not a bad painting location. 🙂

Art Quote

Writing [painting] is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

~E.L. Doctorow

What I’m listening to in the studio:

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Painting in the Canyon 6×6 Watercolor

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12 thoughts on “Gift ideas for Artists who Paint Outdoors”

  1. Well I did write something – “Santa and the Christmas count” to be found at
    An illustrated (rough and ready from the original ms) brand NEW Christmas story (including a short history of Santa).
    At this point I beg forgiveness for this shameless pointer, but it might fit the bill under “stuff.”

    1. Hi there seamustheone – no worries, I’ll check out your missive later this week. We all love a good pile of “stuff”, don’t we? 🙂 Have a happy and art-filled Christmas!

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