Make a Simple Plein Air Kit for Watercolors

Simple Plein Air Watercolor Kit
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diy plein air watercolor kit

Just to give you an idea of where we are heading with this, here’s a picture of what the kit looks like when it is all put together.

Today my boyfriend and I went for a bike ride and I decided to take my watercolors along. I have never painted “en plein air” before, but have always wanted to try. In case you don’t know, en plein air is a French expression that means “in the open air.” In art, the expression is used to refer to the act of painting outdoors.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring everything I needed with me — especially water. After a little bit of trial and error, I put together this simple kit.

I’m really happy with how it came out. It is extremely compact, and stayed together nicely in the backpack even after miles of riding. Here’s a quick breakdown of the things you’ll need if you want to make your own:

  • A small set of watercolors. I’m using the Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers’ Pocket Box. I got it on Amazon for about $15.00. The paints are surprisingly good for how cheap they are, and the box is so tiny and cute that it is easy to use on the go.
  • A few paper towels
  • Several sheets of your favorite watercolor paper, cut to a size of 5.5″ x 7.5″
  • An empty yogurt cup
  • A bottle of water
  • A mechanical pencil with a good eraser. You can use a regular pencil, but I decided to go with a mechanical one for my kit so I wouldn’t have to worry about sharpening it if the tip broke.
  • A couple of your favorite brushes. You can bring as many or as few as you’d like. I decided to keep my kit simple by just taking a medium sized round brush and a tiny liner brush.
  • A thin piece of masonite cut to approximately 6″ x 8″. You can find masonite in the lumber section of most home improvement stores. It’s thin enough that you can cut it down to size with a utility knife – no power tools needed. To help protect mine from water, I painted it with several coats of cream colored house paint.
  • A piece of cardboard cut to approximately 6″ x 8″
  • A sturdy, flat piece of sewing elastic or a large rubber band

Once you gather your supplies, it’s time to get started! :)

The most complicated part of this whole process is making your board that you will use to hold your paper. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the mood to paint, I don’t like to spend a lot of time taping down my paper.

To get around this problem, I came up with the idea of putting tape on my board, sticky side out, then just sticking each sheet of paper to it. When I am done with a painting, I pull it off the board, but leave the tape behind so it’s ready for the next piece.

The tape I used is some kind of art tape that is designed not to stick to paper. However, it works just as well with plain old masking tape. Here are some instructions for folding the tape:

Start by tearing off a piece of tape the same length as one of the sides of your board. Place it sticky side down on the table in front of you. Fold it in thirds by folding the far side toward yourself, approximately to the center of the piece of tape. Crease it with your fingernail. Lift the tape up and turn it around so the non-folded side is facing away from you. Fold that side toward yourself, over the top of the previously folded section. When you are done, you should have a flat "tube" of tape that has the sticky side out the whole way around.

Start by tearing off a piece of tape the same length as one of the sides of your board. Place it sticky side down on the table in front of you. Fold it in thirds by folding the far side toward yourself, approximately to the center of the piece of tape. Crease it with your fingernail. Lift the tape up and turn it around so the non-folded side is facing away from you. Fold that side toward yourself, over the top of the previously folded section. When you are done, you should have a flat “tube” of tape that has the sticky side out the whole way around.

watercolorboard

Repeat this process for each side of the board, sticking the pieces of tape to the board as you go. When you are done, there should be a piece of tape around each side of the board. Leave a border of about 1/2 inch on each side since your paper is smaller than the board. Ideally, the outside edges of the tape should be the exact size of your paper to keep water from seeping under the edges of your piece while you are working on it.

watercolorboardcloseup

Here’s a closeup of the tape on the board. Notice how the edges are covered with watercolor, but the center of the board is relatively clean? That’s because the tape helps create a barrier that prevents water from running under your paper.

Once you are done creating your board, stick a single sheet of watercolor paper to the front of it so it is ready to go when you pull it out of your kit. Stack your other sheets of paper on top of that, then cover the whole thing with the piece of cardboard.

Roll your brushes and pencil up tightly in the paper towels, and set them on top of the cardboard/paper/masonite stack. Finally, add your water bottle (filled with water) and your empty yogurt cup. Secure the whole thing together with elastic. When you are done, it should look like this:

diy plein air watercolor kit

Here’s the finished product. It’s cute, compact and extremely functional! Best of all, though, it’s sturdy and you don’t have to worry about your brushes taking a beating while you travel to your destination.

I hope that gives you some ideas for your own kit! If you have any tips you’d like to add, or if you’d like to share a photo of your kit, please feel free to do so below. I’d love to see what you use when painting with watercolors outdoors!





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A cheap (but decent) watercolor mop brush

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I’m definitely not a brush snob — I will use anything I can get my hands on, as long as it works.

In terms of good brushes, I have a couple of round brushes, a couple of flat brushes and a rigger. I also have a dilapidated fan brush that has definitely seen better days. The brush part is barely stuck to the handle and is going to fall off any day now, but it still gets the job done.

One thing I’ve really been wanting, though, is a mop brush. A lot of the watercolor videos that I watch use mop brushes for doing washes, lifting paint and filling in large areas.

I was killing some time at Ben Franklin today and decided to check out their watercolor brushes. Not only did they not have any mop brushes in their watercolor brush display, but the brushes they did have were pretty pricey…or at least far more than I wanted to pay.

As I continued browsing, I found another little display of brushes over by the craft paint. They were super cheap, but seemed like they were decent quality. Plus, they had a nice, fluffy mop brush with a cute pink handle :) I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, so I grabbed this little guy for $2.99:

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It’s the 1/2″ Royal & Langnickel Soft Grip mop brush (SG1400). The bristles are nice and soft, and it holds a ton of water.

If you are in the market for a cheap, but decent brush, these Royal brushes seem like they are definitely worth checking out. There was a really large selection of brush styles, and they were all just a few dollars each. Much better than $20.00+ for a single brush!

Below are some pictures showing the brush in more detail, including several ways that you can use it for watercolors. At any rate, I think this mop brush is going to become one of my go-to brushes.

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I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the brush holds a TON of water

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Here’s a closeup. Can you see how much water it is putting down on the page? It made it so fast and easy to wet the paper…no need to dip, and dip and dip. Just one dip, and there was enough water to wet a 5″ x 7″ sheet.

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I tried a quick wash of color with it. Pretty smooth, aside from the cat hair that managed to weasel its way into the paint on the upper left. There are a few streaks, but they smoothed out as it dried. The brush held enough paint to do a flat wash across the entire page without having to reload.

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Here I purposely put a big puddle of color in the middle of the page so I could try lifting. It is amazing how much water this brush sucked up off the page! I definitely think it’s going to be useful for lifting and for removing excess water.

All in all I’m really pleased with this brush – especially for the price I paid! I’ll probably check out more brushes in this line to see what else they have. They were all priced about the same, so it might be a cheap way to build a bigger brush collection.

Regardless of which brand you buy, I’d highly recommend giving a mop brush a try if you don’t already have one. They are fantastic for any situations where you need to use a lot of water or a lot of paint.





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Helpful watercolor video lesson

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Hi everyone! Just a quick post to share a watercolor video that I found last night that I think is great. I watch a lot of “speed painting” videos on YouTube. I love these videos because you can see hours of painting compressed down to just a few minutes. It’s not only fun to see how other artists work, but it’s also amazing to see a painting materialize right before your eyes.

This video is from Gillian Marklew-Allen, a UK-based artist who does beautiful watercolors.

What I found particularly helpful about the video was watching how she used layers to build form. Instead of using a few simple washes of color, she adds layer after layer of paint in a wide range of colors to create her subject’s skin, hair and clothing. It not only gives the painting a lot of depth, but it also makes it far richer and more interesting to look at than if she had just created the skin with a simple wash of one or two colors.

I also really love the beginning of the video where she starts laying in color. Instead of meticulously placing color, she lays out blobs of color in the general shapes that she needs.  At one point it is just random colors on the paper with no indication of what it is going to become.

It is a good reminder that all paintings go through a phase where they look nothing like what you are trying to paint. I tend to give up during this phase instead of pressing on through.

From now on one of my  goals is going to be to push through the “ugly” phase to see if I can add enough depth and detail to transform the painting into something that is a bit less blobby and a bit more interesting.

At any rate, I hope you find it as insightful and inspiring as I did. I know I am going work on implementing some of the techniques in the video in my own paintings to see if I can get better results. Let me know what tips you pick up from the video!

Also, you can learn more from Gilly or take some of her classes at these other places as well:

 





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