15 essentials of your outdoor watercolor kit
I mostly use only 3 brushes. The Hake, the bamboo and the liner. But I also use a round brush and a mop. That’s 5 brushes in all and I think 5 will be nearly all you ever need.
I use a minimum of paints. I categorize them as browns, blues and brights (or colorfuls) and then white. Below is a list of the paints I personally use.
Note: These colors are all permanent and none them contain toxic substances.
I recommend a plastic one with a cover. It doesn’t need lots of spaces for paint but it needs several deep wells. The reason I like a palette with a lid is that I don’t have to clean it after I finish painting. I can put some damp tissue in there that keeps the paint moist so that I can use it again.
Below is my palette.
From left to right I arrange my colors with browns first, then bright colors (yellow, orange and red) and then cool colors (blues and greens). I have more colors here than I recommend above but you will be fine with the small number I listed above – in fact I can do a good painting with just 4 colors!
I recommend a spiral bound watercolor pad. I will give my reasons in a future blog post.
I would recommend a small F4 size pad (24 x 34 cm approx = 9.4” x 13”) Note: it doesn’t have to be exactly this size but just the nearest choice.
I don’t use a big pad when I’m painting outdoors because it’s tiring to carry around and conspicuous. A small pad should easily be able to fit it into a backpack with all your other materials.
Also, if your pad is too big and the wind gets underneath it then your pad can fly away or whack you in the face. It’s happened to me and it really hurt – it was also pretty embarrassing.
5 Water bucket
For outdoor painting I like a soft bucket that can be flattened and so takes up little space but also has a hand to which I attach some string with a big loop on it which goes around my easel.
This is useful because it is easy to reach and also holds my easel down when the wind blows.
6 Two small clips
They are for holding down the watercolor paper whilst painting – if that is you are using a spiral bound pad.
Just a piece of cloth to wipe your brushes on. This is essential though.
They are so useful. Don’t skimp on them. Don’t have them in a big lump as they are difficult to use. Instead, separate each tissue into an individual ball and then put in your pocket. Then you can easily take out one at a time.
9 Spray bottle
A spray bottle is essential for stopping the paint on your paper drying out too quickly and thus becoming unworkable. It can also be used to create texture.
10 Clutch pencil and pen
I use a technical pencil with a thick lead that doesn’t break easily. Having such a pencil saves me a lot of time as I never have to sharpen it and it always has a sharp point so it is always going to give me a nice mark. I only use a technical pencil though when I am doing finished painting.
When I do sketches I use a pen because it doesn’t smudge and I even use a pen with some of my finished paintings.
The best way to carry your materials is in a backpack. I use a fairly big backpack that is meant for camping. It has lots of pockets on the outside that can hold bottles, torches and so on – it’s super useful.
12 Plastic zip up bag
I like to put all my tools into a bag. It also makes setting things up easier and quicker.
13 Brush container
I couldn’t find anything like what I use at Dickblick online art store.
So just use a plastic bag – it will be fine. Just don’t leave your brushes in the bag after painting as they need exposure to air so they can dry out.
If your brushes stay wet too long they might get moldy depending on the climate. I had one student whose Hake brush actually turned green with mold – this is in Japan where it gets very humid.
14 Water container
A PET bottle is fine. I think about a liter is enough because water is quite heavy. I roughly use about a third of a liter for each painting I do. But I’ll use more water if there is plenty around e.g. a nearby river.
Easels are a little expensive and will make you stick out so perhaps hold off on buying one. Remember you can also use them in the studio so they are useful. I now have 3 so watch out you don’t develop an addiction for buying them.
You can use a mat or a low camping chair instead – just think about how you will use your materials and that you can reach them.
1 Kneaded eraser
If you want to get an eraser then I recommend a kneaded eraser as it doesn’t damage the surface of the paper.
2 Extra small pad
I would also recommend a small sketchbook for quick sketches. I use a multimedia pad which is super cheap compared to watercolor pads and I have even produced beautiful, finished watercolor paintings on such paper that I would have no hesitation about selling. It’s super useful to have such a pad.
Wide-brimmed hat if sunny and possibly sunglasses.
Warm jacket if it’s cold.
Essential for taking photos of subjects you painted or don’t have enough time to paint when you are outside but which you can paint at home.
5 Tell somebody where you’re going
Okay maybe I’m overdoing it here. But if you are going into rural or remote places where there are few people then I would definitely suggest this. I’m sure you’ve seen that movie where the guy gets his hand stuck in a crack and has to cut it off. I know you think it can’t happen to you but just imagine how dumb you’ll feel if something bad does happen. I actually got stuck on a mountain all night. It wasn’t fun!
That’s all, Gareth.