Plein Air Gear For Painting With Pastels!

Hello my Art Friends!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I better get moving 🙂

As promised, I am going to share with you the gear that I have found essential for my plein air painting with pastels.

One caveat: the following list is always evolving!  As I grow and change artistically, so do my equipment needs.  But for now, this is what I am using when I go off on my painting adventures….

Everything packed up!

All of my gear packs into an inexpensive Eastport backpack.  This particular model has lots of zippered compartments to keep things separated.  It is big enough to hold my 9×12 backing board, two paper portfolios, a Heilman Sketchbox Double, and various other supplies.  It even came with a lightweight nylon bag (seen on the right) which I use to hold used wet wipes, hand towels, and my roll of tp to clean my pastels on.

I have a bad back, so I have to watch how much I carry.  Since at this time I am painting closer to home, I thankfully don’t have to carry things too far.  I would probably downsize some if I was hiking to a painting location.

MeFoto Classic Aluminum Roadtrip Travel Tripod

The system I use for painting includes a Heilman box mounted on a tripod.  But UGGH!!!  I went through several iterations of tripods before I found this MeFoto Roadtrip tripod.  It was recommended by pastel artist Alain Picard on his blog.  And I have to say that I have been very happy with its ease of use, sturdy construction, and stability.

It even has a setting where I can spread the legs out really wide for extra stability, but so far I have not needed that option.


Heilman Sketchbox Double, easel, and side tray

The other half of my system is the pastel box I use.  I can’t say enough good things about Heilman pastel boxes!  I own the Backpacker box and the Sketchbox Double (see the sketchbox double above and below).

For plein air, the lighter weight of the Sketchbox Double is a must for me, but as you can see in the photo below, I don’t lack for much color!


My plein air palette so far…
Hat, iPhone, Viewfinder

One of the first things I do when I am looking around for a scene to paint is to look at it through a viewfinder.
I keep mine handy by wearing it on a chain around my neck.  If I like what I see, I will shoot a few reference photos.


The next thing I do when I am drawn to a scene is a thumbnail sketch.

My sketching kit includes unlined 3×5 notecards; Pitt Artist pens in a light, mid, and dark value; a Pigma Micron pen; ruler; kneadable eraser, a bit of foam pipe insulation, a bristle brush; key to my pastel box; extra vine charcoal; Derwent XL Charcoal (Ochre–for toning paper); and a chamois.

Sometimes I don’t want to use my sketchbook for thumbnails, so I use unlined notecards.
A side benefit is that I can clip the notecards right onto my backing board when I start painting my scene!

Thumbnail Sketching Kit & Thumbnail Examples


The final items in my plein air gear include two paper portfolios (one holds 8×10 paper and the other holds 5×7); artist tape and various clips; and 9×12 backing board.

The backing board is actually a dry erase board I purchased from Hobby Lobby and then sprayed with matte black paint to limit reflection into my eyes.

Well, that’s it for the gear!  I hope this is helpful to any of you interested in going out and trying plein air for yourself.

Till next time,

Stay Creative!!






Pastels en Plein Air (Painting Outside with Pastels!)

Hello Everyone!

Since it has been some time since I have had time or energy to post, I thought I would pause to blog about my latest creative drive — plein air painting with pastels!

Many of you know that “plein air” painting is nothing more than painting outside.  Some prefer the term “on location”.  Some lucky ducks get to go to exotic locales to paint, taking workshops with well-know instructors.  Others (like me) 😉 simply seek out the fresh air and sights of more familiar places.

I am a farm girl at heart, so I am drawn to our little farm’s treasures: uncut pastures, farm animals, weathered fences, bird nests in springtime….  It doesn’t take much to make me happy!


(Here is a picture of my set-up….More to come in a future post.)


Though I am new to plein air painting, I am finding that when painting outside my goals and intentions are very different than those I have when working in my little studio.

First, I have no expectation that I will produce any great or /even good pieces of art!

While I have to admit that was a tough one to wrap my Type A personality around, it has done me a world of good to let go of the idea that what I produce needs to be “frameable.”  This is extremely freeing!!  I am coming away with the notion that if it isn’t any fun, I’m doing it wrong 🙂

Second, I am learning that plein air painting is a great teacher. 

I find that as I immerse myself in a live scene (instead of a photo), I see more!

Colors are livelier and values are more accurate than those in the photos I take of that scene.

Of course, I have and will continue to paint from reference photos all the time.  There is no shame in that.

But I am now more acutely aware of the way the camera can distort colors, values, and other things, which means that I can deal with these distortions appropriately when working with photos in the future.

Thirdly, painting out in nature has enormous VALUE!

I treat my plein air outings more like sketching opportunities–a way of taking notes on color, value, and composition that is an enjoyable process in and of itself, but can also be a way of gathering information useful for future studio paintings!

Lastly, painting outside is just a lot of FUN!   

Once I worked out my supplies and my set-up (the subject of my next post), I discovered just how enjoyable painting on location is.

It has become a surprisingly exciting new creative outlet that combines my love of being out in nature and my desire to express my feelings about my surroundings.

(Plein air piece in progress)



  • Do you paint “en plein air”?
  • What medium do you prefer when painting outside?
  • Do your goals, intentions, or creative process differ considerably while painting en plein air vs. in your studio?

I’d love to hear about your plein air experiences!


Till next time, stay creative!!