Putting Together a Field Kit for Plein Air Drawing

Putting Together a Field Kit for Plein Air Drawing

Welcome back to the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge series. The first post was all about how I set up for drawing and you can read it here.

You need more than an easel, though. You need drawing supplies and a number of other things. That’s what today’s post all all about!

Putting Together a Field Kit for Plein Air Drawing

Putting Together a Field Kit

The first thing you need for plein air drawing is a field kit, beginning with a sturdy, light-weight bag or case. It needs to be large enough to carry the tools you need to draw, but small enough to manage easily, and light enough to carry.

This is my field kit.

Putting Together a Field Kit - My Colored Pencil Field Kit

It contains a small drawing pad, a set of 12 Faber-Castell Art Grip pencils, a small jar of Prismacolor pencil stubs, a graphite pencil or two (usually 4B or 6B,) and a hand-held sharpener.

Depending on how long the trip will be or how long I’ll be away from the studio, I may either take a larger, more fully stocked field kit or may take my laptop carrier-turned-portable-studio.

Each artist will have different supplies in their field kit. I wrote about mine for EmptyEasel. Read the full article here.

A Few Additional Items

The supplies listed in the EmptyEasel article are just the basics. There are other things to consider when you draw outside that you don’t have to think about when doing studio work. Here are a few.

View Finder

Not a necessity, but very helpful. A view finder is a tool for showing just a portion of the world around you. It helps you narrow down the view to find a subject to draw. It also helps you compose your drawing before you put pencil to paper.

You can, of course, use your hands to frame potential compositions. Artists have been doing this for centuries and it still works.

You can also use a camera or phone. By zooming in or out, you can isolate a single item or try a larger view. You also have the advantage of snapping a shot of the view for reference if you decide to do a studio piece of the scene. I’m a picture-taker by nature, so this is one of my favorite things.

But phones and cameras run out of power and can be bulky. So having another type of view finder handy is a good idea. A small pre-cut mat is ideal. Select one in a standard configuration—4×6 and 5×7 are my favorite sizes. They’re small. They’re easy to slip into a drawing pad or tote bag, and they’re very easy to use.

Select a neutral medium dark or darker color. Personally, I like some shade of brown, dark blue or dark green. For darker scenes, use the pre-cut mat with the white back facing you. For bright scenes, use the front.

Read How to Use a View Finder.


If you’re going to be outside for a while, make sure to take along a bottle or two of water. Even in cooler weather, it’s important to stay hydrated.

If you’ll be using water-soluble mediums, keep the painting water separate from the drinking water. No sense in drinking paint residue!


While not as important as water for most of us, some of us will need to consider taking along a snack to keep blood sugars and other things functioning smoothly.

If you’re planning a long day out, pack a picnic lunch. Just make sure you have a way to keep the cool things cool and to keep insects and animals out of your lunch before you get to it. Even if you do want to draw wildlife, you probably don’t want too close an encounter!

Bug Repellent

A must in the summer, but also for any time of year other than the dead of winter.

Sun Glasses

Whether you’re drawing outside in the summer or the winter, it’s a good idea to have sunglasses handy. About the brightest thing in the landscape is bright sunlight on fresh, white snow.

Even if you wear glasses that tint automatically, keep sunglasses handy. A wide-brimmed hat or bill cap to shade your eyes is also a good idea.

Sun Screen

Need I say more? If you’re not wearing a long-sleeved shirt, you will need something to protect your skin from the sun. Even if you’re working in a shaded area, it’s not a bad idea to have sun screen available.

Something Over Your Head

Something besides the hair on your head and the open sky, that is.

A sun shade of some type is almost a necessity when you’re working outside in the summer or in hotter climates. Look for something that’s large enough to shade yourself and your easel, since painting on a surface that’s brightly lighted by the sun can be a cause for eye strain.

Something To Sit On

When you’re young and agile, you can stand for long periods of time and never notice it. You can also sit on the ground or a rock and be none the worse for it.

Then you get to be my age, and standing is not so easy for long periods of time.

So take along a comfortable chair. A folding lawn chair, a camp chair, or something similar is great for working outside.

 Is There Anything Else?

Every artist has different needs when painting outside. I’ve listed the basics based on my admittedly limited experience drawing and painting outside. As you work outside, you’ll discover things to add. You’ll probably also discover that some of the things I’ve listed here are not helpful to you. Feel free to create your own list.

And if you know of anything I’ve left off my list that every artist should carry into the great outdoors, share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge is all about drawing outside with colored pencil during September. My personal challenge is to do one plein air colored pencil drawing each week, but you can draw outside as often as you wish. Just so you get outside at least once!

Want to share your work? I’ve set up a special group board on Pinterest where I’ll be posting my plein air drawings. If you’d like to post your drawings, all you have to do is request an invitation to join the board. You will need a Pinterest account, but they’re free and easy to set up.


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