What to Wear for Drawing Outside

Just in case you haven’t heard, we’re doing a plein air drawing challenge. The challenge begins tomorrow, September 1, and runs through the month. My personal goal is to get outside at least once a week and draw something with colored pencils, but I’m really hoping to draw outside more often than that.

I’m planning to post my drawings on a special group board on Pinterest. You’re welcome to join that board and post your drawings too. 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.

This post is the last in a series of daily posts covering various topics related to drawing outside. So far, we’ve talked about my favorite equipment for drawing outside, putting together a field kit, finding something to draw, and tips for using a view finder.

With the challenge now upon us, it seems reasonable to talk about what to wear for drawing outside.

What to Wear for Drawing Outside

The good news is that you don’t need a lot of specialized clothing to draw outside unless you’re going somewhere truly unique—like Antarctica or Mount Everest. Most of us already have everything we need in our closets.

A good rule of thumb when dressing for field drawing is to dress in layers. If it gets too warm, you can remove garments. If it gets cooler, you can add them. I like to think of dressing for drawing outdoors the same way I’d dress if I were going for a hike in the woods or for a long walk.

Keys to consider are comfort and protection from the elements. Know the conditions where you plan to draw and dress accordingly.

Beyond that, what you wear really depends on where you’re going. Are you going to be close to home or will you be traveling? It does make a difference.

If You’re Working Close to Home

I’m going to be doing most of my drawing close to home. On the front porch. From the back porch, in the backyard, et cetera.

If that’s your plan, clothing isn’t as important because you can always run inside and make changes. However, there are still a few things to keep in mind.

At the very least, you should consider using sun screen. It’s better to keep the sun off of you as much as possible. For that, I recommend a wide-brimmed hat of some kind, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. They will keep your exposure to the sun to a minimum.

If it’s very hot, wear light-weight clothing (cotton if possible), but long sleeves are still better than short. The natural cooling capacities of the human body are improved by the evaporation from your clothing. Take advantage of it.

Keeping arms and legs covered will also help reduce the irritation of insects. The less exposed skin, the better for you.

Sensible shoes are also a good idea. I have worked outside barefoot, but don’t recommend that. Nothing hampers creativity more than stepping on something sharp! Trust me!

Sunglasses are a good idea, and if you’re going to be working in a sunny place where there is no natural shade, an umbrella or similar canopy is a good idea. You will probably want to stick with a white or neutral color because the color of the umbrella or canopy will change the way colors look on paper.

If You’re Working Away from Home

If you’re going to be traveling—even if it’s just across town—you will need to give a little more thought to what you wear and what other garments you might need to take along.

Everything I listed above applies here, too. Dress in layers and in a manner that offers protection from the sun, wear sturdy shoes, dress for comfort, and so on.

But also consider taking along an extra shirt and/or a coat or jacket in case the temperature drops. Rain gear of some kind is advisable if you happen to live in a temperate climate where the weather can change on a dime or if it’s a changeable time of year.

If you hike a lot, dress for drawing as you would dress for hiking.

The same applies if you like to garden or bike or go on picnics. You already know what types of garments work well for outdoor activities. Plein air drawing isn’t that much different as far as what you wear is concerned, so go with what you know.

So Many Options

There are so many options in this department that it’s impossible to give a comprehensive list. Every artist who works out-of-doors has a personal preference for what they wear. I’ve tried to list the most basic things so you can dress with confidence if you’ve never drawn outside before.

But I know many of you who have worked en plein air have favorite garments or other items that I haven’t included, so please add them in the comments below. We want all of the Challenge participants to have fun, be comfortable, and be safe.

Tomorrow is the first day of the challenge. Are you planning to go outside?

How to Use a View Finder

In the previous post, I listed a few of the basic items necessary for a good plein air drawing field kit. If you missed it or would like a review, you can read the post here.

One of the items I mentioned was something called a view finder. Today, I’d like to talk a little bit more about that and share some tips for using one.

How to Use a View Finder

Why You Need a View Finder

Quite simply, you need a view finder of some kind to focus your eye and attention. When you’re working outside, the whole world is at your feet. Everywhere you look, there’s something to draw or paint. The possibilities can be overwhelming!

Here’s one of my favorite views of the Flint Hills of Kansas. The first time I ever saw this country, it was a bitter cold day in December. A skiff of snow on brown hills, yet it called to me as no other landscape ever had.

How to Use a View Finder - Full View of Landscape
Here’s a reference photo taken with my digital camera at a normal setting. Viewing a 360-degree landscape through the lens of a camera is a great way to find a good composition.

This particular photo was taken in October and everything about it calls to be drawn. It captures a small portion of that panoramic landscape. A very small portion.

And yet there’s a lot of information here. Enough to overwhelm a beginning plein air artist like me.

Here’s a detail shot of the same image. Maybe not the most interesting possible composition, but you can see how much less overwhelming it is. With a digital camera or even a phone, you can snap the wide view—as shown above—then take as many close up views as you like until you find the composition you like best.

How to Use a View Finder - Zoomed in "View Finder" View of Landscape

How to Use a View Finder

If your view finder is a phone or camera, you probably already know how to use it.

But there are other types of view finders. I carry a small pre-cut mat with a dark side and a light side. I have several empty mats I use in the drawing process: small, medium, and large. For the sake of this post, I’m using a 5×7 mat. It’s easy to carry and use and is also a standard size that easily translates into larger sized drawings with the same proportions.

Here’s how I use it to find good compositions in a world of possibilities.

This is the Warkentine House. A local historical location and a museum. There’s a lot to like about this house. A lot to draw.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene

Because this is a shady scene full of shadow and middle values, I used the white side of my view finder. I held it at arm’s length and viewed different parts of the scene by panning to the right, then the left. Here’s one possible vertical composition.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene through View Finder Vertical

I repeated the process with the view finder held horizontally.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene through View Finder Horizontal

Even though I was using a small view finder (5×7), it was a bit too large to really isolate a single subject at such a close distance. This view finder works better in the wide open spaces.

If you’re thinking about drawing something close, consider using a smaller view finder. 4×6 or even 3×5 would be good sizes for isolating single subjects in a scene that’s this close.

You can also isolate smaller subjects by framing them with your hands or by using mat corners or simply using two pencils to create a “corner”. I like a pre-cut mat because it’s a single tool that’s light-weight and very easy to use and carry.

About the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge is a motivational tool designed to get us outside and drawing with colored pencil each September.

I’m going to draw outside at least one day a week. If you have more time, you can do more drawings.You can do fewer. The point is to get outside and draw, and however often you can, I hope you’ll join me.

I’ll post my drawings on a special group board on Pinterest. 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.

How to Find Something to Draw

So far in this series on plein air drawing with colored pencil, we’ve talked about the upcoming Autumn Drawing Challenge, the equipment I use instead of a standard easel, and putting together a field kit.

It’s now time to take a look at what some might call the most important aspect of plein air drawing.

Finding something to draw.

How to Find Something to Draw

Finding Something to Draw

No matter what type of subject, art, or style you like, you should be able to find something to draw outside your front (or back) door. I live in town near the downtown area, so you might think someone who prefers landscapes would have difficulty finding subjects.

Not so!

This detail drawing (drawn outside a few years ago) shows an oddity that appears at the foot of a tree that’s scarcely four feet from our back steps.

These clouds are further away, but I sat in a lawn chair just a few feet from the above mentioned tree while I drew the clouds. Such scenes are available from anywhere around the house, around town, or in the countryside. All you have to do is look!

How to Find Something to Draw - Cloud Sketch

Tips for Finding Plein Air Subjects

When looking for plein air subjects, keep an eye on the big picture, but also be aware that your subject will most likely be a very small part of the big picture.

Like the interesting detail at the foot of a towering elm.

If you’re not a fan of landscapes, that’s okay. There are still plenty of interesting things all around. Step outside and take a look at the things on or around your front porch.  Here are a few of the things I found just outside my front door.

How to Find Something to Draw - Peeling Paint
When looking for something to draw, don’t rule anything out at first glance. Not even a section of peeling paint or an empty pot.

We also have cats in the community, so there are opportunities to draw them if I happen to find them napping.

The point is that there are always things to draw close at hand.

When searching for something to draw, I’ve identified two keys to keep in mind.

  • Don’t rule anything out at a glance
  • Look for the thing that attracts your glance repeatedly

What makes a subject interesting as a drawing or sketch has as much to do with how you see it and choose to draw it as with its innate qualities.

So step out your front door (or back door) and see what’s available.

Then take a little time to sketch it. You might be surprised at the results!

About the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge begins September 1 and concludes October 31. It’s designed to be fun and informative. There are only two rules:

  • Go outside to draw something outside
  • Use colored pencil in some form

I’m going to draw outside at least one day a week. If you have more time, you can do more drawings. If time is a concern for you, you can do fewer. The point is to get outside and draw.

I’ll post my drawings on a special group board on Pinterest. 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.

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.

My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside


With my Autumn plein air drawing challenge fast approaching—September 1 is the first day—it seemed like a good idea to share some basic information about plein air drawing. For the next few days, I’ll be publishing a post every day (except Sunday).

A reader of the plein air drawing with colored pencil autumn challenge brought up a good question. She asked:

If you are going to be using an easel, what type will you be using?

My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside

I rarely use an easel for any colored pencil drawing. It’s simply easier to draw sitting in a chair or on the couch and working on my lap. I got into that habit early on and continued to use it while at horse shows, art shows, and traveling.

But I thought it worthwhile to speak a little bit more about the process behind the drawing methods, especially since I realize many of you may be thinking about trying plein air drawing for the first time.

My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside

I employ two different, but similar methods for drawing with colored pencil.

Two Basic Methods

Drawing Pads

The first one is very simple. I buy pads of paper with rigid back boards and use them like a drawing board. Spiral bound pads are best because you can fold the front cover back without bending it. A lot of drawing and sketching pads are spiral bound and most of them also have rigid back boards, so you have a great selection of papers from which to choose.

My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside - Drawing Pads
Keep a selection of drawing pads on hand for plein air drawing. I recommend at least one small pad 8×10 or smaller and one that’s larger. The largest drawing pad in this collection is 14×17 and it’s probably the largest size I’d take on a short trip. Larger pads are nice to have for extended travel.

When I use the word “rigid”, I mean rigid enough not to bend. All drawing pads have backs of cardboard of some type. But some of those back boards are not sturdy enough to be useful as drawing boards.

To see if the drawing pad you want to buy has a rigid back, hold it by the back cover only. If the cover remains straight, it’s heavy enough. If it doesn’t, you may still need a drawing board of some type.

For those who prefer a higher quality paper such as Bristol or Stonehenge, you can still purchase them in pads. You’re more likely to get a glue bound pad with the better papers. The reason is that a glue-bound pad allows you to remove sheets with a clean edge.

Some drawing pads are spiral bound and some are glue bound. Each type has advantages and disadvantages.

This type of drawing pad works very well and is a self-contained “package” but you may need to carry a binder clip or two or a rubber band to keep the cover folded back.

You can work without marking off margins or you can draw margins the paper, use tape (low tack, of course) to mark the margins, or combine the drawing pad with a pre-cut mat as shown here.

If you plan on doing wet media drawing, choose a paper capable of handling the moisture. Stonehenge is good for moderate amounts of wet media and it also dries flat, but it you want to use watercolor or water soluble colored pencils almost entirely, a watercolor paper is your best option.

Either way, tape the edges to a rigid support to keep the paper from excessive buckling.

My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside - Working Mat
This is how I often work on smaller drawings. I’ve clipped a small pre-cut mat (4.5 x 6.5) to a 9×12 drawing pad. That leaves enough space for a nice composition with room for color swatches.
This is the back of the drawing pad shown above. I’ve clipped the cover back so it’s out of the way. When I finish drawing, I can put the cover down again, covering the drawing in progress. Use binder clips or large rubber bands (available at any office supply store) to keep the cover in place.

Laptop Drawing Boards

I also use home-made drawing boards that I’ve come to refer to as laptop drawing boards.

A laptop drawing board is put together with sheets of corrugated cardboard with a piece of mat board on top as the drawing surface. I lay my drawing paper on top of the mat board, then clip or tape a pre-cut mat over that, binding everything together for drawing.

Step-by-step directions for building your own lightweight laptop drawing board.

I prefer these because I can make them any size I want. The largest I currently have on hand is for an 18×24 inch drawing. The smallest is a 4×6.

They’re ideal for plein air work, especially if you’re traveling, because you can set up several and take them along, ready for drawing.

This is one of my smaller laptop drawing boards with a studio drawing in progress. The drawing size is 7×9. The outside dimension is 8×10. I used binder clips to hold it together so I can take the drawing out whenever I want and even swap it for a fresh sheet of paper for a new drawing if necessary.

How the Process Works

The actual drawing process with either a drawing pad or a laptop drawing board is simplicity itself. Find a comfortable place to sit and work with the pad or board resting in your lap. If you’re like me and turn your paper a lot when you draw, you can just turn the drawing pad or laptop drawing board as necessary.

Want to step back and take a look at your drawing? Prop the board or pad in your chair and take a few steps away.

The Bottom Line on My Favorite Equipment for Drawing Outside

Any of these options is perfectly suitable for drawing outside, while traveling, or even in the studio. They’re easy. They’re lightweight. And you can prepare for drawing before you leave the house, so you have more time to draw in the field (or the park or the front porch.)

But the real bottom line is to find the system that works best for you.

Even if you have to make it yourself!

But What About Easels?

Since I can’t share personal experience with field easels, I refer to you my favorite supplier of art supplies. Dick Blick. From their page on Portable and Field Easels:

Portable and Field Easels are designed for artists who plan on traveling with their easels, need to be able to easily move them around their studio, or who want to plein air paint. These easels fold to a compact size for easy storage and portability and are considerably lighter weight. These easels usually contain the minimal necessities to successfully use them effectively.

Several types of portable and field easels are available through Dick Blick and similar suppliers. The best suggestion I can offer is to find an easel that’s lightweight, folds to a small size that’s easy to transport even if you have to carry it yourself, and is stable enough for rough terrain.

Here are a couple of video reviews of portable easels that might also be helpful. Even though they’re for painters, the easels can be used for colored pencil work. Even if you don’t end up buying any of these easels, there are some great tips for plein air painting in each one.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

We all have visions of artists outside, painting landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the London Bridge or San Fransisco Bay.

Maybe you’ve even seen them in your town, painting local scenes and doing wonderful work.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

Plein air art is usually associated with wet media like oils, watercolors, or acrylics. If people think of plein air drawing, they usually think graphite or charcoal. I know I do.

But have you ever considered doing the same thing with colored pencils?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge

An Autumn Project

I’ve never been much of a plein air artist. I much prefer studio work and years of working as a portrait artist seemed to make plein air drawing unnecessary.

But I have often admired artists who can accurately capture the personality of a subject while painting or drawing outside, no matter what medium they use.

Summer is drawing to a close here in Kansas. Daily temperatures are beginning to fall, which means it’s more pleasant outside. In fact, it’s the perfect time to be outside.

So I’m giving myself a challenge. This fall, I want to do more drawing outside.

It won’t officially be fall until September 22, but I’m not going to wait. Beginning September 1, I want to do one plein air drawing a week. Just. One.

To make myself accountable, I’ll post my drawing on the blog so all can see.

Plein Air Drawing Challenge

You’re invited to participate in the challenge, too. There are no real rules. You can follow my plan to do one drawing a week or make your own plans. The real goal is to get outside and draw, so whatever suits your schedule and creativity works.

The challenge will run from September 1 through October 31. Counting the first three days of September as a week and the last two days of October as week, that’s ten weeks.

Ten weeks.

Ten drawings.

That sounds easy enough, even to me.

I want this to be a fun challenge and I want to learn more about drawing outside, drawing quickly, and learning how to better capture the personality and appearance of a subject.

But I also want to improve my ability to see each subject and render the detail on paper.

You’re welcome to join me. I’ve set up a special group board on Pinterest where I’ll be posting all the plein air drawings I do in September and October. 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.