As the weather warms up and the flowers begin to bloom, you might be tempted to take your art supplies outside to capture the beauty of springtime. But you wouldn’t be the first to have this fine idea—the concept of painting outdoors (aka en plein air) was popularized by the Impressionists. Artists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir took their paints and easels outdoors to observe and capture the colors, light, and movement of life outside of their studio.
In 1841, American painter John Goffe Rand invented the metal paint tube, allowing artists to easily transport paint anywhere they went. The simple piece of equipment was the first of many objects designed specifically for plein air painters, and the movement is still as popular as ever. Whether you want to capture city streets or paint your favorite beach, there’s a few tools you’ll need to get started.
Easels for Painting en plein air
There are 4 main types of plein air easels: the field easel, the French-style easel, the pochade box, and the tripod-based easel. Read on to discover which one would suit you best.
The Field Easel
These three-legged easels are the most basic option for those who want to paint outside. Designed to hold a canvas upright, they’re usually made of lightweight wood or metal. Although they don’t have any storage (for paints and brushes etc) like some other easels, the field easel is a great, inexpensive option for beginner plein air painters. And if you need to upgrade your storage options, you can purchase easel accessories such as clip-on brush holders and trays.
The French-Style Easel
The traditional French easel was used by the Impressionists, but it’s still popular today because of its useful features. Typically made from wood or aluminum, these easels feature multiple storage compartments for your palette, paints, and brushes, as well as a place to hold a finished painting while it dries. They also have adjustable legs that fold up to create a suitcase-shaped box which can easily be carried using a shoulder strap or handle. Despite this, this style of easel can be heavy, so it’s best suited to those who don’t need to travel far.
The Pochade Box
If you’d like to hike to remote locations to paint outside, perhaps the pochade box is for you. These handy, compact easels are named after the French word pochade, meaning a rough or quick sketch. They’re usually small enough to fit in your backpack, so they’re a great option for spontaneous painters on the go. The bottom of the box-like structure also contains a palette and storage compartments (or sometimes drawers), while the hinged lid opens to become a stand for your canvases. These easels don’t have legs, so you’ll have to place them on your lap. Alternatively, you could buy a separate tripod.
The Tripod-Based Easel
Similar to the field easel, the tripod-based easel has three legs and is usually made from wood or metal. These easels have two basic components: a palette holder that attaches to the legs, and a canvas holder that fits onto the head of the tripod. These palette surfaces are often larger than the French-style easel or the pochade box, so they’re great for those who like to paint large-scale. They also feature a handy mixing area, so you won’t need to keep cleaning your palette.
Paints and Paint Brushes
Whether it's oils, watercolors, or acrylics, it’s totally up to you when it comes to choosing a medium. However, it’s important to make sure your paints and brushes are organized, easily stored, and portable. Here are some sets we would recommend.
Paint Brush Set and Palette
Watercolor Paint Set
Watercolor Sheet Booklet
Paint Brush Set with Travel Case
Pocket Paint Brush Set
Oil Paint Set
Acrylic Paint Starter Box