A friend and former student of mine asked for a recommendation on a plein air setup. Little did she know that this was no simple question. Immediately I starting thinking of the basics: What medium, acrylic, oil or watercolor? What size paintings? How much time per painting? How far does the equipment need to travel? How heavy is too heavy? How much do you want to spend?
All these questions got me thinking about my own setups, specifically in watercolor as that is the medium she decided she wanted to paint in. I then thought that I would share my three watercolor sets and how I set up to paint.
This is my everywhere set as I carry it everywhere I go, everyday. This is a Schmincke 8 pan set with a reservoir to hold water and a cap which attached to make the water cup. Literally everything you need except a brush and paper is all in this small little box. There is room so I added four more pans of color to round it out a bit more for my use. As I said it is small and super portable so I carry it at all times. I love this set not only for the construction but for the quality of the paint itself. Schmincke makes very good watercolors with exceptional color. I also like Schmincke because the tube watercolors and the pan watercolors are the exact same product. When a pan runs low I fill it up from a tube and let it dry. This is not the case with most other watercolors and I have found that sometimes the paint does not dry out well at all.
Along with the paints I have a pair of Utrecht travel brushes, a small water spritzer, my sketchbook and a cloth or paper towel.
This is my oldest watercolor set. When I got into art school my Dad bought this Winsor & Newton watercolor set for me. This set and I have been together for a long time and have ruined, I mean created, many many paintings. I have been really careful to replace the pans with the same color the set came with when they run out. Within the wooden box I inserted a color chart to make painting a bit easier as I hate when you pull paint from a pan that looks completely different in the box as it does on paper. Kind of like a nerdy watercolor cheat sheet.
I keep this set in a sturdy messenger bad along with: a glass bottle with a lid, a glass jar, a spritzer, a few more Utrecht travel brushes, a 1″ flat wash brush, a rigger brush and a watercolor pad. I generally keep this set at school and use it for demonstrations and so on.
This is my most serious set and it is a watercolor set that never could have afforded to buy. When I was working in animation as a colorist I worked on the computer. Animation art had long since gone fully digital as traditional hand painted art was more expensive and labor intensive. I will never forget the day that my friend and I noticed a bunch of large boxes labeled “art supplies” were loaded onto the conference room table. We asked the guy moving the boxes what they were and he said they were old supplies that they were getting rid of and we could take what we wanted. Like two young children fighting over candy my friend and I both jumped up out of our seats and started punching each other as we ran to open the boxes. In the first box we opened we found two of these Schmincke 48 pan sets. Naturally he claimed one and I claimed the other. As we did all the other artists in the studio burst into the room and we scurried back to our seats clutching our prizes like Gollum. Needless to say I was over the moon to now own such an expensive set. I refilled a few pans, swapped out some of the more unnecessary colors and turned in into the set above.
I carry the watercolors in a small hard topped travel bag along with a glass jar, a metal cup, a spritzer, a watercolor sketchbook and the box of brushes above. The brush box originally contained a few awful brushes that I bought only to throw away and use the box. The brushes it now holds are the best brushes I own, Raphael and Winsor & Newton sable watercolor brushes. I have owned those brushes since I was in college and have taken excellent care of them. They were expensive but so worth the price!
So those are the sets I use. I should mention that I usually have a tube of white gouache in my bag as well. I like the transparency of watercolors but I also like to have the white gouache to add highlights in an opaque white.
As to my recommendation to my friend about her setup these were my exact words “You lazy shit, half the fun is setting up a kit for yourself!!” My only suggestions are to buy the best quality watercolors and brushes you can afford and to have fun putting a watercolor setup together.