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"Tips for the Artist Who Paints in the Field and Abroad"
by Jeanne Elizer

Painting outdoors can be a very rewarding as well as a frustrating experience.  The light changes, the bugs bite, the wind blows, it is too hot or too cold.  But the wonderful sensory stimulation that accompanies plein air painting can't help but give your paintings that extra "stuff" that even the observer will feel when viewing your work.   And you will learn a lot!

First, you will learn that photos lie! The world out there is three-dimensional ... not two.  Shadows are not black ... but full of color and reflected light.  You will become much more observant of the world around you, and your paintings will be your own compositions and observations, not someone else's.

Second, you will learn to be prepared for the weather and your surroundings.  Comfort when painting is of the utmost importance.   Concentrating on your inner creativity is pretty difficult when your knees are knocking with cold and the mosquitoes are eating you alive.

Third, travel as light as possible!  If your equipment is heavy and cumbersome to carry, you may find that you are selecting your painting sites by how far you might have to carry your gear.  I used to carry the French Easel and another bag with all my equipment in it because the French easel was too heavy if I loaded it.  A luggage cart with wheels helped, but limited me to painting on city streets, but only if they were not cobblestone or dirt.

This changed when I decided to join a group of artist friends in France.  Our small rental car with four occupants was definitely going to be off limits for the French easel, that is if we wanted to take a change of clothes also.  Other gear that I researched was very expensive and limited the size of the work that I could paint.

This is when the idea for a shelf to connect onto my Stanrite telescoping easel was born.  This easel had never been convenient for me.  I was continually leaning over to retrieve supplies from the ground, which was hard on my back.  The Sun-Eden Artist Shelf revolutionized this system.  I then found the Sun-Eden Easel, which folded to 22" and at 1- pounds fit in my backpack or Artist's Tote Bag.  Now I had a means to carry everything in one place at a fraction of the weight.  I was off and running!

Using a backpack (or Artist's Tote Bag) left my hands free to look at a map, open doors or do a little shopping.  Setting my gear down somewhere had often been an invitation to forgetting at least part of it.  And when using unclean sanitary facilities (where putting anything on the floor would have given me a stroke), the backpack was a godsend!


Easel.  The Sun-Eden Easel is the lightest easel and the only one that I have found that fits in a backpack.  It holds the canvas panel or mounted watercolor or pastel paper firmly in place and comes with rings on the legs and tie down stakes, a necessity on any easel during a windy day.  I always tie my easel down even if there is no wind.  I know that as soon as the canvas or paper goes on the easel, the wind will blow.  Because I favor back-lit scenes, this easel also has the advantage of being short enough that I can place it directly in front of me to keep the sun off the canvas and still see over the easel.  It telescopes into three parts so that one can use it while standing, seated, or as a table easel.

Sun-Eden Artist Shelf.  This shelf is wonderful for a place to put your palette, brushes, paints, solvents, etc.  Everything is kept close at hand and this eliminates the need to dig in your bag or pack after you begin painting ... or leaning over ... again and again.

Paints, pastels etc.  I carry my paints in the Sun-Eden Accessory Box, which clips onto the easel legs behind the Artist Shelf and attaches to all three legs of the easel.  (It will not fit a tripod with a center post.)  This box will hold all the tubes of paint that I need, as well as palette knife, mediums, etc.  Or a small fanny pack can also be used.  When painting in the studio, I reserve paint tubes at the to 1/3 full level for outdoor painting.  Smaller tubes lighten the load.  A more limited palette is used in outdoor painting to keep the weight down.  When traveling abroad, I may take a full palette of colors in my suitcase (in zip lock bags), but I am selective with what I take each day depending on where I paint and the weather.

Palette. I like the Handy Palette by Masterson for oil or acrylic because of its small size.  I cut a piece of foam core, wrapped with waxed paper (available in the supermarket) and taped underneath, to fit each section.  It fits tightly enough in the palette that it will not blow away, as loose palette paper will.  At the end of the painting session, extra paint can be transferred to another piece of foam core and waxed paper, and the used pieces of waxed paper discarded as I like to start with a clean palette everyday.  When closed, the top and bottom lid are kept from touching by placing push pins in the corner of the foam core.  The Masterson Palette keeps the paint workable for several days.  I like the Pike Palette for watercolor.

Solvent container.  If you plan to carry solvent in a container, it must be leak proof (Holbein makes several models).  I have used a can suspended on wire from the hooks on the Sun-Eden Artist Shelf, filling it with solvent from a leak-proof plastic bottle before each painting session.  The only problem is that you must get the solvent back into the plastic bottle at the end of the day.  Please don't pollute the ground or water by leaving it behind.

Canvas, paper, etc.  I paint with oils on unstretched canvas taped with transfer tape (ATG gun dispenser) to a piece of Gatorboard or Masonite.  My favorite size is 11"x14" with a half inch extra on each side.  I can paint smaller on that size if I change my mind after finding my painting site.  The Gatorboard is cut one-inch larger than the desired canvas size as there is then room to grasp the gator board for carrying.  The great thing about unstretched canvas is that I don't feel badly about throwing a painting away that hasn't gone well.  If I wish to keep a painting, I pull it off the Gatorboard, let it dry and then mount it on another piece of acid free Gatorboard with acid free glue such as Seal VacuGlue 300.  The canvas shrinks just a little so it needs to be a bit larger than the board to be covered.  The glue is brushed over the entire surface of the board and the canvas.  A rolling pin is then used to make sure that it adheres over the entire painting.   The corners of the board are weighted so that the canvas does not pull up while drying.  When the glue is dry, I trim the edges of excess canvas to fit the board.  These panels are light, very easy to frame, and archival.

Brush Holder.  I use the Sun-Eden Brush Holder as it easily slips into my pack and stands upright. It hangs from the Sun-Eden Easel Shelf for real convenience.  At the end of the day when I have used oil, I slip a small sandwich bag (usually left from my lunch) over the brushes that I have used during the day so that I know which ones need further cleaning when I return to the studio.  The plastic bag that your newspaper comes in works well also.

Rags, paper towels, or Handi Wipes.  All work well.  A paper towel holder can be easily created with a bungee cord and a standard roll of paper towels and hung between the legs of the Sun-Eden Easel or Sun-Eden Tripod.  Don't forget to take a bag to hang on your easel in which to dispose of used towels.  This keeps them from blowing around.  Pack out what you take in!

Barrier Cream.  When using this, hands can be cleaned easily with water.  It goes on like hand cream and lasts as long as your hands don't get wet.  It may be purchased at a hardware store or sometimes a paint store, like Sherwin Williams.

Backpack.  After much searching I found a very durable pack that holds all my equipment.  This is the Sun-Eden Genie Pac with a top-loading, extra large pocket and four additional pockets.  It allows me to keep my painting gear separate from my lunch and extra clothing.  A backpack should have padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap and a waist strap.  Cheap backpacks make for a short day!


  • Hat with a visor that is not reflective.  I don't like umbrellas.  They just invite wind chaos.
  • Sun Screen
  • Lunch or snacks
  • Apron or smock.  This is a real clothes saver.
  • Kiss Off or some substance to remove paint or mess-ups if the apron misses.
  • Extra clothing.  Layer up so items can be put on or taken off easily ... depending upon the temperature.
  • Bug Spray.  Makes a difference on where you paint and how long you stay!
  • Good walking or hiking shoes.  Make sure they are comfortable to stand in.
  • Rain Poncho.  I have used this to cover my canvas as well as myself.
  • Ziploc Bags.  They come in handy for so many things.

There are days when the temperature is perfect, there is but a soft breeze, no bugs, no threatening clouds on the horizon and a gentle hand touches deep into your creative spirit.   These days I call "Gift Days".    May you be blessed with many in your painting experience!

Jeanne Elizer painting in Laroque, France

A painter of nature and the human experience, Jeanne paints from life whenever possible.  Painting in the mountains of Colorado provides unlimited subject matter for paintings.   However, travels in recent years to countries including Ecuador, China, Thailand, Mexico, and France, have led to paintings demonstrating the commonality of man and her love for people.   Her motto is, "Hike for miles, paint for hours."   She says, "The quiet time I spend walking or hiking to reach a painting site is my time for meditation, and I need it to get into a place within myself that will release my creative juices.";


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