Making a Plein Air Painting Kit for Backpacking (Video)

This is an “Artists’ Chat” article explaining the backpacking painting kit I use.  If you’re interested in the technical parts of painting, read on; if not, I’ll be posting more plein air or studio works in a bit.  Thanks!

A couple fellow plein air painters have asked what kind of painting kit I put together for my backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail.  It’s a great question because there’s actually not a lot out there for this!  Even the smallest pochade boxes were bulky compared to the extreme limited space available, not to mention expensive.  Hopefully showing what I’ve rigged up will help get your creative juices started to either make something similar to better than what I’ve done here.  If you have an improvement, please help me and the other plein air artists out and share your thoughts on comments below!

This is the painting kit put together. (see video)
This is the painting kit put together. (see video)

As seen in the photo above, there were four main considerations: lightweight (<3-5 lb), small enough to fit in an outside pouch, waterproof/weatherproof and it needed to be cheap (<$40 for everything).

Kit parts: (this is also explained in the video)

Small craft organizer ($5 Hobby Lobby)

Paint cups (Walmart or Hobby Lobby): look at paint sets for kids, and replace it with your better acrylics

Small “detail” brushes

small alligator clips (Walmart): if you need to clip paper to a backing or easel

9×12″ acrylic paper (Walmart): I’ve found that Walmart brand acrylic paper actually has a better primer than others, so it doesn’t soak up your paints like a sponge. It has a nice smooth texture as well.  If you see the paper is soaking up too much paint, before you head out, put a light acrylic varnish on, let it dry and sand lightly.  It’ll make your plein air experience much better.

1 gallon Hefty zip lock bag (Walmart): Make sure to get the one with an actual zipper on top.  It seals much better than the ones you seal with your fingers.

spray bottle (Walmart):  this is the travel size “atomizer” bottle

easel (Walmart): You’ll have to pry this out of my cold dead fingers to make me get rid of it… I love it. $20

*I just make color sketches/ note on the trail for later paintings, so I use the paper as the pallet.

There’s so much to paint, but painting deep in the woods miles from city life is an experience of it’s own. I hope you dust off the backpacking gear and get out there.  Let me know how I can help!

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