my kit to take painting plein air in watercolours

My well used, watercolour box - the hinge is broken on one side and the lid is held on by gaffer tape and it needs a bit of a clean up!

When I did the post on my oil painting plein air kit, I said I'd do a follow up on what I take if I'm going to work plein air with watercolour and mixed media.   You really don't need to buy special kits and they will never be quite 'right' for what you want to take.

Here it is  ..............

The Paintbox:

I hesitate to show this grubby specimen!   but this is the true state of it so I'll be honest!    :>)   I bought this at an art materials fair years and years ago.

I don't use a small travel size watercolour box because I like a wider variety of colours to choose from  - and quite honestly the size/weight difference isn't huge - the weight comes from the bottle of water not the paints.  It's a White Nights set of full pans in a box that held 24, see above.   The central section can hold another 12 full pans, though it wasn't designed to (wedged in with Blu tak, that tacky putty for putting up posters on teenagers walls, that frequently removes the plaster in chunks when the posters are taken down in my experience).  I've got a mix of full and half pans - a total of  39 pans!   Some refills are Winsor and Newton colours, such as the lovely Cobalt Blue Deep on the left.

In any painting I don't use a huge range of colour but I want the right colours to choose from, to use in mixes, glazed  or straight.

If I could find an empty paintbox to replace this battered one, I'd treat myself but Winsor and Newton only seem to go up to a 24 pan that has no extra space - and it's pricy.   If anyone has a link to a 36 whole pan, empty box, please let me know.


 I use a lot of different brushes but here are the ones used recently (brushaholic springs to mind).

There is 
  • a foam roller
  • a mop brush
  • a couple of Chinese brushes, riggers and swordliners - for their lovely calligraphic potential
  • a normal round brush or two
  • a bristle brushes for flicking and splattering paint.  

All the brushes shown here are inexpensive.  I carry them rolled in a recycled padded A4 envelope - lightweight and easily replaceable for free as it wears out.

Pencil Cases:

sketching pencil case

The lightweight pencil case shown above is my minimalist kit, which contains
  • a mechanical pencil (B lead) - I like these and the fact that you don't have to stop to sharpen
  • a battery eraser - great for drawing back into things
  • a couple of small bulldog clips to stop pages turning in the wind
  • carbon pencil
  • eraser
  • Tippex (typing correction pen)  perfect for drawing light lines back over colours.
  • white chinagraph pencil
  • Rotring Art Pen with sepia/black ink, Lamy pen with grey inkfor pen and wash drawings/paintings
  • Pentel waterproof ink brush pen
  • plastic palette knife for pushing watercolour around of using with bristle brush to splatter(this comes out if I'm not taking paints)

    Coloured pencils:

    These are in 2 pencil cases - one with the warm colours - reds, pinks, browns, oranges etc and the other with blues, greens, whites - cool colours. Mostly polychromos and rembrandt.   At the moment that lovely box of Rembrandt pencils I won is still in the huge elegant case - but that isn't the way I work, it's too neat and precise and left brained!  and mine remember is, I think, non-existent - and it takes up a lot of room on a work surface, would be no good for taking plein air - so they are likely to soon be transferred to the pencil cases to mix happily with the Polychromos :>)   I'll find another use for the elegant box.

    I don't  usually take watercolour pencils but if I do they are in another pencil case with my inktense pencils.

    I like to mix these with watercolour, mostly hazing it over areas when the paint is dry to add hints of a totally different colour in fine glazes, where the watercolour colour shows through.

     The blue and mauve reflections on the rocks here are partly done with coloured pencil over browns to try to catch the sky colour on the wet rocks.

    Bits n' pieces box:

    This box comes from the supermarket, has clip fastenings and in it I put ...
    • White Designers Gouache - brilliant for regaining lost lights. Mix it with watercolours to create pastel colours to eat into overworked areas, such as in the foliage of trees, to regain 'sky holes' etc.
    • Oil pastels - a handful of oil pastels in appropriate colours to use as a resist, under the watercolours, a white Sennelier oil pastel is vital to me.
    • Masking fluid - rarely if ever used but I take it just-in-case!  - it's a masquepen with a drawing tip
    I keep them in this box to prevent the gouache being squashed and getting all over everything, ditto the masking fluid and the oil pastels can get a bit soft and grungey in warm weather so it stops them from making a mess elsewhere. It also keeps the pastels from rolling away and getting lost when I'm working outside.


    Canson Watercolour sketchbook   A lovely hardback book and not too small at about 12 inches wide

    • A3 Bristol Board sketchpad
    • A3 Moleskine Folio watercolour book
    • or any other book - sometimes I like to work on heavy cartridge paper rather than watercolour paper.

    I do prefer an A3 size book or paper.

    Water and water pot:

    • A telescopic water pot is useful - I don't fully open it in use and it's then much more stable with a wide base,   Scrunching it up to travel takes less space.
    • Any old leakproof plastic bottle to hold water - enough clean water is an essential so the size depends on how long I'll be painting away from supplies - I may have a large bottle in the car and a small one to carry if I'm going to be returning to the car frequently.


    • Sun screen if needed
    • sandwiches/drink  
    • something to sit on is optional - chair/groundsheet whatever - I tend to take a thin waterproof raincape if the ground is damp - it is then useful if it rains :>)
    • tissues - for blotting and mopping
    • wet wipes - optional, for cleaning me up - I would normally just keep these in the car and not carry them.  I am inclined to use my fingers to smudge paint and can get covered!  water and a tissue usually cleans me up enough until I get back to the car.
    • camera
    • money
    • phone

    I carry these in either a lightweight rucksack or a shoulder bag.

    I only take watercolours if I'm going to paint/sketch relatively seriously - if simply grabbing quick sketches whilst on the move, doing other things,  I'd rather use pencil, pen, charcoal or some drawing medium.

    So what do you take?


    laura said…
    I like to have a lot of colors too--there are a few I really can't do without--so I love your 39-pan box!
    I like the "bits 'n' pieces" box too--a great idea!
    It's so interesting to see what artists use, and especially in your case since I am such a big fan of your paintings and have little ones hanging in my studio!
    annie said…
    Great fun to nose through your fixins, Vivien.

    Brushaholic? Cheer up, I have 21 ones that are important to me (and I haven't counted the brush pens) plus other rounds and water brushes and assorted flats and bristles to try later--and I'm just a Beginner.
    Michael Bailey said…
    Excellent post, Vivien. I used to take far too long to decide what to take out which just wastes valuable sketching time so now I keep a grab 'n' go bag for pencil sketching and one for watercolour and minimise as much as I can - although I often find there's something missing LOL. I've just done a post on my basic watercolour sketching kit - take a look. I love the Canson HP sketchbooks too although I wish they did one in portrait as well :)
    vivien said…
    thank you all :>) - you have some of the little ones Laura ? that's great :>)

    Yes I'll take a look at your post Michael :>)

    and Annie I'm terrible - I daren't go in an art shop, a bookshop or a garden centre at all if I'm broke - I think I'm incapable of coming out without falling for something!
    Margo said…
    Viv, how refreshing to have someone else admit they like to take lots of color with them. It thrills me just to see it in the box when I open it. Always inspiring to see what you take and why. I'm a kitchen sink kind of girl but my back isn't up to it. I have tried to pare it down and sometimes that even works. As always it is a joy to read your post.
    canvas artwork said…
    thanks for the great tips and like your art to.
    vivien said…
    Margo - I admit it! kitchen sink comes too :>)

    thanks canvas artwork :>)

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