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Plein Air Painting 101

There's something truly magical about painting outdoors or plein air painting. The combination of natural light and the beauty of the outdoors can inspire anyone to paint. It is a perfect way to pause and absorb the beauty of nature. Whether you're an experienced artist or a beginner, painting plein air is a rewarding experience for everyone. Let’s talk about essential supplies and tips to get started with watercolor painting while hiking.

watercolor painting supplies

Essential Supplies

Watercolor Paints

You can start with a basic set of watercolor paints, though investing in artist-grade paints can produce richer colors and better results. Look for paints that are lightfast and have good pigment saturation. I prefer using a limited color palette for plein air painting, that includes blues, greens, browns and primary colors.

Watercolor Paper

A high-quality watercolor paper is important, as it can absorb the water and paint well without buckling or tearing. A good weight for watercolor paper is 140 lbs. I also pack some kind of support to hold the paper.


Invest in a set of quality brushes. Choose brushes with natural bristles, like sable, for best results. Make sure that no harm will come to your brush tips when packing them. I would recommend three round brushes - small (size 3), medium (size 6), and large (size 12).

watercolor brushes

Water Container

Any container will do for holding water, but it's important to have one nearby for cleaning brushes and mixing paint.


A palette with wells for mixing colors is ideal. Look for one with a lid to keep your paints from drying out.

Masking Tape

Masking tape can be used to create a border on your paper and keep it from moving around while you paint.

Pens, Pencil and Eraser

Waterproof pens if you prefer to draw with pens. Basic pencil for outlining your drawing.

Tips for Beginners

Experiment with Colors

One of the joys of watercolor painting is the endless possibilities for mixing and blending colors. Experiment with different combinations to create unique and beautiful effects. Try different techniques, like wet-on-wet, dry brush, or splattering paint, to create different textures and effects.

Start Simple

When beginning, start with simple compositions and gradually work your way up to more complex scenes. This will help you build your skills and confidence. A simple flower or landscape can be a great starting point.

Pay Attention to Light

The way light falls on a scene is important to capture in watercolor painting. Look for interesting contrasts of light and shadow to make your paintings come alive.

Take Your Time

Watercolor painting requires patience and attention to detail. Take your time and don't rush the process. Begin with light washes of color and build up the layers gradually. Watercolor is a delicate medium, and it's easy to overwork your painting. Remember to step back and take breaks, allowing your work to dry before adding more layers.

Embrace Mistakes

Mistakes are a natural part of the painting process, especially for beginners. Embrace them and use them as opportunities to learn and improve.

Have fun

Watercolor painting is meant to be enjoyable, so don't stress about making a perfect masterpiece. Enjoy the process of creating something beautiful.

Painting in nature can be a wonderful experience, allowing you to connect with your surroundings in a unique way. With the right supplies, a few tips, and practice, you'll be on your way to creating beautiful watercolor paintings en plein air in no time. So grab your supplies and head out into the great outdoors – your next masterpiece awaits!

Happy trails and happy painting!

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