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Sunday, June 7, 2020

About My Plein Air Gouache Kit

I've had many questions about what's in my gouache kit for plein air painting.  Although I described this at length in a post about one of my Scotland trips, the answers bear repeating.  Plus, I have made some changes.

Caran d'Ache Studio Gouache Set

First, the core of the kit is a Caran d'Ache Studio Gouache set.  This contains 14 pans of color plus a small tube of white.  I prefer the pans to the tubes because, out here in the high desert of New Mexico, tube paint develops a “skin” very quickly.  The skin is so thick that you'll damage your brush trying to poke a hole in it.  (As for the tube of white that comes with the set, I put out just the tiniest amount, and only when I need it.)

One problem with the pans is that, apparently, no individual refill pans are available.  I've emailed the maker, with no response, and I also have searched extensively online.  I use about half the colors frequently; the other half, rarely.  Rather than keep buying new sets—I now have plenty of extra pans of jaundicey yellows, gaudy reds and fluorescent greens—I am about to start experimenting with refilling the pans from tubes.  (More on that in a future post.) [UPDATE:  The replacement pans, or "cakes," are available through Rochester Art Supply.)

The set comes with a nice, pointy brush.  I use this brush a lot.  Not just the point, but I also scrub with the side.  After filling one watercolor journal, the brush gets somewhat worn, and it's hard to get that precise, fine line I like for the little cracks in rocks.

Richeson Plein Air Travel Brush Set

I have three other brushes, which I keep in an old pencil case:  two flats of different sizes plus another pointy brush.  (I also have a brown pastel pencil in the case for making a brief, initial drawing.)   Richeson makes a nice plein air brush set, which I prefer when it's available.  (I have two studios, one in New Mexico and another in the Canadian Maritimes, and sometimes what I prefer isn't where I am!)  This is the Richeson Plein Air Travel Brush Set.  It has three flats and three pointy brushes.  I prefer it because it has more variety in sizes and doesn't take up any more room than my old pencil case.

By the way, I've tried those water brushes everyone's talking about.  I don't like them.  They are good enough for washes, but I can't control the flow well enough to not make a mess with finer work.  But as they say, your mileage may vary.  The ones I've tried are the Pentel Aquash Water Brushes.

Pentalic 5x8 AF Aqua Journal

I don't make large gouache sketches on-location.   I can get what I want in a session with a 5x8 format, and the Pentalic journal is perfect.  The 300 gsm cold-press paper is durable and can take a beating—I scrub a lot.  It buckles only ever-so-slightly, even with a heavy wash.  The pages are signature-sewn and lie flat, so if I want to use two pages for a wider, 5x16 sketch, I can do so.  I also like the little elastic band that holds the journal closed; this keeps the pages from being damaged when I cram the journal into my pack and hike out of the wilderness.

Other Stuff

An old 8-oz sour cream container makes a perfect bucket for rinsing brushes.  A refillable, 500 ml water bottle holds enough water for that plus for my drinking needs.  Four spring clips with vinyl handles allow me to clip the gouache set plus the journal to a plastic backboard.   A partial roll of paper towels completes the kit.

More Other Stuff

Because I'm packing light, I don't take an easel.  Instead, I paint in my lap.  If my back is good, I'll just sit on a rock, padding my posterior with a foam seat cushion.  If my back needs a little TLC, I'll use a folding camp stool.  Lately, I've come to prefer a four-legged stool with a wider seat than the narrower, three-legged one, because the latter tends to cut off circulation to a vital area.  I've also found the stool to be a better solution than the cushion because I can't always find a shaded rock with the right viewpoint, whereas the stool can be put wherever I want.

Lately, because of some pesky gnats that have blossomed with summertime, I've started including a small can of bug spray.  Also a pair of foam earplugs, which keeps the gnats out of my ear canals.  (Will I be able to hear a mountain lion sneaking up on me?  I hope so.)

The Goal

My goal is to pack light.  If I didn't mind lugging more baggage along, I'd take my plein air kits for oil or pastel.  But sometimes I just want a streamlined, easy-going experience.  I want it to be more about “being in a place” rather than “messing with gear.”  This kit works perfectly for those times, and also for traveling light just about anywhere.

Finally, here are some of the latest 5x8 gouache sketches from my hikes into the canyon behind the studio.