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Drawing, Sketching, and Painting in the Outdoors! - Next Adventure

Drawing, Sketching, and Painting in the Outdoors!

I love the outdoors and I love drawing. I thought I’d share with you my go-to travel kit, for creating in nature. This is called ‘en plein air,’ which means quite literally ‘open-air’ or ‘outdoor’. It’s about drawing from life, outside in the world. You don’t need to be a professional artist to draw in nature. You don’t have to share the sketches you do outside if you don’t want to. Think of it as your travel journal in pictures. You don’t journal for others, you do it for yourself. One of the huge benefits of drawing en plein air is that it forces you to sit and study the details of your surroundings. There are no rules. You could just put down a rough sketch, take a picture and finish it later. You could take 2-3 hours to paint a finished gorgeous painting there in nature. There are no expectations, it doesn’t even have to look like the view in front of you. So, let’s get down to the basic kits for drawing en plein air. Drawing outdoors What is the minimum to get started? You need something to draw on, something to draw with, something to sharpen that tool. Bare minimum you could go out into the woods with a couple sheets of printer paper, a pencil, and a dollar store pencil sharpener. That’s it. That’s all you need to get started. But just in case you wanted to get a little more into it, here is some extra information about tools, sketchbooks, and paints to get you going. A Sketchbook There are a lot of options out there, it can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. First and foremost, think portability. Stick to hardbound sketchbooks that will be able to take the abuse of traveling in a backpack, and also create a hard/supportive surface to draw on. My favorite travel size is 5.5”x8.5” or smaller. It’s easily portable in a lot of different bags without taking up a ton of space and keeps your sketches quick and small. Drawing outdoors If you’re worried about your budget, you could simply take a couple sheets of printer paper, fold them in half and use some staples to make the binding. Keep in mind that sometimes you won’t have a table to draw on, so find a pretty stable piece of cardboard and cut it down to the size of your newly handmade sketchbook. This kind of sketchbook is really just for pencil drawings if you try and paint on this kind of paper it will warp. That brings me to one of the most confusing parts of finding a sketchbook, what is paper weight? Most sketchbooks will tell you how many pages are inside and something that looks like this “65lb (100gsm).” These numbers refer to the paper weight, how thick the paper is, and the quality of the paper. The higher the numbers the heavier the paper. So, cheap sketchbooks that are only meant for pencil sketches have like a 60lb paper. If you try and paint on that paper it will warp, rip, and be a general mess, but it is perfectly fine for pencil sketches and light ink work. If you have a few more bucks to throw around, invest in a nice mixed media sketchbook. Mixed Media paper is going to give you the versatility to use dry & wet mediums like pencils, charcoal, ink, markers, watercolor, whatever you want. What I mean by mixed media is 140-180lb (270-300gsm) paper, this is thick, with a rougher texture, which is ideal for multimedia renderings. It’s perfect for simple watercolor or gouache paintings. My favorite mixed media or wet medium sketchbooks are the Pentalic Aqua Journal (made in Beaverton, OR) and the Stillman & Birn Archival Sketchbooks Beta Series Hardbound. Drawing outdoors If you already know you just want to paint in the woods, then I recommend a little thicker paper and a slightly different type of “sketchbook” (I use that term very loosely”. There are things called ‘Watercolor Blocks’ which contain multiple sheets of thick watercolor paper that is cut and tapebound in convenient blocks. You can’t flip through the pages, as they all of the edges are “tapebound” or glued together to keep the paper mounted securely to the block until you remove it from the top. This kind of paper varies from 140 lb. (300gsm) to 300 lb. (640 gsm), which can take a lot of abuse. Getting into specially made watercolor paper brings up some other terms that may be unfamiliar. Cold Press, Hot Press and “Rough.” The main difference between these papers is the surface quality. Rough has a high “tooth” or very textured surface, this creates a grainy effect in watercolor because the pigment collects in the indentations of the paper. Hot Press paper is smooth, with almost no texture, this kind of paper is great for one or two layers of watercolor but not great for building up multiple layers of washes. Hot Press can be great for ink drawings. That leaves us with Cold Press which is like the medium between Rough and Hot Press. There is a little bit of texture to it and is used most often by watercolor artists as it allows multiple washes and fine detail. My favorite Watercolor blocks are the Cold Press blocks by Arches, or the Cold Press Blocks by Fluid. Drawing outdoors A Pencil Case This can be anything from a waterproof case like a pelican case, a fanny pack, a simple pencil bag with a zipper from the dollar store, or a fancy pencil case with a place to put all of your tools. The budget option -if you’re a little handy- is to recycle some of your old clothes and sew it into a simple pencil bag. There are all kinds of options, to carry your tools, you don’t need something that’s labeled “pencil bag.” The reason it’s important to have a dedicated pencil case is to keep your tools organized, protect the tips of your pencils and brushes, ease of access, and to protect everything else in your bag from the lead of your pencils. My current pencil case is a special edition Inktober Pencil Case, but I’ve also used a small dry bag or type of pelican case to carry my tools while traveling to keep them safe from the elements. Sharpeners and Erasers Sharpeners and Erasers are just as important as the tools you use to put medium down on paper. When you pick your Pencil Sharpener, you want something with an enclosed case to catch all the shavings (Remember to Leave No Trace). Which one you pick means less than it does to remember to bring one. There are a lot of options for Erasers, which is 100% about personal preference. Kneaded Erasers are a great place to start. Pink Pearl and other plastic erasers are also a great option. I have a soft spot for General’s Tri Tip Eraser because I have a little more control over what I’m erasing. Pencils Pencils, Graphite, Charcoal, and Colored Pencils! You can draw with anything that feels right. You can draw with mechanical pencils, standard Ticonderoga pencils, or get a full set of drawing pencils with a range of hard lead to soft led (ie 2h, hb, b, 2b, 3b, 4b and so on.) The softer the lead the darker the mark you’ll make on your paper. There’re also woodless pencils that are just graphite with a coating around the outside. You’ve also got things called Chinese markers, and charcoal pencils. If you choose to use these mediums, I’d suggest carrying like a travel hairspray to use as a fixative, so your drawing doesn’t rub off on the opposite page. Last but not least we’ve got things like colored drafting pencils or erasable colored pencils (ie. Derwent Colored Drawing Pencils or Prismacolor Col-Erase Pencils.) Pens and Markers Fine Liners, Brush Pens, Gel Pens, Dip Pens. Fine liners range from pens like Microns, Copic Multiliners, Pentalic Illustration Pens and more. Fine liners come in a huge range of point size, colors, ink type, and brands. Brush pens give you a great range of mark making, you can go from a very thin line to a thick one. They’re usually used for calligraphy, but comic book artists are known to call the brush pen a friend for inking. Gel Pens are a great option to pop a bit of highlight on ink or watercolor work. Then we have the classic dip pen. These are a little less portable as you need to bring a well of ink to properly use them. The tip is normally a teardrop shape and there is no ink held in the pen itself. You could also turn your attention to markers, like felt tips, or alcohol-based markers like Copics. I personally have never had great luck with markers, but I do carry a variety of fine liners and a couple brush bens, and my trusty Uniball Signo white gel pen for highlights. Drawing outdoors Brushes Synthetic, Natural, or Aqua Brushes. Before I get into the complex variety of brushes, I will mention the traveler’s best friend; water brushes! These are brushes with a water reservoir attached to the brush, so when you squeeze the handle the water come out and wets the brush. They can be a bit tricky to control at first, but once you get the hang of it they will become one of your favorite tools to throw in the pencil case and go. There are many brands that make these brushes, but I’ve had the best luck with Pentel Aquash brushes and Kuretake Waterbrushes. Alright, let’s talk about the different types of regular ol’ brushes. Starting with the hair types. Brushes can be made from a variety of hairs; squirrel, sabeline, red sable, pony hair, ox hair, kolinsky sable, mongoose hair, hog bristle, came hair, badger and synthetic. When in doubt, purchase synthetic brushes. Synthetic brushes are man-made of either nylon or polyester. The rest of your options like size and shape doesn’t matter quite as much as what the brush is made of. If you really don’t know where to start, I recommend like 3 Synthetic Round Brushes one Size 2 for detail, one 6 for layers, and like an 8 or 9 for washes. Remember that if you’re bringing standard brushes, you’ll need to bring a little cup or jar and some water to clean and wet your brushes. Drawing outdoors Mediums Watercolor Travel Kits, Gouache, Ink. The reason I’m such a sucker for watercolor is that there are all kinds of travel kits that range in size and complexity. My favorite travel watercolor kit is the Winsor and Newton Cotman Set in combo with the waterbrushes. This is really an optional part of drawing in the woods. It does become a little bulkier because with some mediums you need to carry extra water, not just for washes, but to clean your brushes after use. Now that you know your options and a little bit about the differences, you can experiment and customize your own go to travel kit. There is no wrong way to do it. The great thing about drawing or painting en plein air is that there are no rules. Drawing outdoors
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