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Painting On Location


Painting on location is a lot of fun. You don’t necessarily produce your best work out in the elements, but it sharpens your observation and judgement and occasionally those quick little spontaneous paintings seem to have a character you just can’t replicate in the studio.
Painting on Location Cinque Terre

Painting on location can also add a social element to what is usually a lone pursuit.


Painting with a group of friends or joining a workshop helps build confidence when faced with a passing parade of helpful observers.

The secret to successful on site painting is to take as little equipment as possible. Everything including your hat, jacket, lunch, camera and painting gear should fit easily into a small back pack.


A folding stool is handy too if you don’t like sitting on the ground. There is nothing worse that trying to navigate through a crowded market or village square with bags, trolleys, packs of paper and folding easels – all that is best left behind in the studio.

Why Paint on Location?

Being out in the elements with less than optimum painting conditions and a limited amount of time forces you to work quickly, make decisions on the fly and run risks to get the job done.


This no nonsense approach may not, at the time, produce the best results, but the skills learned will carry over into your general work process, making you procrastinate less and paint more. Painting on location teaches you to quickly cope with problems, it sharpens your observation skills and makes you a more decisive painter.


Taking a painting from start to finish in one concentrated session not only teaches you valuable skills, it is also enjoyable and addictive!

Venetion Doors painted on location

Painting on location is a lot of fun. Sometimes a simple little subject like this takes the pressure off and makes achieving a good result easier than choosing something grand and complicated.

 Materials For Painting On Location

This is a basic list of gear I carry when I am painting on location. It will all fit in a small backpack with room left for a few other things. International workshops will entail walking into and out of many of the painting spots so here is a list of all the necessary equipment.

You may want to add a few things to this list, but the important thing to remember is that you have to be able to easily carry everything, so don’t pack too much!

Painting Materials for painting on location

Ink container with trimmed plug, small selection of brushes and pencils, small water spray bottle.

Materials List



  • French Ultramarine Blue

  • Phthalo Blue ( Green shade if available, or Winsor or Prussian if no Phthalo)

  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (or Art Spectrum Permanent Crimson)

  • Quinacridone Gold (or Indian Yellow )

  • I also carry Permanent Rose, Cobalt and Aureolin – but you can get by without them.

  • White Gouache

  • Small container of Gesso


Burnt Sienna pigment ink (Art Spectrum) Screw cap on tight and seal in zip lock plastic bag. Plain dip in pen and nib.


The plug in the top of the Art Spectrum ink bottles acts as a seal so don’t throw it away. Cutting a larger hole in the top of the plug with a sharp knife, allows you to dip your pen in without removing the plug, while retaining the seal. Avoid travelling with the eye dropper type ink bottles – they always leak!


​1/2 inch flat Taklon

  • 1/4 inch flat Taklon

  • 1/8 inch flat Taklon. (these flat brushes are sometimes called One Stroke or Long Flat)

  • #1 or #2 Taklon liner. (Neef are a good brand of taklon brush

  • An old 1/2” bristle house painting brush.

  • 2” or 3” Hake brush or wide soft goat hair brush

OLD HAND TOWEL – For adjusting the amount of water in your brush.

PALETTE – Small enamel or plastic folding palette


  • A black and a white charcoal pencil.

  • A couple of inktense pencils. (Browns/Greys)

…and a craft knife or blade to keep them sharp


Small atomizer type sprays are best for traveling. If you can’t find one of these, cut down the tube on a normal spray bottle to screw onto a smaller container. The one shown above is screwed on to an old ink bottle.


I prefer Arches Watercolor blocks  300gsm (140lb) 26x36cm (approx.10″  x 14″) or I carry sheets of arches paper cut into quarters and tape them onto a core flute backing board with masking tape as I paint on them.


For two weeks I carry around 25 quarter sheets. Coreflute is the double walled plastic real estate signs are printed on. It is available from large hardware shops or sign writers will often have off cuts. It is easily cut to size with a Stanley knife and weighs next to nothing.

Paper, stool and easel for painting on location


Some people are happy to sit on the ground and paint, some are more comfortable sitting on a seat. The most stable small stool for its size is the type shown here. There is a smaller three leg stool with a triangular seat available, but they are not very stable.


  • Masking Tape

  • Plastic cup for water

  • Painting Water Bottle (easily acquired at your destination)

  • Small sketch pad

  • Small pack of tissues

  • Sunscreen and hat


I normally work sitting down with my painting flat on the ground, but for demonstrations I stand and use a light weight easel. I much prefer to work flat, but using an easel gives everyone a clear view.


This easel packs into my backpack in place of a stool. It is a simple device cobbled together from a couple of sheets of lightweight ply, some aluminium right angle, corrugated plastic pipe and a small Manfrotto photographic tripod.


Hanging my backpack from the center of the tripod keeps everything stable in windy conditions. If you do decide to bring an easel, make sure it is small and light weight, and you can easily carry it with the rest of your gear. Remember though, watercolor behaves better when painting flat!


I have switched to a Holbein aluminium easel. It is lighter than the Manfrotto tripod, folds to a small package and is very stable.

I made a simple folding table to attach to the easel. It is made of Coreflute (the stuff real estate signs are made from) and Scotch Tough Tape. 

After you cut the three panels, wipe down the areas to be taped with methylated spirits  to ensure good adhesion.

I use a couple of spring clips to hold the table in place and to secure my palette. Rags brushes paints etc can be kept in the triangular cavity under the table while you paint.

When painting in windy locations I suspend my painting bag from the easel with a shock chord. This adds greatly to the easels stability.

The table folds flat for transport and is the same size as the backing boards I attach my watercolor paper to, so it fits in my painting bag with the backing boards and paper.

easel update


It is easy to pack way more equipment than you really need. The collection of gear below, plus some paper and a small palette, is all I need and 99% of the time, all I use in the studio.

Basic painting on Location materials
Summing Up

  • Keep your gear to a minimum

  • Don’t be too ambitious

  • Paint with a group to gain confidence

  • Consider simple limited palette studies

  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible (chair, jacket, hat, rain coat etc.)

  • Pack your painting gear in your booked luggage, not carry on, when flying.

  • Stick with it – you will gain valuable skills you wont learn in the studio.


See Also Limited Palette

A limited palette of a warm and a cool color can produce surprising results. Indigo and Burnt Sienna make a small travel painting kit you can take anywhere.

See Also Traveling With Watercolor

10 Tips to make traveling with watercolor more rewarding and enjoyable.


Author: John Lovett

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