Plein Air Painting with Robert Leedy
Reddi-Arts, Fall 2018


If you paint with watercolors on a regular basis, you most likely have all of the supplies necessary and you can make do with what you have. If you are purchasing watercolor materials for the first time and have a sense that you will continue with the medium, I encourage you to purchase good quality pigments, brushes and paper.


A good, portable easel is your most important purchase. You can paint without an easel though you will not be as comfortable. Make sure to buy an easel that is suited for watercolor (the painting surface can be tilted to a horizontal plane).

My personal choice is the En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series watercolor easel ( It is offered in a packaged set that includes an easel, tripod, palette, collapsible cup, and backpack. There is a more expensive, deluxe version available but I think the Traveler Series is the best option.

Reddi-Arts also sells watercolor easels. Make sure that the easel adjusts so that you can paint on a flat, horizontal surface. Winsor Newton makes a good one.

There are other, less expensive watercolor tripod easels available – just be sure they allow for horizontal painting and they are lightweight.

Watercolor paints

Student grade paints are OK if you are on a budget but keep in mind they are inferior in quality and may affect your painting.

Look for watercolors in 15 ml or 5 ml tubes; I prefer tubes over pan pigments or tin sets. I recommend professional artist grade watercolors by Winsor Newton, Holbein, or Daniel Smith.

(*indicates essential colors)

*Aureolin Yellow, Lemon Yellow or Winsor Yellow

*Cadmium Yellow

*Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna

Cadmium Orange

*Cadmium Red

*Burnt Sienna or Quinacridone Gold

*Alizarin Crimson or Carmine

Opera, Rose Madder Genuine (or Permanent), or Quinacridone Magenta

*Ultramarine Blue or French Ultramarine

*Cerulean Blue

*Phthalocyanine Blue BS, Winsor Blue, or Peacock Blue

*Cobalt Blue

Leaf Green (from Holbein - a convenience color for bright, light foliage)

*Phthalocyanine Green GS, Winsor Green, or Viridian

Raw Sienna

*Burnt Umber

Again, you might already have a set of colors that you prefer. The above list is just a guide for putting together a good set to paint with.

*Before squeezing paints into your palette, check with me on the layout. (Returning students already have their palettes organized.)

Plastic watercolor palette

A good plastic palette with separate wells for pigments and a roomy mixing area is also essential. Make sure there are as many wells as you have tubes of color! For plein air painting, I like Martin Airtight or Mijello Fusion Airtight watercolor palettes. They have tight fitting lids and are small enough to fit on a watercolor easel palette shelf. They come in different sizes. Again, be sure to have enough wells to fit the number of paints you have!


Good brushes will do your painting a world of good but keep in mind that an expensive brush doesn’t always mean that it is a good one.

If you are serious about watercolor painting, at one point you should treat yourself to a good Kolinsky sable brush. They are very expensive but very fine brushes. DaVinci, Escoda, and Winsor Newton are good brands.

As a relatively inexpensive alternative, look for good quality synthetic or synthetic blend brushes and make sure that the retailer suggests them specifically for watercolor. Robert Simmons’ line of watercolor brushes, Simply Simmons, are good brushes at a very low cost.

Most of your painting will be done with Rounds. You can also purchase Liners and Riggers for detail.

Here is a good assortment:

#4 or #6 Round

#8 or #10 Round

#12 or #14 Round

1” or 1 ½” Flat

Escoda makes a great set of three travel brushes in a #2 round, #6 round, and #10 round. They have protective caps and come in a leather travel case. I carry these when I am using my sketchbook. DaVinci also has a very good set of travel brushes.

Watercolor paper

First off, avoid watercolor pads. Purchase watercolor blocks that are usually 20 sheets of paper that are sealed together to create a rigid backing support and you simply pull the individual sheet off the block after you complete a painting. They are convenient because they don’t require stretching or taping to a board as single sheets do. Purchase Arches, Kilimanjaro, Winsor Newton or Fabriano Artistico blocks.

Blocks are labeled Hot Press, Cold Press or Rough. This refers to the texture of the paper. Hot Press is smooth, Cold Press has a slight texture, or tooth, and Rough is heavily textured. Cold Press is the most commonly used and best for our purposes though you might want to experiment with the other two.

Watercolor paper also comes in different weights – typically 90 lb., 140 lb., or 300 lb. I usually like to work on 300 lb. but it is expensive. 140 lb. paper works best in this case. 90 lb. is usually student grade and of inferior quality.

Buy a block no smaller than 10” x 14”.

IMPORTANT: Work as large as you possibly can. Your painting skills will improve a lot faster by painting on larger paper surfaces. Small surface areas are too confining.

Paper support

a drawing or Masonite board for supporting single sheets of paper (not necessary if you are working on a watercolor block.)


#2B pencil - (I use a mechanical pencil which is great for contour drawing and reducing the amount of lead on the paper; look for HB in .5 mm, .7 mm or .9 mm.)

Small, manual pencil sharpener

Only if you are not using a mechanical pencil.

Kneaded eraser

This is the best eraser for watercolor paper. You might bring two or more as they can collect dirt and grit on plein air outings. Also use a small zip lock bag to protect them from the elements.

Water container

Cottage cheese or Tupperware-like containers are good. The Faber-Castell Clic & Go Foldable Water Pot is my favorite and conveniently fits into the En Plein Air Pro easel cup holder.

Spray bottle

Make sure it has an adjustable spray head.

Natural sponge

A large, natural sponge– A MUST HAVE! Synthetic kitchen sponges won’t do. Look for one that is about the size of your fist.


The green masking tape found in the paint department at Home Depot or Lowe’s. It is used for taping down the watercolor paper to the board OR delineating the picture area if you wish to do so. Always good to have on hand. A better alternative is the white Artist’s Tape.

Bulldog Clips

These are great for securing paper to a support board. They are handy for fighting the wind as well.

Paper towels

For wiping and cleaning your palette as well as blotting large areas of paint. The Viva brand seems more suited for watercolor.


Buy them in small, travel packets – for blotting, picking up runaway paint and more subtle absorbency uses.

Optional supplies


always handy for quick sketching, value studies, taking notes, making lists, etc. Be sure and verify the sketchbook is made with watercolor paper. My favorite sketchbook is a hardbound watercolor paper book - the Travelogue series made by HandBook. The parent company is Global Art Materials and they make a wide variety of sketchbooks – just be sure to look for the gray hardbound cover made for watercolor.

Artist’s Umbrella

When you are out in bright sunlight, staring down at white paper is blinding and you cannot see subtle value changes. It is always good to keep your art work out of direct sunlight for this reason. This umbrella is not necessarily to shade YOU but sometimes it does both jobs. There are two basic types of artist umbrellas: One that you stick into the ground and another type that connects to your easel. Because you might be painting on hard pavement, the former is not a good option. I have owned a lot of umbrellas and my favorite is the EasyL Umbrella. It is well made and adjustable to different angles and heights. It is also very good in the wind. You can find it at There is a drawback: It is expensive ($110). You can easily do without an umbrella but it is a great thing to have on a bright, sunny day as shade is not always easy to find and somewhat limited for subject matter.

Portable brush holder

To protect your investments! These can be the roll-up, placemat types or the folding kind with elastic straps for securing the brushes.

Tote bag

Make sure it is durable and holds all of your stuff.


Very helpful while composing and drawing. You can also make one by cutting a rectangle into something like matboard – just be sure to make it proportional to the dimensions of the paper you are painting on! ViewCatcher is the one I have.

iPad, iPhone or digital camera

This is certainly not a requirement though if you have one, it is a great tool as viewfinder and camera for recording subject matter.

Feel free to call, text or email me with questions.

Robert Leedy
(904) 401-2904 mobile