top of page
  • Writer's pictureDanny McShane

My Plein Air Watercolour Kit

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

I use a few different setups, depending whether I'm sketching or painting and where I'm going, how far I have to carry everything and so on. My Urban (and Field) Sketch kit is here This is my most used 'every day' painting bundle.

It's a fairly low cost plein-air painting set up (as opposed to sketching), based on a cheap (7-Day Shop or Amazon Basics) tripod that now seems to cost around $/£25. The drawing board and shelf are offcuts of 5mm plywood with a coat of acrylic varnish. Everything is a bit paint spattered from my last outing, but it can wipe clean when I want to (honest) and has had about a year's wear and tear. (Except the tripod which is about 15 years old). It all fits in a £2.50 supermarket hemp "Bag for life" (Morrison's seem to be the stiffest bottomed). It would work equally well as a compact studio setup if you were stuck for space and wanted to work on an easel rather than a table.

Contents of the bag are...

Clockwise from top left: Bicycle water bottle 750ml

Blue plastic cup

Brush holder cut down plastic shampoo bottle, hangs off the shelf by a clip in use.

Water pot Frisk nesting 3-compartment... (yes, I use 4 smallish water pots -it lets me go from dirtier to cleaner over the course of a painting)

Pencil case with 4B pencil, sharpener, putty eraser, white gouache, odd paint tubes, razor blade, old credit card for scraping, etc;

Spritz bottle Usually full, sometimes with a little ox gall or gum arabica in the water if I think what I'll be painting might want it.

Bulldog clips

Drawing board and shelf with watercolour paper block in between (16x12" -this protects the block as well as being the most compact way to carry it).

Bamboo brush roll (Marked "Top" so I can pick it up without showering brushes all over... again). Good for protecting the bristles and for carrying brushes home while damp.

Large plastic palette (still the best I've tried, but that's another story)

Umbrella(learned the hard way);

Shelf cloth -bit of old towel usually clipped to the shelf for wiping brushes and

Paper towel For quick corrections to brush marks in the wrong places.

Top: The shelf, with its cutouts for the blue water cup and the 'T' slot to hook over the tripod legs. I screwed a 15mm strip of wood to the plywood to helps the shelf sit horizontally. The non-slip plastic was added after first breezy day. The brush holes are next to useless. Bottom: This shelf is exactly 16x12.5" to fit my usual paper block, though it works with other sizes. A 10mm strip runs along the bottom to hold the block.

The back of the drawing board: These tripods can hold anything with a standard camera mounting screw, but they also have this little quick-release gadget (the black thing) that you can screw to the camera and just clip into the tripod. I thought it would be easier to mimic the plastic gadget in wood (foreground) and save all the mounting screw faff. It works fine. It does mean the drawing board doesn't sit flat on a table when off the tripod (unless I prop it up a little) but I have other drawing boards.

This is the tripod end - so my wooden block just fits in here and is held by that lever spring thingy.

This would be the proper way to do it if you fit a UMC screw thread to your drawing board (or its how you mount a camera on the tripod).

This is how the shelf fits over two tripod legs. Just held by gravity, it can't move down further because the legs widen and it can't tip forward. Simples.

The shelf in place with its normal payload -brush hanger, wipe cloth, water pots. I prefer to hold the palette in use but I was busy taking photos... spritz bottle is sulking underneath as I missed it. [Please ignore my glove collection in the background].

And with the drawing board on top -which is adjustable for angle, swivel and even height above the shelf from here.

And that's it for 16x12", Quarter Imperial, A3 or thereabouts.

If I'm going to paint half imperial (22x15") I need to carry a bigger board and paper, so the black A2 portfolio case has to come with us, though I can leave the smaller board behind (along with whatever else I inevitably forget on the day).

And in use...

63 views6 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Jul 15, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This is fabulous, Danny, thank you so much for sharing. It's so helpful to see your plein air kit, and it's inspirational!

Danny McShane
Danny McShane
Aug 21, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Caroline! Nothing original, just keeping it simple :o)


Jun 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


Danny McShane
Danny McShane
Sep 13, 2023
Replying to

Ta! :o)


Jun 13, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Looks very usable, Danny, thanks for this. What paints do you use? Jim P.

Danny McShane
Danny McShane
Jun 14, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Jim. For plein air I use mostly Winsor & Newton Artist's tube paint wet, and some SAA and Jackson's tubes. For sketching in sketchbooks I often use Schminke or W&N Cotman .pans. So far I've found paper makes more of a difference than paint, My favourite paper is really Bockingford, especially the heavier weights -I think it suits fast plein air though it can sometimes dry a bit quickly in the sun.

bottom of page