What tools for painting do I take with me when I go out to paint? I take nothing more than I have to!  Nonetheless, certain things are essential.

Click to Purchase: "Oregon Sunflowers; 22x15"

You need some kind of easel on which to paint. Most artists use a folding tripod, but I use a piece of 1/4″ thick masonite and 3 bear-clips.  The board is 17″x24,” slightly larger than the 15″x22″ half sheet of watercolor paper I place on it.  (For larger full-sheet paintings, I use a 24″x36″ masonite board.)  I bring along a tool box which contains my brushes, a straightedge, tubes of pigments, pencils, kneaded rubber eraser, pencil sharpener and knife, pliers for getting the last bit of paint out of a tube, a bottle of masking fluid, and, of course, some business cards.

I also bring along a large plastic paint bucket (with top) which contains everything else: a 2-liter bottle of water, an empty pint-size cottage cheese container to put water in, a small roll of paper towels, and a worn out towel which I fold up and place on top of the bucket to serve as my seat cushion.  In this bucket there’s also sunscreen, bug repellant, brush cleaner, a sweater, and binoculars… perhaps also a portable radio. I dress in old beat-up clothes, sandals, and wear a straw hat to protect my face from the sun.

Additional tools for painting at night include three battery-powered lights: one for your palette and two more for your easel/masonite board.

Whenever or wherever you paint, you’ll always need a palette that’s divided into sections for pigments and paint mixing.  I use a large white plastic one that has various pockets about the perimeter for individual pigments… and an area in the middle where I can mix them all up. It has a plastic top which eventually deteriorates around the edges, so I seal the palette up with a heavy-duty zip-lock plastic bag so it won’t drip all over the place once I’ve finished painting.  This bag also helps keep the paint in the palette moist, which is convenient when you paint frequently. I usually paint with my palette several times before washing it clean, often reusing whatever I’ve previously mixed up on it.

Artists will expand their palette and explore different ways to paint with pigments.  Not long ago, I was referred to the widow of a local watercolor artist.  She wished to sell some tools he’d left behind. Among these were boxes of watercolor pigments and paper I’d never seen before. I now have many different colors for my palette. By doing this I discovered some marvelous blues: thallocyanine and turquoise.

Click Picture to Purchase: "Ocean Park, Santa Monica" 15x22

A list of equipment I recommend to my students is shown in Exhibit 22 below.  Each item is relatively inexpensive but adequate for the task at hand.

Once upon a time, I had a marvelous “rigger” brush which I lost in the bushes while painting outdoors. It was great for finalizing details in my paintings.  I became very attached to it. None of the replacements I purchased seemed to hold as much water/pigment, nor did they provide the resiliency of that favorite brush of mine. But you can’t let something like that hold you back from doing what needs to be done. I’ve simply had to work around the problem and try to find another brush that accomplishes pretty much the same result.

All this equipment is necessary for plein-air painting. You don’t need a number of the items listed under “bucket” if you’re painting indoors. And you obviously wouldn’t need to use the bucket for a seat if you’ve got a portable chair.


Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.

Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors