Equipment for a Free Range Artist – Part 1

The term “plein air” basically means “outdoor.” When I was in France I saw this term used on packages of eggs in the way that we might write “free range” here. So perhaps a translation of the plein air artist could be a free range artist. Like the chickens, I’m tired of being cooped up in the studio and am ready to head out into the great outdoors!

If you remember from this post, my free range painting equipment has so far been pretty much nonexistent. I was tired of precariously balancing everything on my lap and frustrated that I could only paint in places with an adequate place to sit, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and equip myself properly. There are plenty of options out there, but I wanted something a bit more specific: a setup for mountain bike plein air painting. (Definitely the world’s most popular hobby, let me tell you.)

My crazy motives aside, I needed a backpack that could fit an easel and art supplies but would still provide a sturdy hip strap and large reservoir of water suitable for long rides and hikes in the back country. There were plenty of good hiking packs out there, but none were quite big enough to hold even the smallest tripod and easel. After a long search, I finally found my ultimate plein air pack:


As my friend Rose observed: "it's so... dainty."

Meet the Camelbak “Motherlode,” a military-grade pack that can, so they say, survive decades of abuse unscathed. I’m pretty sure plein air painting was the last thing the designers had in mind, but whatever. It’s plenty large enough to fit everything the free range artist might need: tripod, easel, art supplies, stool, umbrella, snacks, hat, and three liters of water with room to spare. You could probably fit several small children inside of it if you wanted to. Happily, this is the discontinued (i.e. discounted) model. These puppies ain’t cheap.

There are some unforeseen advantages of the Motherlode: the material is IR reflective, so I will be slightly less visible to infrared cameras while I’m plein air painting. You never know when that will come up. I can also upgrade to have a gas mask compatible water reservoir, in case I’m painting outdoors in chemical warfare situations. Plus, it blends right into the foliage:


Where's my pack again?

One of the coolest things about this bag are the velcro-covered slits on the top that allow a 24″ umbrella to fit inside the pack. My husband has suggested these slits are actually for radio antennas, not umbrellas. Psh.


Just the tip sticks out.

With the pack taken care of, it was time to choose some lightweight equipment. I was looking for a simple easel to work with the tripod I already had, and this “Traveler Watercolor” setup seemed to fit the bill.

After my blinding St. Malo painting experience, I knew that I needed an umbrella to shade my paper and palette. There are lots of options for silver and black, but I figured that if white worked for the likes of Monet and Sargent, it would work for me. I went with the BestBrella version. It’s vented to help mitigate wind issues and connects to the tripod with a sturdy clamp that allows it to extend at nearly any angle.

Last but not least, I threw in a folding stool, for those rides where I’m too tired after a long ascent to stand while painting. (Sitting on the ground just isn’t a great option because you are inevitably up to your eyes in grass and can’t see the view that you wanted to paint.) This one is made in Sweden and seems pretty sturdy.

A mountain biking trip is already in the works, so I’ll let you know how all of this works. To be continued in part 2!

p.s. Just to be clear, this is not a sponsored post, this is simply me rambling about what I decided to buy.



Equipment for a Free Range Artist - Part 2
Mother's Day Love


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