What Equipment Do You Need for Outdoor Sketching?

Sketching outdoors is a liberating and inspiring way to capture the beauty of the world around us. Whether you are a seasoned artist or a beginner, having the right equipment can make a significant difference in your sketching experience. In this article, we will explore the essential tools and accessories you need for outdoor sketching.

Choosing the Right Sketching Tools

When it comes to choosing sketching tools, it’s important to consider your personal preferences and the type of sketches you want to create. Here are some options:

Pencils and Pens

The most basic tools for sketching are pencils and pens. Pencils come in various grades, from H to B, each providing a different level of hardness or softness. The harder the pencil, the lighter the line it creates, while softer pencils produce darker lines. This range of options allows you to experiment and find the perfect tool for your style.

In addition to traditional graphite pencils, there are also mechanical pencils available. These offer a consistent line width and eliminate the need for sharpening. Some artists prefer the precision and control that mechanical pencils provide.

When it comes to pens, there are different types to choose from, such as ballpoint, gel, and fineliner pens. Each type offers a different line quality and thickness. Ballpoint pens, for example, create smooth and consistent lines, while fineliner pens produce precise and detailed lines. Experimenting with different types and sizes can help you find the perfect tool for your sketches.

Charcoal and Pastels

For a more expressive and dramatic effect, charcoal and pastels are excellent choices. Charcoal can create bold, smudgy lines that add depth and texture to your sketches. It allows for both light and dark shading, making it ideal for creating dramatic contrasts. Working with charcoal requires a different technique compared to pencils, as it is more forgiving and allows for greater freedom of expression.

Pastels, on the other hand, offer vibrant colors and easy blending. They come in two forms: soft pastels and oil pastels. Soft pastels are made of pure pigment and are easy to blend, while oil pastels have a waxier consistency and offer a different texture. Both mediums allow for dynamic and textured sketches, adding a unique element to your artwork.

Watercolor Brushes

If you enjoy adding a splash of color to your sketches, watercolor brushes are a must-have. They come in various sizes and shapes, enabling you to achieve different textures and effects. Watercolor brushes are typically made with natural or synthetic bristles, each offering a different feel and application. Natural bristle brushes, such as those made from sable or squirrel hair, are known for their ability to hold more water and create smooth washes. Synthetic brushes, on the other hand, are more affordable and can mimic the qualities of natural bristle brushes.

Portable watercolor sets are also available, allowing you to paint on the go. These sets usually come with a range of colors and a small water reservoir, making it convenient to create vibrant sketches wherever inspiration strikes. Whether you prefer a loose and fluid style or a more controlled approach, watercolor brushes provide endless possibilities for adding color to your sketches.

Essential Sketching Surfaces

When sketching outdoors, it’s essential to have a suitable surface to work on. Here are a few options:


Sketchbooks are a convenient and portable option for outdoor sketching. They come in different sizes and paper types, such as smooth or textured, enabling you to choose the perfect one for your preferences. Additionally, sketchbooks often have durable covers that protect your work.

Imagine yourself sitting on a grassy hill, overlooking a picturesque landscape. You reach into your bag and pull out your trusty sketchbook. The smooth pages invite your pencil to glide effortlessly, capturing the beauty of nature. As you flip through the pages, you can see the progression of your artistic journey, each sketch telling a unique story.

Whether you prefer a small pocket-sized sketchbook for quick doodles or a larger one for more detailed drawings, having a sketchbook by your side ensures that you never miss an opportunity to capture a moment of inspiration.

Loose Sheets of Paper

If you prefer more freedom in terms of paper size, using loose sheets of paper can be a great alternative. Carrying a small clipboard or a folder to hold your sheets will help keep them organized and protected while sketching on the go.

Picture yourself strolling through a bustling city, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You spot a street performer, their vibrant energy captivating your attention. With a sense of urgency, you reach into your bag and pull out a stack of loose sheets of paper. You quickly secure them onto your trusty clipboard, ready to capture the essence of the scene before you.

The beauty of using loose sheets of paper is the freedom it offers. You can experiment with different sizes and types of paper, allowing you to adapt your sketching style to various subjects and environments. The flexibility of loose sheets also means that you can easily rearrange and organize your sketches later, creating a visual diary of your artistic adventures.

Canvas Panels

For artists working with more robust mediums like oils or acrylics, canvas panels provide a sturdy and durable surface. They are lightweight and easy to transport, making them ideal for outdoor painting sessions.

Imagine yourself standing in front of a breathtaking seascape, the salty breeze gently caressing your face. With your easel set up and your canvas panel secured, you dip your brush into the vibrant hues of paint. Each stroke on the canvas brings the scene to life, capturing the movement of the waves and the warmth of the sunlight.

Canvas panels offer a level of stability and durability that is essential for working with heavier mediums like oils or acrylics. Their rigid structure provides a solid foundation for your artwork, allowing you to confidently apply layers of paint without worrying about the surface warping or buckling.

Whether you prefer to sketch in a compact sketchbook, on loose sheets of paper, or on a sturdy canvas panel, having the right surface is crucial for outdoor sketching. Each option offers its own unique advantages, allowing you to explore different techniques and mediums while immersing yourself in the beauty of the world around you.

Portable Easels and Supports

To ensure a comfortable and stable working position, investing in portable easels and supports is essential. Whether you are an artist who loves to paint outdoors or someone who enjoys sketching in different locations, having the right equipment can make a world of difference in your creative process. Here are a few options to consider:

Tripod Easels

Tripod easels are a popular choice among artists due to their lightweight and easy-to-set-up design. These easels typically feature three adjustable legs that provide stability on uneven surfaces, making them perfect for outdoor use. With a tripod easel, you can easily find the perfect angle and height to work comfortably, allowing you to focus on your art without any distractions.

One of the advantages of using a tripod easel is its versatility. Not only can you use it for sketching and painting, but it can also be used for displaying finished artwork or holding reference materials while you work. Its compact size when folded down makes it easy to transport, making it an ideal choice for artists on the go.

Field Sketching Boards

If you prefer a flat working surface or find yourself working predominantly with paper or canvas, field sketching boards are a practical option to consider. These lightweight and portable boards provide a solid base for your artwork, ensuring that it remains steady while you work.

Field sketching boards often come with clips or straps to secure your paper or canvas in place, preventing any unwanted movement. Some boards even have built-in storage compartments to hold your art supplies, allowing you to keep everything organized and easily accessible. With a field sketching board, you can set up your workspace anywhere, from a bustling city park to a serene countryside, and let your creativity flow.

Plein Air Painting Umbrellas

When sketching or painting under direct sunlight, a plein air painting umbrella can be a valuable addition to your portable easel setup. These umbrellas are specifically designed to protect you and your artwork from excessive glare and heat, allowing you to work comfortably even on the sunniest of days.

Plein air painting umbrellas are easy to set up and attach to your easel or tripod. They provide a shaded area around your workspace, reducing the risk of eye strain and ensuring optimal conditions for sketching or painting. Some umbrellas even come with adjustable angles, allowing you to position them according to the direction of the sun, providing you with the perfect lighting conditions for your artwork.

Additionally, plein air painting umbrellas are often made from lightweight and durable materials, making them easy to carry and withstand various weather conditions. Whether you’re painting landscapes, still life, or capturing the beauty of urban scenes, a plein air painting umbrella can be a valuable tool to enhance your outdoor artistic experience.

Investing in portable easels and supports not only enhances your creative process but also allows you to explore new environments and capture the essence of different locations. Whether you choose a tripod easel, a field sketching board, or a plein air painting umbrella, having the right equipment will help you create art with ease and comfort wherever your inspiration takes you.

Additional Tools and Accessories

In addition to the basic sketching tools and surfaces, there are a few accessories that can enhance your outdoor sketching experience:

When it comes to outdoor sketching, having the right tools can make all the difference. While a basic set of sketching tools is essential, there are a few additional accessories that can take your sketches to the next level.

Erasers and Sharpeners

Having a good quality eraser and sharpener is crucial for maintaining the precision and quality of your sketches. Whether you prefer a mechanical eraser or a traditional kneaded eraser, having one that suits your needs can help you correct mistakes and achieve the desired level of detail. Similarly, a sharpener that is designed specifically for your preferred drawing pencils can ensure that you always have a sharp point for precise lines and shading.

When it comes to erasers and sharpeners, portability is key. Opt for options that are compact and lightweight, ensuring that you can always have them on hand when inspiration strikes. Many erasers and sharpeners come with convenient carrying cases or attachments that can easily be attached to your sketchbook or carried in a pocket or bag.

Fixatives and Spray Bottles

If you work with mediums like charcoal or pastels, using a fixative can help preserve your sketches and prevent smudging. Fixatives are available in aerosol form, allowing for easy application and quick drying. By applying a thin, even layer of fixative to your finished artwork, you can ensure that it remains intact and protected from smudging or fading over time.

In addition to fixatives, a spray bottle filled with water can be a useful tool for outdoor sketching. Whether you are working with watercolors or dry mediums like colored pencils, a spray bottle can help you create interesting effects and textures. Spraying a light mist of water on the paper before applying watercolors can create a soft, blended look, while spritzing water on dry mediums can reactivate the pigments, allowing you to blend and layer them more easily.

Palettes and Mixing Trays

For artists working with paints, having a palette or mixing tray is essential. These tools allow you to blend and mix colors, ensuring you have a vast range of tones and shades at your disposal. Palettes come in various shapes and sizes, from traditional wooden palettes to portable plastic ones with mixing wells. Choose a palette that suits your needs and preferences, considering factors such as the number of wells, the material, and the ease of cleaning.

When selecting a palette or mixing tray, consider the type of paints you will be using. If you work primarily with watercolors, a palette with wells that can hold and mix a large amount of water is ideal. On the other hand, if you work with acrylic or oil paints, a palette with a smooth surface that can be easily cleaned is more suitable.

By ensuring you have the right equipment for outdoor sketching, you can fully embrace the beauty of nature and capture it on paper or canvas. Experiment with different tools and techniques to find what works best for you, and remember to enjoy the process as much as the end result. Happy sketching!