There is something incredibly satisfying about going out into the wild with your sketchbook and only a few essential supplies and painting what you see. That direct connection to nature that allows you to create limitless joy.
Of course… it is easier said than done. The fear of arriving at the perfect spot and finding that you have forgotten something essential is one that we have all faced – it’s like the artist equivalent of showing up to work with no trousers on!!
Never fear! This guide has been made to help you gather up all your supplies, buy anything to plug in the gaps, and step out into the wild!
Some of these listings may include affiliate links, that give KHH a part of the sale, at no extra charge to you! So it’s a great way to support the blog whilst buying things you would get anyway! If you would like to buy a bundle of supplies for nature journaling in one place, head here.
And now, onto category one!
Watercolours & Palettes for plein air painting
Let’s start with the essentials, shall we? The paint, and containers to put said beauties in! For plein air painting, pan watercolours are more convenient to carry around, and so for the purposes of this article, I will focus mainly on them. Of course, if you prefer to curate your own set, then go ahead and buy tubes and make your own pans!
No matter which brand you prefer – Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Schmincke to name but a few, there is sure to be a palette they’ve released that fits your needs. Most of these tend to choose similar colours for their 12 and 24 colours sets, so you will get a solid group of colours.
For those who prefer to curate their own sets, most brands offer tube paints, and you can fill up your own half pans.
Poachdale and Portable Palettes
There are so many beautiful palettes out there – it’s hard to know where to start! If you use half pans, the Frazer Price brass palette is a luxurious treat that includes place to store your water. In a similar vein, the Portable Painter, and Portable Painter Micro both offer the same functionality at a slightly lower price point.
If you prefer a thinner palette, something that can truly slip into your pocket, then the Pocket Palette by Art Toolkit is the way to go. I adore these palettes so much I now offer my watercolours in their unique metal pans!!
Made in collaboration with Carrie Rogers Art, the Notes on Nature palette has been designed by artists to give you a beautiful selection of colours perfect for going out and documenting the beauties of the world.
If you would like to support a smaller brand, while still receiving high quality paints, then this is the way to go.
Brushes for plein air painting
For going out and about, there are two clear options: collapsible travel brushes, or water brushes. For those who want to pack lightly, the water brush is certainly the way to go, however I will share my favourites of both options.
If you don’t want to carry a pot of water with you, then this is the option to go for. I’ve used Pentel water brushes on planes, trains, and even when visiting relatives. They take up little space, are incredibly versatile, and are available in a range of brush thicknesses.
My all-time favourite brand for watercolour brushes is the Black Velvet line by Silver Brush, and their travel brushes are no exception. Whilst they are not the cheapest option for those of us in the UK, they are well worth the investment. Coming to a super fine tip, even the larger size brushes are incredibly versatile!!
For a more affordable option, there are some very good offerings by Escoda, Royal Talens, Da Vinci, and Pro Arte.
Whether you prefer something sturdy to document your surroundings in, or a lighter journal, there are plenty of options out there! Here are my top three picks, taking into account different price points, binding types, and papers.
I find that 100% cotton paper is always better than those with cellulose content, and so where possible, this is where my recommendations will lie.
Of course, you can always make your own from loose sheets of watercolour or sketchbook paper, to curate the perfect sketchbook for you! My favourite papers include Saunders Waterford, Khadi, and xx
Khadi paper is by far the cheapest 100% cotton paper that is widely available, and I love using it. The texture is gorgeous, and if you like your cold press paper to be on the rougher side, this is the brand for you! They offer a large range of sketchbooks in various sizes and presses of paper, and so there is bound to be a sketchbook you love!
Over recent years, Etcher has become a big name in watercolour supplies. These hardback books have a cover that can be painted on, and are available in hot and cold press, and in various sizes.
We like this one – A5 is perfect for taking out and about, and being able to paint multiple subjects per spread!
It would be remis of me to not include some of the wonderful products available out there made by small businesses.
A later post will include a more exhaustive list, but for now, here are a few of my favourite makers of affordable books for nature journaling. Click the pictures for a link to their makers.
Pens, Pencils & Sundries
Bringing up the rear are all the little supplies that you don’t think of, but will make-or-break your foray into nature journaling. Pens, pencils, brush towels… the list goes on!
Whether you prefer to use graphite, coloured, or watercolour pencils for your underdrawings, there is a plethora of options for you to explore.
I personally enjoy using a watercolour pencil in similar tones to the final piece, as the lines bleed into the watercolour and add character.
If you prefer the look of pencil behind your watercolours, then stick to a H or HB pencil, so that the graphite doesn’t muddy your art!
If you choose to use a foldable travel brush, then you will need something to store your water in. This foldable water pot by Faber-Castell is perfect for carrying, and won’t take up too much room in your bag.
For me, it has to be a waterproof pen. If I’m going to be using watercolour paint, I don’t want it to then smudge/muddy the colours!
My favourite by far are the pigma micron pens. Available in sizes from 003 to 12, and a plethora of colours, these are a great first step.
Alternatives include Uni, Faber Castell, and Copic.
If you prefer a waterproof brush pen for more expressive lines, I highly recommend the Copic, or Sakura pens.