A few years ago, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a telling of her journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo after a few major turns in her life. It shows her at her best and at her worst, but most of all? It shows her accepting the adventure and learning from every minute of it.
I’m about to set off on my own version of Wild -- two weeks of uninterrupted painting en plein air, in one of the most beautiful places in the world: Limoux, France, in the Languedoc region.
As I prepare to hit the road, I can’t help but think of the first time Cheryl set foot on the trail, with her monster backpack full of things she’d later discard as she prioritized the essentials and ditched the rest to ease her load.
As a painter, it’s easy to collect supplies within our studios. Piles of canvases; cases of brushes; palette upon palette of paint. Over the years, I’ve stocked up more supplies than I could ever use in this lifetime, picking up pointers from other artists, learning about new materials in seminars, and discovering must-haves in workshops.
Art supplies are, in general, an artist’s weakness -- mine, for sure. All is well and good when I’m set up in my studio. But when I started painting en plein air, I realized the need to only travel with the best of the best -- after all, my supplies had to be portable, light, and readily transportable into the woods, or down to the lake.
Now, as I prepare to leave for France, I have to evaluate my supplies even further. I’ll be traveling light -- with only the essentials -- and I thought it might help to share what those essentials are for me:
My pack: a Kelty Redwing 2650. It used to be my son, Bryan’s, for a father-son hiking/fishing trip. It’s special to me as I remember him upon their return, bug bitten and hungry.
My mini sketch pad and markers, along with this viewfinder to help create some thumbnails as I lay out my design.
My tripod: a Manfrotto that makes setup easy and never makes me worry about stability.
My paints: Gamblin Artists Oil Colors, with a limited palette learned from Lori Putnam’s color harmony workshop -- including Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Napthol Red, and Titanium White. (Sometimes I add an orange, violet, and green.) I pair them all with Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel.
My boards: I paint on Raymar Boards. Belgian Linen is my favorite but they are all fun! I often have to transport them when they’re still wet; for that I use Panel Paks -- so convenient, and lightweight.
The seemingly miscellaneous items I can’t live without, that are able to be transported minimally: plastic gloves, a garbage bag, paper towels, a bungee cord, a hook to hang my brush washer on, an apron/smock, my hat, sunscreen + bug repellant, and of course: water, coffee, and at least one snack.
(I am very much looking forward to snacking on some fresh bread and cheese while painting in France!)
It might seem like a lot, but together, it’s 30 lbs. that encompasses everything I need. (And encourages me to work out so carrying it is a breeze.)
The best part? It’s actually an easy set up that I’ve practiced and zeroed in on after many years painting en plein air -- a set up that is all part of the journey. I love the feeling that washes over me as I assemble my easel and squish out my paint; the act of throwing my apron over my head and putting on my hat.
I’m able to create my perfect environment, with only the essentials within my pack -- one that helps me enjoy the surroundings I find myself in.
And one that’s perfectly suitable for a flight to France.
The best supplies are important to support the work we want to create. Focusing on the essentials means choosing the best supplies and then choosing the select few of those that are absolutely necessary to the task at hand.
France is my Pacific Northwest Trail. This trip is my Wild. I cannot wait to share the stories, the adventures, and the impending life lessons I’ll undoubtedly learn upon my return.