UART Tip #07: Plein Air Tips with Lyn Asselta

Over the years, I’ve gone from lugging 15-25 pounds of gear out on every plein air expedition, tousing a small backpack that, fully loaded, usually weighs in at under 10 pounds. It has not only been liberating, but it allows me the freedom to do more with much less and, for that, I’m grateful!

By limiting my equipment, I’m able to hike and travel without the worry of cumbersome, heavy gear. By limiting my palette and my materials, I actually come up with a small, but cohesive set of studies and paintings from each trip. These paintings can easily be framed as a group and hung together at a later date; an obvious benefit to a gallery that may want to host a show of your work after your travels, or simply as a nice collection for your own walls. Here’s how I do it and what I pack. UART paper plays a big part in this because it is so versatile!

Of course, the equipment listed below is what works for me, and although I’m not endorsing brands, these are the items that I continue to use. My suggestion is that you use the ideas here and adapt them to suit your own needs with the equipment that works best for you. My “go-to” plein air pastel box and easel set is my Heilman Double Sketchbook with a 12” easel attachment. My tripod choice is an ultra-lightweight Sirui. Each of these items is small and I can easily fit them into a backpack or a messenger bag for travel and transport.

To get even lighter, I alter the interior of the Heilman box by using one side for pastels and removing all the padding on the opposite side so I can store paper and other materials there. I cut a piece of gator board to fit into the space where the padded cover usually goes and the gator board will later double as the backing board that I use on my easel. On one side of the box, I carry a variety of pastels, both hard and soft. I am limited by the size of the space, but I can easily create a palette that is customized for whatever environment I’ll be painting in. This “limited” number of pastels, keeps the overall palette of my travel paintings similar, which in turn creates a nicely unified collection of paintings.

In the other half of the box, I layer small sheets of UART, with glassine placed in between. I also place in this side a tiny sketchbook, a soft pencil, a small paintbrush, a screwdriver, a small retractable knife, a roll of thin black masking tape and some vinyl gloves. I place the gator board (which will double as my backing board) over all of this and snap the turn-buckles into place. I use both the small sketchbook and my cellphone to log reference material. I can use a few hard pastels for color notes, which I can brush with water to create a water color effect.

When I’m ready to pack my backpack, here are the things that go in:

  • My pastel box
  • 12” or 16” easel mast
  • Sirui Tripod
  • sample sized bottles of sunscreen and/or bug repellant
  • A plastic grocery bag for trash
  • Bottled water
  • A couple of band aids
  • A few business cards with current information

With a little thought to careful planning, it’s easy to be successful in the field without being a slave to your supplies!

Lyn Asselta, PSA, IAPS MC

Check out Lyn paintings at