Painting Outside in Rough Weather | My Gear & Advice

Painting Outside in Rough Weather

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As the days get shorter, colder, and wetter I feel the need for a little pep talk. Plein air painting is the key to my growth as an artist. It has helped me level up my understanding of light and color in the landscape more than anything else. But over the years I found that the hardships of winter weather are a huge hurdle to continuing my outdoor studies.

In October and November, I still have the energy and momentum to keep doing it regularly. But as December and January come around I feel the temperatures drop and my energy draining and suddenly I haven’t painted outside in over a week. Isn’t it just better to sit by the fire?? 🙂

Have you ever gone on vacation or visited somewhere new excited to paint and incredible view you saw online beforehand, only to be met with an intense rain or wind storm?

I think this is a fear of every artist who likes to paint outside. But there are some things you can do to experience the place with your sketchbook despite the weather.

So today let’s take a look at painting outside in rough weather – heavy winds, rains and very cold temperatures. How do I handle it? What is my typical setup?

Fair Weather Gouache Setup

First let’s take a look at what I normally bring outside to compare.

Portable Painter with dried gouache for plein air

This is pretty similar to my ‘rough weather’ (kit which I’ll share below) but with an important difference. In nice weather I use a tripod with my Etchr Slate Mini as an ‘easel’ (more like a platform). This provides a stable surface for my supplies and tons of storage. It is quick to setup and break down as well. I even added backpack straps to carry it easier. I bring a lot more supplies and usually bigger sketchbooks.

Painting outside

What I love about this setup is that it’s all self-contained. It holes a ton of pens, pencils, brushes, paper, and whatever else I need inside – and it’s waterproof.

But in heavy wind or rain this setup is not ideal. It can blow over more easily and takes longer to setup and pack away.

Painting in the Car

Painting with gouache inside the car

Sometimes it’s just too wet or cold to paint outside, and that’s OK. Painting inside the car (“car painting”) is a valid method for going out to study – but comes with it’s own challenges.

Even in a large car it can feel cramped. You can’t move around and I usually end up spilling something! The windows fog up, or rain-streaked windows block your view. It’s not always going to work. Sometimes it’s all you have. During a storm it might be the only option.


In rough weather – or just unpredictable weather – I like to be very movable. I pack very light, use minimal equipment and mentally prepare to move around a lot.

This can be both exciting and daunting. But having the right gear helps alleviate some of the headache.

Ultra lightweigh painting kit

I’ve shared this “ultralight” portable sketch kit before here, and it’s definitely a good strategy in REALLY unpredictable or rough weather. It’s especially great for long-distance hikes.

Small watercolor plein air kit

TIP: For watercolor, avoid 100% cotton paper. It takes too long to dry. In rough or humid weather you have to paint fast and keep moving. You don’t want to be waiting 20 minutes for your first layer to dry. I recommend a blend of cellulose/cotton OR heavyweight multimedia paper. I like to work with as little water as possible to encourage fast drying.

Rough Weather Setup

Portable Painter and plein air gouache setup

This is my favorite setup which is nearly identical to my “fair weather kit” minus the tripod/easel and a lot less utensils.

My Simple Setup

  • Portable Painter (classic) or Portable Painter Micro (UK EU)(USA)
  • Gouache or watercolor (I prefer gouache because it dries faster) – see my colors
  • Smaller heavy sketchbook like the Stillman & Birn Nova (spiral)
  • Brush Set in a Pro Arte travel brush case or you can use travel brushes
  • Pencil, spray bottle, water bottle

There’s nothing fancy about it except for the palette, which is the Portable Painter (classic). I fill it with gouache and let it dry for few days, then use it just like I normally would (or almost like opaque watercolor, which it is!). I’ve shared the benefits of dried gouache for plein air before. And this palette is (in my opinion) the best way to do it.

Why Gouache?

It dries faster than watercolor. Speed is important – so being able to layer thin washes of gouache to build up the scene in less than 20 minutes is crucial. And using cellulose sketchbook speeds up the drying process.

Other than the palette, it’s all about staying nimble! A lot of it is a mental game. Be prepared to move. Be prepared to do quick sketches that you might not finish. Think of it more like taking notes. And above all, don’t forget to actually SEE the amazing weather moving all around you! Soak it in. Often times the storms bring out the most magical conditions that inspire me the most.

Misty weather with rainbow in Scotland

Clothing – It’s all about Layers!

  • A few under-layers topped with a waterproof layer (or at least water-resistent). I wear warm leggings, and if necessary I can slip on a pair of waterproof trousers or fleece-lined wind-resistant trousers. For tops I wear a sports bra, bamboo fiber t-shirt, a warm long sleeve, and a puffy jacket. If it’s rainy I can add a waterproof outer shell. All of these items can be found at a sporting goods store or outdoor clothing stores.
  • Gloves, neckwarmer, and hat with ear-covers (or headband). I prefer wool and fleece. Buy a good pair of each and they will last you a lifetime. For gloves I prefer fingerless, but if it’s extra cold I go for regular gloves. Some of them are smartphone-ready with sensitive fingertips which is convenient. I will also add hand warmers in winter.
  • Waterproof boots (love my Salomons), wool socks, and sometimes toe warmers.
  • If it’s not too windy, I will always choose an umbrella over wearing waterproofs. Waterproofs are not breathable (at least not the ones I can afford) and I always end up sweating when I wear them. Often times I’m hiking so I get quite warm. I have several umbrellas, and the ‘wind-proof’ ones are worth the extra money.

I hope this post inspires you to take a chance and paint outside, even if it’s not perfect weather!

Watch the Video

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

5 thoughts on “Painting Outside in Rough Weather | My Gear & Advice

  1. Thanks so much Sarah. I’m a watercolourist in the French Pyrenees and Autumn has not yet reached here! Too warm, drought and no frost means no glowing autumn colours – yet!
    Live your blog, and I’m looking forward to going back to Scotland next year. If you are ever sketching near the sea front/golf course at Anstruther, visit The Rockies restaurant, good views and great food. Just won awards, but I’m biased, my partner’s son runs the place!

  2. Tasmania,N Zealand , nrth Sydney Australia where I live the weather is so hot 35-40 degree want to die in the summer months and inland we have dust storms could you imagine red dirt getting in your palette I admit it hasn’t happened to me yet.I want to go to Scotland your forests are awesome I’m hopeless in rain.

  3. Great tips as always, Sarah! I love getting out to do plein air but usually when weather is really nice. My goal for this fall and winter as the really wet and cold weather sets in, is to at least get out and do some quick studies (even if it’s from my car). I think our northwest coast Canadian weather is similar to what you get in Scotland. Days of grey skies and pouring rain, sometimes snow and subzero temperatures. I also can set up just outside the house on the deck or front steps to focus on local trees, lane fences etc. That way I can run back in the house for quick warmups and then go back out and continue. Worst case scenario, I choose a view out a window to do. Another option is to go to local mall and practice sketching people! Likely doesn’t matter the subject, as long as we practice!

  4. Great video. I too paint outside regularly and yes it is a challenge and during our your clothing and gear is important. Thank you also for some good advice. I will certainly think about moving to gouache because watercolour really can take an age to dry!

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