Plein air painting or travelling with our art supplies can be perilous for our paintbrushes. Fortunately, there are quite a few worry-free paintbrush holders to help you carry and protect your brushes for outdoor excursions.
Let’s talk about the top paintbrush holders I’ve found since I began plein air painting over 30 years ago. Make sure you read to the end for the easy Do It Yourself tutorial.
5 Worry-Free Paintbrush Holders
#1 – French Easel Built-In
A French easel comes with a handy drawer that can hold all kinds of brushes, palette knives and tools as long as we have the original wooden palette (or some foam-core for those of us who sadly misplaced ours) to cover the drawers when it’s closed.
Otherwise the contents of the drawers fly all over and fight for dominance – which often means our soft-bristled brushes get the worst of it.
There are also large slots underneath those drawers but be wary – the bush handles will occasionally slip through a crack on the bottom of the easel if the drawer isn’t tight enough.
#2 – ArtBin Supply Box
An ArtBin painting supply box I purchased during my art-school days was my go-to for a couple decades. It can hold everything – and that everything gets cumbersome after a mile or so hiking to find that perfect plein air setting.
Eventually I figured out something a bit smaller and more compact might help me conserve energy for painting.
#3 – Heritage Compact Case
Here’s a compact holder I purchased a while back on a whim, in case I wanted something small I could shove into a satchel or carry-on when flying.
You may notice a line through the middle of the left brush holders. For some reason they sewed them right through the center of the pockets – maybe for pencils or small watercolor brushes?
Since my brushes all have long handles I used a seam ripper to remove the threads.
This holder has a clever design that allows it to fold over and snap open, so we can place it upright and easily grab a brush while painting.
When closed that strip of cloth snaps to the outer edge of the case and makes a nice little handle. When open it snaps in the back to keep the brush holder folded in half so it can conveniently sit up for quick access to our brushes.
It works great to hold a few brushes and maybe a pencil or two for quick sketches while sitting on a park bench – you know, to capture that fleeting moment of graceful geese chasing the little kid that tried to feed them some peanut butter.
However, because of it’s limited capacity this is only going to work for specific artists or circumstances.
#4 – Canvas or Cloth Rollup Holder
There are a couple good options available if you’re wanting to try out canvas brush holders.
Here’s a simple style that you can get from Amazon for about $20:
Most canvas holders won’t fit longer oil painting brushes – too short. This is one of the few I found that seems to be both well-built and tall enough for even the Rosemary Ultimate size 12 bristle brushes. It measures 16 inches wide and 15 inches high and It can hold upwards of 24 brushes.
These brush holders are convenient, hold plenty of brushes for a plein air trip, and they will provide adequate protection for our brushes in most situations. However, since they are still just cloth our brushes can be damaged while travelling.
#5 – Do It Yourself PVC Pipe Holder
For serious brush protection, my favorite is a DIY PVC oil paintbrush holder.
If you’ve ever returned home with bent bristles or broken handles and thought “I sure would love to know how to make a paintbrush carrier that can withstand a beating” – well then, you’re not alone and you’ve come to the right place.
This DIY project takes ½ hour of labor, plus an hour or two to shop (because I can’t go into a hardware store and get out in less than an hour – too many fun projects to dream about).
You can count on 14-18 brushes fitting into these carriers.
In my small version I carry: two size 6, two 4 and one 3 Rosemary Masters Series 279 Long Flats; one size 0 Ultimate Pointed Round; one size 1 Rosemary Series 278 Long Filbert; one size 6, 4 and 0 Rosemary Series 272 Rounds; one size 1 and 0 Rosemary Shiraz Pointed Rounds; and one size 8, one 7, two 5 and two 3 Masters Series 274 Short Flats.
In my large version I carry: two size 12, one 10, four 8, one 6 and one size 4 Rosemary Ultimate Long Flats; one size 2 Ultimate Pointed Round; and a size 0, 2, 4 and 6 Rosemary 2085 Egbert.
I’ll show you how I made my paintbrush holder set (as pictured above).
- Two sizes of PVC pipe* (2 foot sections of each)
- (1) 1 ½ inch
- (1) 2 inch
- Threaded and non-threaded PVC caps (match PVC pipe sizes)
- Sharpie pen
- Measuring tape
- Fine-toothed saw
- 150-200 grit sandpaper (a fine filer also works)
- Glue (not a neccessity)
*Why two sizes of PVC pipe?
No idea, just thought it might be handy to have two sizes.
Maybe I was thinking of using one for smaller bristled brushes and one for larger bristles – or one for the ‘I just got here and have no idea what I’m going to paint yet’ clean brushes and one for the ‘wow, that was a fantastic plein air painting trip – when can I do that again!’ wet paintbrushes).
Mark the PVC pipes with a sharpie pen. Make sure your brush holders are long enough to hold your brushes without squishing the bristles – and still able to fit in your backpack.
For my brush set I went with 12” – with the end caps attached these will be 15” in length and will easily hold the long handled Rosemary Ultimate Long Flat sized 12 brushes. If you’re on the cautious side you might want to make them 13”.
If you paint like artist Alexey Steele though, you may want to increase the length since he paints with super long 24 inch handles.
Cut the PVC pipes where marked with a fine-toothed saw and then sand to get rid of rough spots. Put a little extra effort into sanding the inside lip where brush bristles might get caught on rough edges.
Notice how I used my leg as support while cutting? It’s probably best to use an actual table with a clamp – sorry for the bad example. Slipping while cutting near your leg could make hiking to your favorite plein air location significantly more difficult.
The last step is to slide a rounded cap on one end (now the bottom of your holder) and a two-piece screw on cap to the top. They fit so snugly for me that no glue was needed, but feel free to use glue if necessary.
These holders are super tough and will protect my brushes even from airline abuse or a grizzly attack (okay, maybe not airline abuse).
Keep the holders with the bristles facing up a bit when you put them in your bag and your brushes will love you and give you years of happy painting!
Do you love painting outdoors or plein air?
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