I’ve been getting interested in plein air oil painting recently, not so coincidentally after Netflix brought out some inspiration.
As with any set of tools, painting equipment only has value if you actually use it, and lots of hobbies get dropped, not because people don’t enjoy them, but because it’s slightly too hard to use regularly. Adam Savage has a great saying, that “drawers are where tools go to die”, i.e. if it’s out of sight, we forget it’s there, and we’re not motivated to look for it.
Hence, I wanted to make sure I had a way to make it easy to get painting. To make getting going on any given day require the absolute bare minimum of ‘spritual energy’, gumption, spoons or other resources that might be running low.
Enter the pochade box! Pochades (from the French for pocket) are an all-in-one way of carrying around supplies and a way of working on paintings in the field.
My wishlist of features was something like this:
- Must allow stopping and starting just by opening & closing the box
- No pack up time, fussing to turn canvases around, add clips, put them in separate boxes for transport.
- Must allow carrying of essentials & tools:
- Paints, brushes, small amount of solvent & mediums, pencils, etc
- The two exceptions to this are a roll of paper towels, and the (leakproof) brush washer tin, which I’m happy to carry in my backpack.
- Tools should be exposed for easy use during painting.
- This was my major peeve with the French easel design, by hiding stuff behind the canvas, I’m likely to forget it’s there, or be too lazy to use it when I should.
- Wet canvas carrier
- Utterly essential. Nothing’s going to add stress to the end of the day like manouvering a wet canvas around safely.
- Multiple sizes of canvas able to be carried
- Many pochade boxes are single size only, and lots of artists end up owning three or four different sized boxes, no joke. Of course having a separate small box is much lighter for quick trips, but still flexibility is handy.
- Should sit flat on a desk, and not take up too much room if I’m sharing a desk with others
- This one is more a response to some French easel style pochade boxes I saw. They claim to fold up the tripod legs and allow you to use it on a desk in a class environment. It might be just me, but if I’m indoors with a group, I’d feel extremely self conscious having a huge folded tripod on the desk.
- Weight goal: Hmm… ‘Luggable‘.
- Lightweight would be good, but I’m aiming for something I can carry a few hundred meters from a car, rather than something you can climb a mountain with.
- Glass palette as mixing surface
- Easy cleanup, also allows putting reference material underneath
- Should be removable, as it allows storing unused paint in the freezer
I took my time playing around with ideas for this one. After more than a week of sketching and researching other people’s designs, I had some idea of what I wanted to do.
This is the final result. (Why are there two? At some point through construction, I realised I’d put enough safety margin in my wood purchase to make a whole other box, and I couldn’t resist having a matched set).
Here’s what I came up with for wet canvas storage, it’s adjustable to any size canvas, and you can have a pair of different sized wet canvases in place without them touching:
I was inspired by this pochade from Ruth Vines, but modified it so the rods don’t extend out of the box.
The boards are held in place by plastic extrusion used for sliding cupboard doors. The wooden pieces have ‘U’ cutouts and can be completely removed by loosening the nuts and just sliding the frame out. The lower frame has a cutout allowing taller canvasses to pass through:
Both of the box sides have a pullout work surface, something to rest brushes, solvent containers and other miscellaneous bits on:
The glass palette surface was just a $5 A4 photo frame screwed to the surface. This has the added bonus that I can put a printed sheet underneath to help me get consistent palette ordering, and a value scale to compare against while painting:
And of course the palette can be removed & stored in the freezer (to keep the paints wet as long as possible)
The final thing to do was add something to differentiate the two boxes, so I can grab the right one in a hurry. Using the obligatory naming convention I made a couple of lasercut labels:
And on the box:
Sometime I’ll probably put a polyurethane coating on for protection, but they’re pretty sturdy.
I’ve had a chance to carry them around a bit now, and while they’re not light, they’re acceptably ‘luggable’, and I can carry one a kilometer or two without major injuries. They’ve also proved more than sturdy enough to use as a seat while waiting for a train!
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