Plein air easels- the pochade box

*Note: This is the second in a series of posts I am writing about artist's easels. To read the other installments, click on the following links:Part I: On the quest for the perfect easel  Part III: My Soltek Easel Part IV: A pochade box for travel

Picking up on my previous post about artist easels, today I'll discuss plein air easel #2; my first pochade box. The word "pochade" comes from the French word "pocher" meaning "to sketch".  Popularized in the 19th century by landscape painters such as the Impressionists, a pochade box was a small wooden sketch box (sometimes called a "thumb box")  with a hinged lid that could be held in the hand, to easily take into the field for small sketches and painting studies (pochades.) Today, what we call a pochade box comes in many different sizes beyond the tiny hand-held variety.

After I developed my "wingnut aversion" the pochade box idea really appealed to me, as the modern boxes are made to attach to a camera tripod, which has telescoping legs. The box I chose was the Guerilla Painter's Pochade Box (9x12")

pochade box

As you can see here, this particular pochade box has a hinged lid that holds  9x12" panels, and can readily take any panel that is 12" wide. The wood palette slides out to reveal little compartments to hold supplies. Like other pocade boxes, this one has a tripod mount to take any standard camera tripod. The tripod shown above is the Guerilla Painter's brand, but I chose a Bogen Manfrotto Jr. tripod, which I purchased for a steal on eBay. Bogen is a good brand and the "junior" Manfrotto model is sturdy while still being reasonably lightweight.

The Guerilla Painter's box is a fine pochade box that will likely last many years. It is a strudy piece of gear and will withstand frequent use. You could klunk the thing on the ground and not make a dent.  The box is well constructed, and performs as described by the manufacturer.  In many ways, you could do far worse than this box for the quality, and while the price has gone up since I made my purchase, the basic setup seems  comparable to other painting boxes on the market.

This box is certainly more compact and practical than the stodgy El Greco, and also a bit lower in weight. But once you consider the weight of the required tripod, the weight of the basic box is about the same weight as the traditional French half  box easel. However, this changes if you want more versatility. For example, at the time of my purchase, it was necessary to buy various inserts and attachments to best allow for the use of smaller 8x10" and 6x8" canvases, though the company later developed a slip in easel that allowed for a bit more versatility.

Not only are addtional accessories another thing to keep up with, but they added more overall weight to the painting setup (though my wallet soon began to feel lighter). In addition, while I find it far less awkward than the full French easel, the deep boxy shape made it a bit bulky and cumbersome for travel. The manufacturer,  Judson's Art Outfitters does sell compatible backpacks, however, along with many other nifty plein air accessories suitable for any plein air painter, whether using the Guerilla Painter's pochade box or some other brand. 

pochade box

This is a picture of my own Guerilla Painter's Pochade box with the Bogen Manfrotto Jr. tripod. You might be able to make out the insert I'm using to accomodate my 8x10" painting. I use a bungee chord to hold my paper towels and a plastic bag for trash. Beneath the tripod there are two bags. One is a bag that actually goes to a folding portable chair that has a a shoulder strap. I confiscated it to carry my tripod. The box did not fit in any of the backpacks I owned, so I used the large canvas LLBean toteshown in the backgroundto carry my pochade box and other supplies.

The  bulk of this box is largely due to the enclosed compartment designed to hold paint tubes and other supplies, which for some could actually be a useful component.  But the storage compartments are an insufficient size to hold long-handled paint brushes without first sawing off a part of the handle. And the little square compartment that logically looks as if it wil be perfect to hold your paint thinner is too shallow for the standard brush washers, so you will either need to pack your brush washer separately, buy one from Judson Art Outfitter's, or find a small jar suitable to fit in the compartment once the lid is closed. (Not a big deal, but still worth noting if you've already invested in a brush washer.) And while it's moderately convenient to have paint tubes right under my palette, the way these compartments were configured seemed to add more bulk than convenience.

So while there is certainly nothing wrong with this box, I foundthat along with the bulk, it was a slight annoyance that the accessories necessary to make this box its most versatile added weight and needed to be purchased separately.  I am now thinking of selling my Guerilla Painters Pochade box or justkeeping  it as a backup (Update: It's off the market. I ended up gifting this to my talented niece Molly) in case something happens to.... Plein Air Easel #3. In many ways, #3 is a slice of plein air heaven. But this heaven comes with a couple of caveats, and a pretty hefty price. More on that in the next installment.

*Note: This is the second in a series of posts I am writing about artist's easels. To continue reading the other installments, click on the following links:

Part I: On the quest for the perfect easel Part III: My Soltek Easel Part IV: A pochade box for travel