Setting Up Your Studio: Plein Air

Pochade Boxes are compact boxes that allow the artist to keep all of their supplies in one location and work on the inside of the lid. These boxes are traditionally used for plein air painting but can also be used in the studio, home, or classroom. Since pochade boxes are used for travel and plein air painting, the maximum size canvas or work surface is quite small, usually not over 12″.  From Dick Blick’s site.

Working outside in the beauty of nature is a great way to add some life to your art.  There are interesting subjects everywhere.  The way the light comes through the canopy of trees above, the warm glow of a sun set, the sparkle of light dancing off a pond or stream…

If you’re working outdoors it’s important to work quickly.  The perfect light will not stay where it is for long, and you have to realize that.  I would recommend you take pictures of your subject so you’ll have accurate images for completion or touch ups later in your studio.

The key to plein air work is to seriously limit your amounts of everything.  Only a few brushes-three to six, a warm and cool of each primary along with white and maybe a couple earth colors like yellow ochre and burnt sienna, smaller scale paper or canvas, tape, clips and rubberbands to keep your paper on your surface, if you use solvents-keep them in spill proof containers, the tripod-if you use one.  Some extras you may want along:  snacks and water (it’s easy to become dehydrated when working in the hot sun), plastic poncho, bug spray, sunscreen, garbage bag, cell phone, jacket or sweat shirt, paper towels or wipes, a small fold up stool, a hat.  You can keep heavier or seldom used items in your car-say an umbrella, a small folding table, boots, a winter coat.  That way you can go back and grab something if you need it but won’t have to carry it with you if you don’t.

I’ve read some really impressive reviews of Open Box M equipment.  I have not tried any of their stuff, but those who have rave about them.  The equipment is pricey, but if you’re truly into Plein Air work it may be worth it.  You will also want a lightweight, sturdy but comfortable backpack.  Here’s a link to backpack reviews.  Remember these are reviews for hiking with a backpack, which is somewhat different than using a backpack for Plein Air.

Here is a post from the past in which I discuss a plein air DIY Pochade.  I made my own from a wooden box my dad gave me.  It is very heavy, but does hold a lot of stuff.  It works well as a pochade and it won’t blow shut or flip if I set it down.  I can easily add the metal piece to attach it to a tripod should I want that.  I also have a thumbox style pochade similar to this one.  It’s very lightweight and lots of fun.  Obviously, I used what I had on hand.  I don’t do a lot of plein air painting, although I hope to in the upcoming months, so the DIY boxes are perfect for what I do.

Other options for Plein Air are French Easels and Sketchbox Easels.  I have a sketchbox easel, but I haven’t used it yet.  I purchased it for pastels, to be honest, but then bought a wood box with sliding top at a second-hand store for three bucks.  It works very well for my pastels.  I found another thin wooden box at Goodwill which I had hoped to use in place of the very heavy pochade I currently have.

There are other ways to put together an outdoor art kit.  No, they won’t be wooden pochade boxes, but they are still very useful for working outdoors.  One of these options is a plastic shoe box tote.  These will hold all sorts of supplies for outdoor painting or drawing.  There is the added bonus of the plastic totes being water-proof because we all know weather happens.  One or two could slip easily into your backpack.

If you decide on a plastic tote, you can roll your paper and keep it in a round storage tube.  Or you could wrap your paper around a heavy cardboard tube and then slip the whole thing into a plastic bag for protection.  Both are easy to carry over your shoulder as you’re traipsing through the woods.

Carry the heavier stuff on your back.  If you need a drawing board as your surface, make it large enough you can drill holes on both side edges.  Loop a bungy cord through, with the elastic cord running behind the board (which is behind your backpack where the straps are), then encircle your backpack with the ends and hook together at the front.  You have a surface which can be carried on your back with very little effort or inconvenience.

If you need a paint palette, you can use disposable paint palettes which are purchased as a paper pad, DIY paint palettes, or even styrofoam plates. All are lightweight and easy to carry.  Use your garbage bags to clean up the area after you’ve finished and for any trash you see on your way.  Always leave the area cleaner than you found it, take care of your own mess and pick up after others if you’re able.

You can use a 5 gallon plastic pail with a cover to hold your supplies.  This will hold a large amount of stuff and can double as a seat or tabletop.  Carry two, one inside the other, and you have a table and a seat.  You can easily fit a fold up aluminum table top easel in the bucket, water bottles, paints, brushes, rolled papers, a plastic poncho, and anything else you would need for out door work.  A frugal, yet practical, Plein Air solution.

You can see there are many, many possibilities for making a Plein Air kit.  There are also suggestions here which would work for making a very small, portable art “studio”.   A French easel is versatile and can be used outside or indoors.  Sketchbox easels also hold supplies and set up quickly at your kitchen table.  A 5 gallon bucket can hold a huge amount of stuff and can be stored in a closet.  Take any and all suggestions or ideas you come across and use what you can in your own art practice.  The reason I share these ideas is because something might be the perfect solution to a problem you’re having.  Or maybe with some tweaking an idea could be the perfect solution.  Or it spawns another thought entirely which becomes exactly what you need.




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