art · DIY

Step-by-Step DIY Pochade Box for Plein Air Painting

My latest passion is painting with pastels and I love landscapes. I so totally want to get into plein air painting. In order to do painting out of doors and in the wilds, I needed something portable to carry all of my equipment. It had to fit into my backpack, it had to be light weight and it had to have compartments so that I can stay organized. This month is my birthday, so Les suggested that he buy me a pochade case like I have been seeing in videos of pastel artists. Yeppers- works for me. Whee!

But WOWZA! I searched the net for portable pochade boxes to find that, Cripe! They are expensive with a capitol “E”. One tiny little wooden box was $280.00. It was cute and cool and everything, but that didn’t even include the side pastel trays, the tri-pod or the portable easel. We were shocked. That was totally not in our budget, so I asked Les to help me make a DIY pochade box. Mostly, I needed his help to do the measuring, sawing, drilling, gluing and building while I kept running in with better and new ideas. LOL, that guy really is a saint and probably hopes to never hear me say, “I’ve got a better idea”, about a project again. Anyway, it was my birthday gift so he had to build it, right? We put our heads together and came up with, what I think, is a perfect pastel box for me. And it’s cute too.

DIY pochade box
Here is the finished box before I dressed her for her public appearance. The next few pictures show the step-by-steps that we took to make a very inexpensive box out of scrounged materials plus a few purchased hardware supplies. If you don’t want to read the whole DIY process, you can scroll to the bottom of this post to see the final, dressed version of my new art box.

What I learned from searching information on Plein air painting is that organization is key to painting out of doors. The light changes so fast that one has to be able to set up quickly. As it happened this past week on our first outing with the gear, Les and I had to break down quickly too. We stayed out too late having too much fun trying to get the last rays of glorious light captured on our papers. Yikes! It was getting dark fast and we were still a couple miles from our truck. So it was break down FAST and haul on down the mountain.

Up-cycled materials to make a pochade box
Instead of a couple hundred dollars, our portable supply box cost us under twenty dollars.
We used recycled boxes and decorative elements that we already had on hand. All that we had to buy was the hardware.
Cutting trays for a pochade box
These small MDF boxes were free since they were used as packing in a parcel from China. We keep boxes that we think that we may use for something some day. If you are a maker you know how that goes. The larger box used to hold spring clamps.
As you can see in the picture on the left, the trays were too large to fit inside the box. Les cut them down to size. At this point I had not made a decision about the dividers in the little trays.
Using flush mount picture hangers for a DIY pochade box
After looking through the hardware store, we found these flush mount picture hangers. They were perfect for attaching the pastel trays to the outsides of the box and perfect for mounting them to the inside as well. That would hold them off the inside floor of the box to create a little space for extra supplies.
DIY pochade box with pastel trays mounted to the sides
Side trays mounted as I will use them when set up out of doors. I still haven’t decided if I want to keep the little dividers in the trays or not.
DIY pochade box from salvaged materials
Trays nestled inside the box as they will be for travel.
lining side trays for an art pastels box
I finally decided not to leave dividers in the pastel trays because it would make it too hard to fumble around picking pastels out of small spaces. In order to start making the box cute, I used spray glue to line them with a layer of felt.
DIY side trays for a pochade box
The felt will get horribly dirty from pastel dust, but with a thin foam cover, it will keep them from rolling around too much.
making a camera mount for an art box
I went to the thrift store to root through all of their camera tri-pods. I lucked out and found this light weight portable tri-pod that folds down to 13″. It is perfect for the back pack and cost only $3.00. As is the case with most tri-pods in the thrift stores, it was missing the camera mountthat thing that fits into the quick release part of the ball mount ( as shown in the center picture). Les cut an angled piece of wood to attach to the bottom of the box. It stands in as a camera mount. You can kind of see where he added side supports to compensate for the depth of the camera mount. That is so that I can set just the pochade box on a table and work from there if I want.
DIY pochade box for en plein air
Here she is dressed in her finery sans supplies. I added a cooler piece of paper to the lid and we torched the brass fittings to make them look more aged. The aluminum flush mounts got a treatment with silver/black to age them as well. As for the easel, I use the box lid to clamp my foam-core support then I tape my pastel paper to that.

We already went hiking around Dead Horse Ranch a couple days ago. My art set-up worked perfectly. I’ll post that outing in a couple of days, so stay tuned. Until then, Happy Arting!

9 thoughts on “Step-by-Step DIY Pochade Box for Plein Air Painting

    1. Thanks Claudia. We are going out again next week. I plan on taking pictures of the box and travel contents and then posting it to show what I pack, how it worked and, hopefully more beginner paintings that are not too embarrassing.

      On my first plein air outing, before the art box, I had my paper clipped between two pieces of foam core with newsprint as the protective sheeting. My pastels were in a little cigar box and my other supplies were just tossed into my pack. We just grabbed a picnic table at the day use area and worked from there. The last time, we went out hiking and I used the pochade box. It worked beautifully, but I was taking pictures of the scenery that I might want to paint someday and no pics of the box and contents. I’ll do it right next week.
      I work small when I’m out- 8×10 pastel paper. I have a small portfolio that fits perfectly in the lid of the box. It is the last thing that I put into the box and sits right on top of my foam protected pastels and gear.

      Each sleeve is pre-filled with one piece of pastel paper and one strip that I test my marks on before setting pastel to the painting.

      So, it’s one paper out of the sleeve and one finished painting back into the sleeve after a light coat of final fixatif. I do need the foamcore “drawing board” cut a little larger so that I can tape my paper to a rigid surface. It just slides into my backpack.

      OH! And the pics that I posted in this article is in my yard when we first finished making it. That’s why it is still without pastel dust all over.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. I am so impressed by how, as always, you are methodical and think of all the details in whatever you are doing. It sounds like you are ready for working wherever you go, with minimal fuss and cleanup. I think your paintings so far are beautiful and they do not look “beginner” to me at all. I am thinking of doing more sketching out in the world myself, but I only want to draw with pen and ink, no paints, etc., so I just have a little pack I can carry. But this gave me more ambition to at least do that! when I see your work. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I have never heard of Plein air painting before. I’d love to learn more about it! I’m really impressed with your box. You saved a ton of money and it probably works way better for you since it was made by you. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michelle. Plein air painting isn’t limited to just pastels. It’s for any kind of medium where you set up and work on landscapes. I can just step right outside my home and have great views to paint but, to be truthful, I’m more productive when I’m out in the wilds with nothing else calling my name.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so clever. I love how creative you and your husband were when designing this and bonus points for saving money too. What a beautiful gift and so thoughtful. Hand made gifts are always my favorite gifts to get. My childhood friend’s mother started doing Plein air painting but she used watercolors I think.

    Liked by 1 person

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