(Get free painting tips and techniques sent straight to your inbox or on my social media.)
Pochade boxes are used to make painting outdoors more convenient and to organize your equipment into a compact box for traveling. There are dozens of these on the market and the choice is confusing. This guide will help guide you step-by-step through all the aspects you need to consider when choosing your pochade box.
Unlike most sites, we are independent of any manufacturer and also do not accept any affiliate links. We do this in order to make sure this is an unbiased source of information that you can rely on to make your choice.
What is a Pochade?
A pochade (from French word poche, pocket) is a type of painting sketch usually done outdoors (‘en plein air’.) Artists use a pochade to capture outdoor colors more accurately and to capture the atmosphere and feeling of a scene.
What is the best Pochade Box
The best pochade box has these characteristics:
– is lightweight
– will hold enough paint for day’s painting
– has a large palette with plenty of mixing space
For a detailed list of other important factors and independent reviews of the top pochade boxes, see the detailed section on 7 key questions to ask.
Pochade box reviews
To learn about specific brands see: all Pochade Box Reviews.
If you own one of these boxes yourself, review it here and tell us what you like and don’t like.
There is a sister article on plein air easels. These serve the same function as a pochade box, but use a slightly different approach, see: Guide To Plein Air Easels.
The reviews on this website are independent of any manufacturer. Also this site does not contain any affiliate links. This means you get completely unbiased advice here. Beware that most other articles have links the author gets a commission on a sale if you click on the link. We do not do this in order to keep our information unbiased.
Why I wrote this guide?
Over the years I have probably bought about 20 pochade boxes and easels. Most of these I no longer use.
I wrote this guide to help my students and other artists find the best pochade box to match their needs when plein air painting. I also wrote a companion 2021 Buyers Guide to The Best Plein Air Easels for Plein Air Painters
This guide was structured to help you think about the key questions to ask before buying a pochade box, and to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes I made when buying boxes. Two key questions covered (and shown in charts at the bottom of this report) are total system weight, and palette size.
Hopefully this guide on pochade boxes will save you both money, and studio space!
To make the weight and palette size charts comparable, I wrote the comparison charts using a standard size. I chose a pochade box and easel that would support at least a 11×14 size panel and palette. Where the manufacturer did not provide this size, I used the nearest size.
If you are looking at pochade boxes, you might also want to check out plein air easels. See our companion guide: A Guide to Plein Air Easels.
About Pochade Boxes
Generally, pochades are small and easy to carry. Robert Henri and James Wilson Morrice, for example, painted pochades on small wood panels that fitted in a coat pocket together with tubes of oil paint, which was a innovation for artists that was developed in 1841 and later used by artists to carry their oil paint. Others artists, such as the famous English landscape painter John Constable, painted pochades that were the same size of the final painting
A Pochade Box is a compact box that is designed for painters who paint pochades (or color sketches) outdoors or ‘plein air’. The box has a hinged lid that not only serves as a lid to the box, but also supports your painting. Inside the box is stored the palette. The term ‘Pochade’ is derived from the nineteenth century French verb Poche, which is a type of sketch used in painting. Most modern pochade boxes are designed to be fitted onto a camera tripod as a support.
Here are some additional features of pochade boxes
Traditionally pochade boxes include an internal space for you to keep all of your painting supplies such as brushes, paints, and thinners. However for reasons I explain in my Guide To Pochade Boxes, this is not necessarily a good idea.
Most modern pochade boxes have a special camera mounting screw thread. This is so that you can place them on top of a tripod for ease of painting. The one below, I have had for years. It can take up to three 14 x 10 inch painting boards, which slide into slots in the lid section.
Types of pochade boxes
There are many types of pochade box, from small ones that you hold in your hand, to larger ones that you need to mount on a camera tripod or support on a table.
Typically pochade boxes are made out of wood. But some vendors are now starting to make them out of modern materials such as tough plastics and aluminum.
What are your choices for pochade boxes or painting easels?
If you want to paint outside, or ‘plein air’, you need the maximum usability but with the minimum weight. Today there are a lot of choices for plein air painters, so choosing the right equipment is very difficult. It is usually only after you have been using your equipment for several months that you start to discover the problems. In my quest for the ‘perfect’ system over the course of twenty years of plein air painting, I have bought about 20 different easel systems. And spent several thousands of dollars in the process. Most of these easels and pochade boxes are now taking up space on the shelves in my studio. So this is what I have learnt……
Below are included all the major pochade boxes that you can buy on the market. Use this list together with the list of plein air easels in the companion Guide to Plein Air Easels in order to make your choice.
You can also make your own small, lightweight pochade box.
13 Pochade Boxes
Pochade Boxes are compact box specifically designed to support a painting panel and a palette . These fits on top of a tripod with a camera mount.
How do I decide which is the best pochade box or plein air easel for me? – 7 key questions to ask
There are eight factors you need to consider when choosing a pochade box or easel system.
- Your height (short/tall): To be able to draw accurately, you need to have your canvas or painting panel at about eye level. If it is too low you will have problems with your drawing. This is particularly critical if you are painting any subject in which perspective is important. Some easel systems will not work for tall people because the maximum height to which you can raise the panel is too low. I ran into this problem with a few systems I bought.
- Your Strength: (strong/weak) If you are strong and used to carrying weights, then you can trade off a little weight for other features. In the table at the bottom of this article I have estimated the weight of all the components you need to make each a fully working system. That includes any additional palettes, tripods, or essential trays.
- Palette size (large/small): If you want to become truly expert in mixing beautiful color harmonies, a large palette is essential. You will feel very constrained if the palette is too small. If the palette has side trays that is awkward to use. A major metric for evaluating a pochade box is the ratio of weight to paint mixing area.
- Arm comfort (high/low): With some (if not all) pochade boxes you need to have the palette quite high, almost as high as your painting panel. If you paint standing up (which is the recommended way of painting plein air if you are able), this can make your arm quite tired after a while. Or you end up putting your painting below eye height which I do not recommend because it causes drawing problems. Other systems allow for a long distance between the palette and your canvas of painting panel. This allows for a more natural painting position in which your arm is lower.
- Canvas size (large/small): Some people like to paint very large outdoors. If this is the case you need to choose an easel system that will accommodate large canvases.
- Robustness (robust/breakable): The strength of an easel system relates to both price and weight. The lighter the system, the more likely it is to break. The better made easels and pochade boxes are sometimes more expensive. If you are traveling to remote places you need to consider what happens if your system breaks? Can you fix the box using simple and widely available materials?
- Wind (fair weather/foul weather): When you are painting in a location with a very strong wind, if you have not chosen wisely, you won’t be able to paint and could lose a great painting opportunity. Some of these systems have a center of gravity to one side and can easily blow over.
What you don’t need
There are two features that vendors promote that in fact are not important, and should be ignored:
Storage area for paint tubes
Some pochades and box easel systems have a place to store your paints and brushes.
Put your paint tubes, palette knives, and brushes in a cloth bag, or brush bag. A cloth bag will adjust to any size and is extremely lightweight.
These storage areas all add weight to your plein air system and are not as flexible or as light as a cloth bag.
- The extra wood needed adds weight to the system.
- They often will not fit all the the paint tubes you need.
- Your brushes may be too long for the box.
Storage area for your panels
Many pochades and box easel systems also have a place to store your panels.
Recommendation: There are much better and more flexible alternative systems for carrying wet panels. (see wet panel carriers in the Materials & Equipment books on the Online Campus)
- They usually only accommodate one or two panel sizes at the most. This reduces your flexibility for the panel size you can paint.
- They sometimes only take 1/8″ panels, and many home made panels are thicker than this.
- The gaps between the slots may be too narrow. This is a problem if you paint with thick impasto paint.
- Thin slots can be also be a problem on panels that have warped, or on loose linen that buckles in the heat: the paint surfaces will touch each other and your painting will be ruined.
- There are much lighter systems for carrying wet panels (see my books on Materials and Equipment)
Pochade watch outs
There are a few design problems with some pochade boxes you need to look out for:
Gap between palette and lid
What is the gap between the palette and the lid? If you have thick piles of paint, will it get squashed between the palette and the lid?
Tip: If you are looking for a lightweight system my advice is do not carry paint tubes with you. Squeeze out lots of oil paint onto your palette. Put out enough paint for a whole day’s painting and only carry a tube of white with you. This cuts down on a lot of weight.
Tip: If you still have paint left over at the end of the day, you can protect your paint from drying using one of the systems I describe in Materials & Equipment unit 8 eBook.
Bar obstructing palette
Is there a bar in front of the palette? A wide bar at the front of the palette gets in your way when mixing paint on the palette.
Tip: Look for a low lip.
Panel support obstructing view of painting
Does the panel holder obstruct the painting? On small paintings in particular, having the panel obstructed can be very annoying. Not only do some panel holders physically obstruct the painting surface, but they can throw shadows on it too.
Tip: some systems have screws for small panels, plus bars to hold larger or thicker paintings.
The panel holder on the right (Daytripper plein air easel) has a very nice system that does not obstruct the painting surface at all. The Open Box M also has a system that is also very unobtrusive.
Which is the best pochade box or plein air easel?
Decision table for choosing a pochade box or plein air easel
Here is a table to help you make your decision. This summarizes all of different factors to consider when choosing your pochade box or plein air easel.
I also added which pochade boxes and plein air easels I am currently using for my own work.
Palette area to system weight efficiency
One of the key factors when choosing your plein air painting easel or pochade box is the amount of paint mixing area you get compare to the amount of weight you have to carry. Since this is the key factor I’ve made this chart for you.
This is how I calculated the weight of each pochade setup. It is not simple to calculate this because the vendors only tell you the weight of their main system.
Weight comparison table for pochade boxes & plein air easels
You often need a lot of accessories to make the box work for you, and all this weight adds up. This information is not so obvious on manufacturer’s websites. For this reason I have included what I think are the essential accessories to this weight table. This means you get a more accurate picture of what you are going to have to carry. These are the weights I used in the palette area/weight efficiency table above.
Super lightweight homemade pochade boxes
You can also make a homemade pochade box from easily available materials for next to nothing. And with the advantage that they weigh next to nothing. See: homemade pochade boxes.
Where can I buy a pochade box?
Here are some stores where you can buy some of the pochade boxes listed on this site. Also check out the sites for each of the manufacturers as many small companies only sell direct.
If you liked this Guide on pochade boxes, please share it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.
Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy