How to Build a Pochade Box from a Cigar Box

POCHADE BOXES are a compact, portable painting studio in a box which work especially well for the landscape artist. I made this one myself and I will show you how.

But first a bit of pochade box history…

The word, “pochade” is French which means a quick color sketch. Originally painters from the 18th and 19th century had to lug big heavy French easels into the field. Pochade boxes have made painting out-of-doors or ‘en plein air’ painting easy. A small pochade box makes it easy to pack for painting trips.

Traditional pochade boxes had three simple elements:

  • A hinged lid that functioned as an easel and wet carrier.
  • A palette and the lower portion of the box that stored paints, brushes and other mediums.
  • The cigar box made into a tiny, portable studio.

Back ‘in the day’ these homemade and compact painting boxes made it easy for the painter to work quickly out-of-doors.

Today, pochade boxes have become popular again.Now days they are sized to use a 5×7, 6×8 or 8×10 painting panel.As well as the panel, they hold everything you need to paint: colors, palette, brushes, mediums, and solvents. They are small, so that you can take them anywhere and paint from the car.

With these easy directions you can make a pochade box out of a cigar box just like the old impressionist masters!

It is easy to make a pochade box at home. There are many online instructions to help you make your own, but Ellie Clemen’s tips  were really helpful. I bought many different cigar boxes on eBay, but you can also visit your local tobacco shops orliquor stores that also sell cigars. The kind of box to look for is one with a recessed cover. Many have a flat cover, and are not as suitable for transforming into pochade boxes. The recess cover allows enough depth for your panel to sit. My favorite cigar box brands are Bering, Hemingway, Te Amo and House of Windsor.

These boxes are approximately 8×7×3 inches deep.  This size works well with a 5×7 panel that sits in the lid.

Ok…here we go!

Make a brace hardware support for the cover:

Since your painting panel will be resting in the cover of the box, you need some way to make the cover strong enough to hold in place while you are painting. I made a support with two small pieces of metal called mending strips. These are easily found in a hardware store.  Then I used asmall flathead screw with a small wingnut to hold the metal strips together in order to hold the lid up to the desired angle.  I uses two small screws to mount the mending strips to the box…one on the lid and one on the box.  See picture below.

Install new hardware:

All the cigar boxes have cheap hardware that will not hold up to outdoor painting. I replaced the hinges and add a new latch (a hook and eye works well) to the front. These small hinges and latches can easily be found in a good hardware store or craft store.

Make a panel holder:

Cigar boxes have small fillets of wood that extend up from the lower part of the box into the cover and you can use these wood fillets keep the panel in place when the box is closed.  For my box, the 5×7 panel fit the cover exactly horizontally. To be sure that the panel doesn’t move while I’m painting, I used a hook screw to hold the panel in place. Or you can simply use double stick tape to hold your panel in place while you’re painting.

Make a palette:

I went to a glass/window manufacturing shop and had a piece of plexiglass cut to fit my box. Make sure to a finger hole by cutting the edge off one of the corners at 45 degrees.  This will give you easy access to your supplies below. Keep the protective paper on one side of the plexiglass.This keeps your palette opaque rather than see-through which helps you see and mix your paints.Take the box with you for the exact measurements or be sure to measure the inside of the box, and cut a piece masonite, or plexiglass to fit.

Palette Support:

Your palette will have to have some support to keep it steady while you are painting, and also so that it will lie flat and cover the paints and other items in the lower part of the box.Cut 2 lengths 1 1/8 x 3/16 wood, mat board or foam core to fit the inside of the box. These pieces of lath are placed flat against the front and the back sides of the box, and form a thin shelf on which the palette rests.

Palette Holder:

You are almost finished with your new box! The next thing to do is to construct something to keep the palette in place when the box is closed.  This will act as a protective barrier for your wet palette and keep it from bouncing around while in transport.

There are two easy options…for my box I used those round plastic surface savers. They can be found in hardware stores.  I cut mine in half and hot glued them to the inside of the lid.  Just make sure to measure your panel so it will sit inside these spacers. Or, I have seen others use little cubes of wood attached to the inside of the cover.  These are the cedar blocks sold as fresheners for your chest of drawers.You can hot glue them into the box so that the 5×7 panel can nestle between them either in an upright or a horizontal position. When the box is closed, the palette is held in place from the bottom by the wood lath, and from the top by these wood blocks.

SUPPLY LIST:

  • Cigar box
  • Hardware (mending strips, 2 screws for mending strips, wingnut & flathead screw, hook&eye, new hinges)
  • Pallet Support
  • Plastic or Cedar blocks
  • Lath
  • Palette

Total cost of making this little pochade box should be about $12.00.What a savings! Why pay $300???

TIPS:

  • cut down my brush handles to fit in my new box
  • use a limited palette of water soluble paints: titanium white, cad yellow, ultra marine blue, alizarine or cad red light and viridian.This keeps my traveling load light and easy
  • use baby wipes for easy clean up

I hope you try building your own pochade box.I keep it in my car and use it while waiting for my kids during soccer or tutoring. On hikes, I can pack it easily along with a camera and wip out small studies. Also, mine worked really well for me on a family vacation in the Virgin Islands. I could paint with my pochade box in my lap while sitting on the beach.What a life! In fact, I just returned from painting and playing in Provence. Enjoy and go find your own places to use your new little pochade box – even in your own backyard!

Happy Painting – Lori

PS. Let’s meet on Facebook and Twitter!

18 Comments

  1. Debbie March 16, 2009 at 4:58 am

    Hi Lori,

    What a great informative post! I am going to print it off so I have a copy of it. Sounds like a great way to be very portable. I love painting on location and often have too much stuff!:)Sounds like a good project for the future. Thanks for the info.

  2. Jen Hoffman April 3, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Lori, you little art goddess, you! I am totally doing this. I need something smaller than my french easel & my Wilcox easel, and have been wanting to get a thumb box. You just saved my wallet. : ) Muchas gracias!

  3. Loreen Leedy May 10, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Lori… this is a funny coincidence, I just wrote a post about building a $25 pochade box that can be mounted on a tripod. You have some great ideas here!

  4. Sanjeev Saikia May 27, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Lori,

    Great site, excellent information indeed… will try out the pochade box, though the easel part looks a little small… is there any way we can make that a littel larger? Sanjeev
    http://www.sanjeevsaikiaart.blogspot.com

  5. Laurel Alanna McBrine June 28, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Hi, I love your blog!

    I just wrote about my homemade pochade box, also constructed with a cigar box.

    You have a great idea re: the mending strips you used for a hinge. I just glued a piece of wood on the back of the box and I prop it open (so it won’t shut on me) with a wooden chopstick that has been cut to size.

    I have actually made a couple of boxes, one for 5×7 and one for 6×8 panels. I am going to post about the 6×8 painting box soon.

    Here is the blog where I wrote about constructing my box:

    http://www.mcbrinepainting.blogspot.com

  6. Ray Horner August 18, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Very informative post this is great way to carry my work and make those small painting. I will make one to keep close by so I won’t miss opportunities to paint.

    • admin August 18, 2009 at 10:42 am

      Hi Ray, thanks for visiting my site and reading the post on building a pochade box. It is a fun project. Let me know how it goes for you! Thanks, Lori 🙂

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  8. […] plein air painter can keep paint on the palette in the pochade box for long periods of time without the paint drying out. However, finished paintings dry a bit more […]

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  10. […] If you’re into plein air paintings, you don’t need to shell out for a portable easel. Lori Mcnee has some great information on how to build your own pochade box. […]

  11. Janice Tanton March 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    These are wonderful! I built one for each member of our family, and we take them out camping with us in the mountains. They don’t take up much space when we’re hiking in, and everyone gets a chance to chill out, paint and enjoy the great outdoors without having to lug the french easel or spend a fortune. It’s a great way for folks to get out and paint without investing a huge amount of moolah to do so.

    Thanks for sharing out how to make them! I put a small piece of wood to keep them propped open, and it works fabulously….and also use picture frame hangers and a long elastic to grip the sides of the small canvasses or boards, wrap around the back of the pochade and hold the canvas on the other side. Keeps them from blowing away in extreme weather, and is light and easy to manage!

    • Lori McNee March 21, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Hello Janice-

      What a wonderful gift of love you gave your family. I hope they use the boxes. Thanks for the added tip to keep the lid propped up. I am not sure about the second tip…the picture frame hangers…can you email me a picture? I will add this to the post and credit you! Thanks so much.

      Happy painting-
      Lori

  12. Jane Chilton August 30, 2011 at 6:40 am

    This pochade plan is almost verbatim that of Ellie Clemens’ plan.

    • Lori McNee September 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      Yes, it is inspired by that post! I found that site many years ago before I was a blogger, and I copied off the instructions without the url. When I originally posted this article a few years ago, I couldn’t find the website address. Thanks for sharing Ellie’s name here. I like to always link to sites that have inspired me…thanks to you, I was able to find the article and link to it within my post. Have you made your own pochade box?

      Lori 🙂

  13. A Day with the French Impressionists May 18, 2012 at 9:30 am

    […] Build a Pochade Box from a Cigar Box […]

  14. Faces… | Dana Barbieri October 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

    […] paint plein air. I have been drawn to doing that. Not sure where that is coming from but Lori McNee shares how you can make a pochade box out of a cigar box. It looks pretty easy and inexpensive. I hope all is […]

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