Pochade-Box Workshop

Students met on Saturday to build the  pochade boxes that we will use in Italy in June.

A Day in Siena

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A highlight of our trip will be a day in Siena, about 2 hours northwest of Cortona. In the morning we’ll visit the museums and the duomo (the cathedrale di Santa Maria) to see works of the late medieval period and early renaissance by artists Duccio, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers, and other master of the Sienese school. In the afternoon we’ll meet up with Mauro Faleri and Elettra Paresi from the The Saena Julia Italian Language School in Siena who will share with us the history and traditions of the Palio di Siena, a major horse race in the main piazza of Siena, the Piazza del Campo, that has taken place since the medieval period. The city is composed of 17 contrade (neighborhoods or districts), ten of which front a horse and jockey to compete for the honor of winning the race for their contrada. We’ll tour one of the contrade with our hosts and have dinner all’aperto (outdoors) before heading home.

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Aerial View of Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy

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Palio, Giovanni Toscani, 15th c.

Making Your Own Pochade Box

97IT83The pochade box is a basic tool for painting outdoors. An variety of boxes are available commercially from the major art supply houses, and also from some specialty builders like Ben Haggett, a painter who also makes and sells beautiful, well designed and constructed boxes for outdoor work. As wonderful as these are, the cost can be somewhat daunting, especially for students just getting started painting outdoors.

I prefer to make my own. My favorite box is now about 15 years old and still serves me well after years of travel and painting outdoors. It only cost me about $5 to make, and the fact that I made it myself makes it all the more pleasurable. All it takes to make a good pochade box is a sturdy wooden cigar box, available from any tobacconist for anywhere from $2-10.

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When you work outdoors with these small boxes, you soon find out what works and what doesn’t. Problems and weaknesses reveal themselves, and you can address them. Every painter has different needs and different priorities in equipment. If you make your own boxes, you can tailor the design to suit your needs perfectly.

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Adding an extender like this allows you to work with different sizes and larger panels than could be accommodated by the given dimensions of the box.

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To accommodate paint tubes, palette cups, etc., the palette is raised on pedestals cut from lattice and glued in the corners. The palette is made from luan plywood which can be easily cut on a table saw, or even a small hand saw. A small finger hole on one side makes it easy to lift it out. The palette is finished with several coats of acrylic gesso, then sanded. Paints are laid out in the well at the top of the palette, made from a length of pine corner-moulding which is positioned to make a v-shape trough, and supported by lattice posts cut with a coping saw to match the v-contour of the moulding.

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Elevating the paint trough to the same level as the palette opens up the area under the trough for more stuff, and also keeps the palette from moving. In this particular box, instead of using lattice for the pedestals I mitered corner posts from scraps of maple picture moulding, which also adds to the area of the box. Maximizing area is always an important design consideration. The box is designed to attach to a tripod for painting. A piece of lattice is glued to the bottom of the box for reinforcement and to accommodate the threaded hardware, available from building supply stores.

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In my first boxes, the lid was held open and supported by a length of coat-hanger wire bent on both ends and inserted into holes drilled in the box and lid. I stopped using the wire because it prevented me from turning the panel sideways if I wanted to work on horizontal formats of a certain size. The problem is solved by attaching a wooden support to the back that supports the open lid and stops it at a certain angle.

The box holds paint, palette, palette knife and solvent cups. In my backpack I carry brushes, tripod, rags, water, large tube of white, windbreaker, and all the other sundries for a day painting outdoors. I also have a homemade panel carrier box with slots for four panels. Brushes go in a special plastic tube made for such purposes. A thin length of wood cut a bit longer than the longest brush keeps the lid from crushing the brush hair.

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The whole setup in action. Painting on Isola Maggiore in Lake Trasimeno.