I thought I’d share some information today about what I probably consider to be my favorite piece of painting equipment — my pochade box made by Open Box M. (See it in action in my instructional painting DVD Steps for Successful Plein Air Painting.)
While many of you are familiar with the term pochade box, some of you may wonder if I’m talking about a fancy juice box for the kids. Pochade is a French term that means “sketch”, and a pochade box is a type of easel generally used for outdoor painting or painting en plein air (another French term meaning “in the open air”). A pochade box is similar to a French easel, but lighter and easier to transport. There are many different pochade boxes on the market these days, each with a unique design and functionality. Although I haven’t had the chance to try very many of the others, I’ve been happy with my Open Box M (M Box) since day one.
The advantages of the M Box in my opinion include the simple, compact design, the sturdy construction and the ability to carry wet panels. I’ll go into more detail about the box below and how I’ve used it, but you can find a lot more information on the company’s website: OpenBoxM.com.
The M Box comes in several different sizes, but the first one I bought was the 11″ x 14″ size. I chose that size because it has a larger palette and allows for storage of wet panels up to 11″ x 14″. I more recently bought the 8″ x 10″ size as well so that I could have an even more compact and lightweight setup, but I still use the 11″ x 14″ size the most. I should add that the wet panel storage system is adjustable, which allows for storage of smaller panels as well. The slots are wide enough to accommodate two 1/8″ panels back to back, or one 1/4″ panel, and there are two slots. The maximum number of wet panels you could store at one time in the 11″ x 14″ box would be four 11″ x 14″ panels, or eight smaller panels (if you use the included divider).
The outer box that came with my 11″ x 14″ set up (purchased in 2001) was a walnut wood box, which worked well through extensive use (even through painting trips to Spain and Mexico). But it eventually started to crack in one corner, so I upgraded to the Pelican case. The Pelican case is heavier than the walnut box, but it’s also waterproof, crush proof and allows more storage than the walnut box. The palette/panel holder and wet panel storage system from that original setup continue to work flawlessly (even after use in rain, snow, frigid temperatures and high winds — the palette/panel holder has blown over a couple of times too, I’ll admit).
The palette/panel holder comes pre-drilled for attaching to a camera tripod (I’m currently using a Manfrotto 3001 tripod with a Manfrotto 3229 2-way moveable head). I’ve found that the strength of the tripod head is critical to keeping any palette box steady during use. My tripod is several years old and I’m sure there are many lighter ones available today, but I think the head strength is more important than the weight anyway. (I doubt that will stop me from buying a lighter tripod in the future though.) I also chose to insert a piece of glass on top of the palette to make it easier to clean. This adds some weight, but it allows me to use a razor blade to clean off any dried paint that accumulates.
The spring-loaded design of the panel holder on the M Box allows a canvas panel to be easily placed into position in a simple, quick manner. The 11″ x 14″ size will hold a panel up to 20″ wide with its adjustable design. I tend to paint up to 12″ x 16″ or so outdoors, but most often work between 6″ x 8″ and 9″ x 12.”
Another benefit of the M Box over some of the other pochade boxes on the market is that the palette/panel holder is quite light when attached to a tripod. Some other units incorporate extra storage for paint, brushes, etc. under the palette, which of course adds weight and results in a more wobbly and bouncy palette when attached to the tripod.
I can fit my entire set up for outdoor painting into one backpack — a great advantage when hiking to a remote painting spot while still having my hands free. When I pack up the whole 11″ x 14″ setup including the Pelican case, mineral spirits, paint, brushes, canvases, paper towels, rain jacket, hat, tripod and other odds and ends, the whole backpack weighs 32 lbs. (A bit heavy for long hikes.) If I leave the Pelican case behind, the set up is about 27 lbs. If I want to pack even lighter I can get the weight down to about 19 lbs. by taking my 8″ x 10″ setup with only a couple of canvas panels in a smaller backpack. I could even get it lighter by only taking a few tubes of paint, or by putting my colors onto my palette beforehand and leaving the tubes of paint behind. It’s great to have several options to make the setup as light as I might need.
The only downside of the M Box might be that it’s a bit expensive. Open Box M does sell the palette/panel holder by itself (without the outer box or any attachments), which cuts down on the cost. Purchasing a tripod separately can save on the cost too. But I’ve been so happy with the quality of the M Box that I consider it to have been a great investment. I recommend Open Box M products to anyone who is serious about outdoor painting. And remember that you can learn more at OpenBoxM.com.
What’s your plein air easel of choice?
Stephanie Merchant Johnson
Thanks for the product review, Dan. I’ll keep all this in mind when I go shopping for my own set-up.
thanks for this article and description of how you pack for plein air painting. I too have an open m 8×10 and a very light tripod which I like very much. I am all about reducing the weight!
I haven’t done much painting outdoors, so haven’t worried about light things and backpacking, but I can certainly see that you have great ides, great ambition and logical thinking. I will remember this box for the future in the great outdoors.
Waiting for the Sunlight Dan Schultz Fine Art
[…] « My Favorite Piece of Painting Equipment […]
Waiting for the Sunlight Dan Schultz Fine Art
[…] returned to the area the next morning with my painting equipment (including my trusty Open Box M pochade box), and surveyed the area. Obviously the light wasn’t the same as it had been the night before, […]
Could not agree more!
Hi Dan, thank you for your article it made me decide which pochade box to buy. Please, I wanted to know if you had any problem when you did the order, I’m writting from Spain ans I did the order on 7/17 and I haven’t had any answer from them to my messages because I haven’t received the box and any message back to me. Even I called them and I left a message but no answer. Please, could you help me with this?. Thank you in advance. Regards
Glad you enjoyed the article, Sonia. Sorry you’ve been having trouble getting in touch with Open Box M. My guess is that since they are a relatively small company it sometimes takes a while for them to fill orders for their products. I know others who have waited a couple of months before receiving the pochade box they ordered. I’d say to just keep trying to contact them and they’ll eventually get back to you. It will be worth the wait!
Thank you for your answer Dan, I’m so excited to get it…I’ve some vacacion days now in september and I wanted to go out to paint with it but I believe it will not be possible…:( keep doing such a great work! Best Regards
Thanks, Sonia — I hope you get it by September!
Hi Dan, thank you for sharing your setup. I just ordered the 11X14 pelican setup myself, and I am trying to locate a backpack that can hold both the pelican box and the tripod. Who is the manufacture of the one you have shown? Thank you,
Glad you ordered one, Peter. I got my backpack from REI — it was the only one I could find that would fit everything at short notice before a painting trip to Spain. I’d recommend just taking your setup with you when you shop for a backpack so you can actually see if it will fit. I have a smaller pack as well — just for carrying the palette/panel holder, brushes, paint, etc. (no outer box). I think that pack is a High Sierra brand.
I found the Kelty Redwing 3100 through REI—fits the entire setup perfectly. Thanks for the info Dan,
Great, Peter — glad you found one that works!
Any plans on making this great set up? I know a great carpenter.
What do you mean, Yvette — do you want to build it yourself?
No, have someone that does woodwork do it. Is this out of the question?
A woodworker can definitely make a box like this, but I don’t have any plans I can give you for one. The company that made this one is Open Box M.
Got it. Thanks
I ordered one for christmas 2011. Never came, called, called not one return call. Its been a month. I am not sure whats going on with openbox m but stay away from them.
Open Box M is a very busy company and I know some other artists who have had to wait 5 or 6 weeks for their box to arrive. Just by patient and look forward to receiving some of the best plein air equipment on the market!
Thanks for the post re: Open Box M. I just returned from a painting adventure in Maine with my full Julian easel. It is wonderful but really heavy. I am not sure of the weight unloaded. I have been looking at the Open Box M system for the past year and am seriously considering the expense before my trip in September to New Mexico. What is the advantage of the 11 x 14 as opposed to the one size smaller and lighter? Did you order the Manfrotto tripod also? I have some photo tripods but am not sure which one it would fit. The box is a quick release, right?I have seen a hard case for the system; is that what you have? It seems heavy. I know I need to order soon and still might have this by September so any information you might give me would be great. Thanks, Barb
Hi Barbara, the main advantages to a larger box vs. a smaller box (in my opinion) are the extra mixing room on the palette as well as the ability to carry larger finished panels inside the outer case. The outer case is an optional part of the kit and it does add weight, but allows for wet panel storage inside. (I don’t usually bring the outer case with me anymore because of the weight and size it adds, but I did use it for several years. These days I put all my supplies and the palette/panel holder into a smaller backpack.) The outer case is good for traveling though. The wooden outer case is lighter and a little narrower than the Pelican case that’s available for purchase. I bought my tripod separately from a camera store — it’s the Manfrotto 3001 I believe, which is sturdy but fairly heavy compared to some other tripods on the market. The quick release portion comes with the tripod you purchase, but each pochade box comes drilled and ready to receive the quick release and/or most tripods. (Be aware that many plastic camera tripods aren’t sturdy enough to hold the weight of the palette/panel holder without bouncing around while you push with your brush. A sturdy tripod with a good, solid head is best.) I’ve been very happy with my 11×14 pochade and tripod — they’ve lasted me about ten years so far. I occasionally use my 8×10 pochade box, but I always miss the extra mixing room!
Five Reasons to Limit Your Palette Colors Dan Schultz Fine Art
[…] recognize and control values and color temperatures. 5. To reduce the weight of supplies in your portable painting pack. Always a […]
I am wondering how you laid the glass into your M box. I’m wondering what thickness of the glass, if you put any padding around it, and if you’ve ever had it break before. I’m thinking I’ll put glass in when I am able to get my M box. I also love a razor blade to scrape away the paint.
Rashaun, I put the glass on my palette about 10 years ago and it hasn’t broken yet…. I think it was 1/8″ or 3/16″ thickness and I secured it with a bead of clear silicone around the edges. The silicone will also keep moisture from seeping under the glass. I hope that helps!
Agree. It’s still the best piece of outdoor painting equipment I own. The wind has taken mine down enough times that the hinges are barely functional, yet I still use it as my main plein air box. Light weight and easy to set up. I’ve been using it for at least 13 years, maybe more. I used to have a piece of glass in mine, but it finally cracked. Now I just wipe the wood after each use, which is creating a nice patina on the palette. Also, I use a super lightweight tripod by Velbon. It’s great for air travel, folding up to about 8 inches in length. The downside, of course, is that it’s so light, it blows over pretty easily.
My other plein air easel is Virtuosity Easel by Joshua Been. It’s great for painting larger and has a really huge palette area and lots of hooks and stuff for hanging brush washer, paper towels and misc. On the down side, it is too heavy to take on hikes.
Thanks for the comment, Rita — glad to hear that you’re still liking your setup too. I think we’ve had ours for about the same amount of time. By the way, if you ever need to have your box repaired, Open Box M will fix it free of charge if you ship it to them. They replaced my spring mechanism for holding the canvas panel awhile back. Only took a week or so as I recall. Nice!
A New Drawing Support
[…] Pad is a great solution and I haven’t seen anything else like it. Since I already use a tripod-supported pochade box setup for painting outdoors, the Strada Pad is perfect since it also attaches securely to a camera tripod and readily holds a […]
Painting at Joshua Tree National Park
[…] two pictured paintings are both 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen. I used my trusty Open Box M pochade box, which is always a great choice for painting outdoors. But for those of you who might be interested […]
I have been using an 11×14″ Open Box M for some time. I have bought a couple of other pochade systems to try them out, but I return to the Open Box M. Do you have a recommendation for a backpack that fits the 11×14″ well? I find the screws on the side stick out and make it a little awkward.
I don’t have any special backpack for my box. I’ve just gotten used to fitting the pochade in and out of my pack despite the screws. I think a pack with a flap that allows the compartment to open all the way helps, rather than just zipping along the top if that makes sense.
Artist in Waiting
I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to post a caution for artists who are looking to order an Open Box M pochade… I ordered one in March 2022, and it is now July, with no Box mailed to me yet. The person running the shop has responded to a couple of my inquiries, but not in any satisfactory way. He keeps making excuses, but then says my box is “probably one of the ones he will ship in couple of days”, then nothing for 2 months. He sent an email saying that my box is ‘read to ship’ and created a shipping label, but has not delivered the box to actually be shipped. It is agonizingly frustrating and is souring me on the whole deal, so, I wanted to warn others that they may wish to support a more credible vendor. I get that he is a one person shop, but…communicating expected times of delivery should not be so wrong. I also found some posts from other artists on the Artists’Network from 2019 with the same issues, so, please, Buyer Be Aware. Being that his website continues to promise that your box will be shipped in a couple of weeks, yet it is really several months…He has had years to address these issues, so something else must be going on. I have no idea if i will ever actually receive the box, and when I do, i think it will be a reminder of the horrible communications and I will probably sell it. EasyL is a great company, they do what they say and say what they do. Have a great day, and happy painting to everyone.
Very sorry to hear this. I hope you’ll get your box soon and end up liking it. I’ve heard from a few students in the past couple of years who have also had to wait, but eventually got their boxes. Hopefully that will be the case for you too.
Artist (no longer) in Waiting
Update! I now have my Open Box M! I finally got ahold of the Open Box M guy, he answered the phone one day, and we had a nice talk. I was able to encourage him to ship my box and a couple others he’d had sitting around but hadn’t shipped yet.(you’re welcome, whoever you are!) I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have shipped it except for my phone call! So, ordered in March, received only after badgering in August…that’s my Open Box M Experience.
The box itself, is pretty neat. He forgot to nail in the mechanism, but drilled the holes, so i found some tacks and jammed them in to keep it steady. I think it will be nice after it breaks in. I would just say to anyone ordering one, be prepared to wait months, not weeks like his website says…and also be prepared to call him, and nicely request that he ship it!
And, once again, I really like my EasyL, and appreciate it more every day. It is very smooth and well finished. The Open Box M is a little rough, i had to sand it a little too. But it is also very slimline and lightweight, and plein air fashionable, so… pick your poison so to speak! (poison being, spending too much money rather than painting!! my bad!)
Thanks for the reply, and, happy happy painting!
Glad to hear that you received your box after the long delay!