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.


  1. Cigar box
  2. Hardware (mending strips, 2 screws for mending strips, wingnut & flathead screw, hook&eye, new hinges)
  3. Pallet Support
  4. Plastic or Cedar blocks
  5. Lath
  6. Palette

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

  1. cut down my brush handles to fit in my new box
  2. 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
  3. 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 whip 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. 

Enjoy and go find your own places to use your new little pochade box – even in your own backyard!

Happy Painting – LorI

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