Friday, February 6, 2009

What is a Pochade ?

If you’re an artist or art student you’re probably familiar with the term. If you’re new to painting or someone just cultivating an appreciation of art, it’s worth the time to just summarize what a Pochade Box Painting is, and is not.
A Pocahde box is a small paint box mounted on a tri-pod used for painting on location. The word pochade is derived from the French word “pocher”, meaning to sketch.
The Pochade is no new invention. Artists have been painting landscapes “en plein air” or in the open air for some time now. Doing quick oil sketches or studies on location, which were often used as the source material for larger more ambitious studio works.
By the early 1800’s there was a major change in artist’s subject matter. A growing middle class, social and political upheaval, even revolutions that would restructure society. It would change forever an artist’s role - freed from the restraints of an aristocratic society of painting nobility and religious iconography. The elite aristocrat patron, was replaced by a larger wealthy upper “bougeous” class. That was a door of opportunity for the artist to pursue new concepts and genres.
The English painter John Constable did numerous oil sketches on location. He later translated some into larger or more finished pieces but is credited with being one of the first painters to work directly from nature. When first exhibited they were recognized for their freshness and spontaneity and created a major stir. They were bold and innovated and would be a huge influence on later Impressionists. What they declared most loudly was that the landscape was not just for mere background decoration, or for some moral-social political-allegorical icon, but worthy of subject matter on their own. Interesting schools of outdoor painting would follow - the Barbizon, the Impressionist, the Hudson River School and American Impressionist would all claim linage to him.
When you look at landscape painters such as Constable, or Thomas Moran and one of my favorites, Edgar Payne, you are awestruck by the information they convey in simple direct brushwork. Not because they learned some system or trick, but have spent their time in front of nature cultivating their skills. And the best way to emulate what these artists have done is to follow their footsteps. The first part of that journey is physically getting there.
One of the reasons for this blog is the resurrection of the pochade box.
As I’ve tried to point out there’s nothing new in this concept. Certainly some notable artists working in this format have helped. But the major reason for its revival is the innovations in equipment.



I’ve been a dedicated fan of the French Easel. Well suited for large paintings on location, being a very stable platform, extremely useful indoors and out. It has however for me two major draw backs, one that it is too heavy and clumsy for a major hike. And when set up it becomes a magnet for everyone whose ever know an artist, seen an artist, or wants to tell you about Uncle Joe or Cousin Beth, that was an artist. And didn’t you know them? Sorry, I never saw painting as a group activity and find it very distracting. You can not really blame them. The French Easel when set up is a very interesting and elegant piece of equipment.
With the Pochade, you can quickly and inconspicuously get into places and work. That alone for me is its best feature.
The Pochade has had its own revolution in the last few years. The idea of a light weight tri-pod mounted painting platform has revitalized the plein air movement.
Having been a backpacker myself, it should have been a predictable evolution of modern components, but I am amazed by some of the ingenious designs that have come out lately. Any backpacker will tell you “light and simple” is the way to go. And most boxes I’ve tried truly simplified the effort to get oneself on location and set up. There are some beautiful Pochade boxes on the market, most reasonably priced.
But in my next installment on this blog, I will be giving a demonstration on how to build a functioning box for under sixty U.S. dollars. Stay tuned to this channel!
I will also be posting my efforts here, the successes and failures, hopefully not too much of the latter. In the end it is about connecting with your subject. Challenging yourself to capture what you see, and being “in” a dialogue with nature. It will only improve your skills and discipline, and hopefully send you home with a great experience that you can share.
For this artist, that is what a Pochade Box Painting “is” or is about.
What it “is not”, is a system or method, some new “ism” or commercial margin zed product you buy. It is not a magic box, the magic is in nature, you’ve just got to go there and capture it.
So enjoy and get outdoors!