Friday, December 11, 2009

December Pochades

Clouds 7"x9" Oil on canvas panel

I am trying to keep these sketches simple without being too impressionistic.
Just thinking about the arrangement of shapes, natures real colors, and values. I looked for subjects that had good contrast and then look for the different color shifts in the shadows and lights.

These cold days are not the best to be outside paintings but winter gives us such obvious light and shade patterns its hard for a painter to resist.

December Sunset 7"x9" Oil on canvas panel

The sun sets so quickly in these short December days, that the light and shadows change constantly. I intentionally took advantage of this back lit scene
to avoid the changing light. And capture a bit of a winter sun on a cold day.

Big Boy Down 8"x10" Oil on panel

The last big storm here brought down this eighty foot tall Hack berry tree in our back acre. Barely missing our little garden shed. What a loss this tree is but a very interesting design pattern.

Enjoy Jim

Quick Studies

5"x7" Oil on panel
These small five inch by seven inch panels are great formats for field sketches.
They really help simplify the forms and keep me from getting hung up with unnecessary details. Using a #6 filbert brush and just painting the bold patterns and simple shapes.

5"x7" Oil on Panel

On this small scale a few color masses, can suggest form and structure.
And produce a quick study with an illusion of reality.

Enjoy Jim.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pochade Boxes

I wanted to post updates from fellow artists who have built their own Pochade Boxes based on my Pochade Box Plans. It has been interesting to see their innovations and design ideas and correspond with so many creative people.

Artist - Judy Holder
Judy is an artist from Connecticut who has a very unique and personal style, you will certainly enjoy her use of brushwork and color, which flows through out her work. I particularly like her use of architectural features in her landscapes.
She reworked her box using some of the design ideas from my post, " How to build your own Pochade Box ".

"This is a pochade painting box I started building two years ago, and just recently finished after reading and viewing Jim Serrett's blog."

You can reach her page about her Pochade kit here.
You can learn more about the artist at her site,

Artist - Phong Nguyen

Phong is a talented artist from Columbus Ohio, from the highly acclaimed Columbus College of Art and Design working in multiple mediums. Illustration, design and fine arts.
Phong made some unique innovations to the box design adding a wet panel carrier into the top lid.

"I changed up a few things like making the box smaller and adding the wet panel carrier to the top."

"This thing is nice! So solid. Now I can see why people pay so much money for them."

"After using the box a few times, I think it might have been better to just make the panel carrier separately to keep the weight down, but with the box now, I have 1 less thing to carry."

I truly like the adjustable panel carrier inside of the kit, everything being self contained and one unit truly is streamlined and compact. Phong did have some problems with the t-nut mount holding, but I think we figured a piece of hard wood as the base plate would resolve that issue. The craftsmanship and the design ideas are impressive.

You can reach his page about his Pochade kit here.
And learn more about this artist at his site,

Artist - Ron Guthrie

Ron is an artist from Solvang, California. Ron is a very accomplished plein air painter, who has a excellent blog with demonstrations, painting tips and some just stunning work. Be sure to check it out.
Ron has access to power equipment and that is reflected in the quality of his box, but agrees that this box can easily be built with simple hand tools. He also built a panel carrier.

"I've been wanting to build a pochade box much like the $300 models you can by without spending the $300. Jim Serrett had built such a box, the Serrett Pochade Box, using simple contstruction methods and scraps of wood keeping costs down and making building the box as simple as you can get."

"I don't think I paid more than $20 for all the material. I used an air powered brad nailer but you could do this with small finishing nails and a hammer. I have a table saw too but all of the wood can be cut with a hand saw. It's a great little box and can handle anything up to 9"x12" panels."

You can reach his page about his kit here.
You can learn more about this artist at his site.

Be certain to visit these artist's sites for more information on their personalized boxes.
My many thanks to everyone who has shared their efforts and artwork, you have made this a great experience for many.

Enjoy, Jim

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Smoky Mountain Pochades

Smoky Mountain Treeline, 9"x7", Oil on panel

Smoky Mountain Sunrise, 10"x12", Oil on panel

A couple of sketches from a backpacking trip into the mountains on the Appalachian Trail. Both done sitting in the tent while sipping morning coffee. Because at the end of day all I wanted to do, was to get into that sleeping bag. It was a physical challenging hike, but what a great trip.
Enjoy Jim

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Pochade Box

Since I first posted my “how to build your own Pochade Box” instructions back in February, I’ve had an amazing response from people all around the world. That post is being read in 48 countries and has been translated into 28 languages. There has been an array of correspondences with artist on every continent.

But these are the first images I’ve seen of a Pochade Box built from these plans.
This kit was built by Ruth Vines, a fine artist/graphic artist living in Florida, USA.
Ruth built a 10’ x 12” box with a Plexiglas palette.

Quote: "It was very easy to build, has more space than the small cigar box I have been using thus far (bought at ebay), and with the flatter mixing area I can finally do some knife painting. I put a piece of plexiglass in the mixing area, for easier cleanup."

Not only did Ruth do a beautiful job of making the Pochade kit, but she has already field tested it, producing some stunning work.
Check out Ruth’s work on her site.

Conquering the world, One Pochade Box at a time. Enjoy, Jim.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

'Anyone could paint that'

Those crazy looking hay bails always attract my attention but I never thought they would be a great subject matter, just too clique. This is a oil sketch that I started with a red ochre underpainting..
Which all got me to thinking about a article on
by Paddy Johnson, titled , 'Anyone could paint that' and 7 other myths about art.., well worth the read.
Enjoy Jim

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June Pochade Stimulus

"While there were "only" 345,000 jobs lost last month--as compared to 504,000 in April--the report doesn't account for the upcoming job losses as well as the ripple effect that will result from the GM bankruptcy. Nor does it reflect the severe budget shortfalls states continue to face. It did, however, reveal a continued collapse of wage growth, the highest unemployment rate in 25 years,...." The Nation

While the economy tanks, we artist just move along about the same. We are all starving anyway.
So here is my end of May stimulus plan, “Get out and paint some sketches”.
I went a bit larger with these pieces, up to 9x12 panels. In hopes I would not feel like I was picking at them as I have on some of the smaller ones.

The first piece I approached much as I would a studio piece. I started with a red earth underpainting to establish my sketch. And built color layers on top of it. Certainly a more thought out and planned approach.
The second work I just tried to respond to color and light in an abstract way. Working wet paint into wet paint, alla-prima.
A good sketch is an exploration, it is not so much about a finished work for me but a source and learning experience. Is it not wonderful when you see and feel your self improve? Kind of one of those "eureka" moments that every artist appreciates.
I had a professor that refer to this as "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg", taken from a book of the same title about the creative experience and process.
The crack is the critical mass we arrive at during deep thinking and creative efforts.
Which propels our understanding foreword.
The payoff is a deeper connection with our self and our work.
And certainly a new level for our art and a stimulus for ideas and possible studio pieces
Enjoy, Jim

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A little better Weather.

There is certainly some green going on.
But here it has been two days of dry weather for every five days of rain.
But did get a few more oil sketches between rain events.
All three 7"x9" Oil painting on panel
Enjoy Jim

Monday, April 6, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

It has been very uncooperative weather here, for anyone wanting to be outside.
One day it’s nice and in the sixties and the next like today, freeze warnings, rain and wind.
But I did have a chance get in some sketching.

Everything is still pretty grey, with a few glimmers of yellow ochre and chromium oxide green on the ground. The trees are still basic stick skeletons, but still interesting.
The first couple I concentrated on the trees and the cast shadows, but the linear elements seemed to dominate the composition. The later pieces I just went for masses, trying to keep the brush work down and make simple statements.

I agonized over what Pochade's to post, there is some good, and some bad and a few butt ugly ones. But for me it isn't about finished looking pieces but exploring the medium.

7x9, Oil painting on panel
9x12, Oil painting on panel
8x10, Oil painting on panel

Thanks for looking, enjoy... Jim.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How to build a Pochade Box Panel Carrier

Winter 09, pochade painting, oil on canvas

This is the second installment on,” building your own Pochade Kit. The following instructions are for an easy to make Panel Carrier. Again, the idea was to use nothing but simple hand tools and easily accessible materials and also for this kit to be a cost effective way for anyone interested in working en plein air, to join in.
I think it should be said that on the market today there are some highly crafted and beautiful Pochade Kits available. The majority of which are worth every penny they charge for them.
Their cost has gone down considerably in the last few years, and I do see even cheaper models being offered, but I worry a bit about the quality of mass marketed and mass produced kits. I just hope when it comes time for me to upgrade to one of those high end set ups, they are still around. Just take a look at some of the off brand name French Easels in art supply stores.
Those knock offs have done more to damage the reputation of that easel than anything else.
So anyway, the whole point of this Pochade adventure is to give us an inexpensive avenue into working on location, in front of nature, and also to conserve expenditures for paying the bills and buying paint. Well at least until we get that huge commission or make a sale.
On to the kit.
I decided to build this box to hold 8’x10” (20x25cm) and 6”x8”(15x20cm) canvas panels or 1/8”
hardwood panels. I also wanted it to fit easily into my backpack with the box. I ended up with a panel carrier that is 9”x11” (23x27cm) finished size, which fits into almost any normal pack,
and holds seven panels total, or in my case six panels and a hand palette.

Material List:
Hardware latch and hinge $4.18
½ x 4” x 4” Pine board 2.20
¼ x 36” Hardwood dowels 3.70
1/4” x 2’ x 4’ Birch plywood 10.00
Total Cost: $20.08 USD

Tools List:
Miter saw and box

You should have plenty of wire brads, wood glue, stain and polyurethane left over from the Pocahde Box.
I will say, if you build this box, go ahead and buy an extra three feet of four inch stock and build two of them at once. With the extra stock and the remaining supplies from the first, you will have enough materials to make two carriers for just a few more dollars and a little more effort. One of those hind site things. LOL

The sides of my box will be (10 1/4”) ten and one quarter inches long. This will give me room for the lid and the bottom panel, for a finished box size of eleven inches. Take a piece of two inch stock and cut it to (20 ½”) twenty and a half inches. Then attach your ¼” square dowels with glue and 5/8” wire brads. Use one of the dowel pieces as a spacer and stair step your way across the board until you get to the end and have something that looks like this.

Allow to dry over night. Then cut in a miter box, two lengths of 9 ¼” inches. Turn the two ends around so that the teeth match and mark with an X. This is the top of your panel sides. Check the width of your box with a canvas board.

Cut two panels from your Birch plywood, at nine (9”) by eleven (11) inches. Mark the top of the panels at one half inch (1/2”) for the lid and bottom one quarter inch (1/4”) for the base plate.
Line your side supports to those two lines and glue and nail together.

Next cut a piece of four inch stock to nine inches for your lid. Cut a piece from your plywood to (9”) nine by (3½”) three one half inches for your bottom plate. Nail and glue this piece on.
You now have a Pochade Box Panel Carrier !
All that’s left to do is sand and finish if you wish, and last, install the hardware.

Because I wanted my Panel Carrier to slide in and out of a backpack, I spent some time rounding the sharp edges with a wood rasp and sanding to ease the roughness. I also stained and polyurethane the outside of the box and used a piece of the scrap to make a small hand palette which fits inside the box. When I was done and looking at the left over material, I realized I could have built two carriers with just a few dollars more of stock material. Considering the most time spent was on gluing the dowels down, you can just as easily make two carriers by using a longer piece and cutting into fours. Of course if you had a source to route out the dados instead of gluing the teeth in place, you could make this carrier in no time. But if you have limited tools and equipment, this is a great solution for a fast, simple and easy to build Pochade Box Carrier. You will then have a functioning” Pochade Kit”,Pochade Box and Carrier for only $55.44 us dollars. Spend the savings on a tripod, paints, brushes and supports, or save up for one of those high end tricked out Pochade Kits.
Enjoy Jim

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to build your own Pochade Box

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed as an artist was the craftsmanship involved. If it’s either building my own stretchers, prepping canvas, customizing equipment for the studio, or just preparing panels for future work, it is great way to kill down time between painting projects. Sort of a Zen thing, doesn’t tax the brain but is productive in all ways for my efforts.

When it came to me that I would tackle building my own Pochade box, there was a precise set of criteria I needed to meet.
First it could not take hours of planning and measuring. Some boxes seem very complicated for what their function is. It needed to be a simple, functional design. I built this box in an afternoon, maybe four or five hours total. The panel carrier took a bit longer, but we will get into that later in this post.
Second it had to be done with fairly simple tools. Most importantly, it must be easily built without the use of a shop full of equipment. I’ve seen some wonderful “build your own Pochade Boxes” online. But most people do not have routers and table saws, or any method to cut dados into material. Just a set of hand tools, an average person would own and simple joinery. No complicated hardware to fabricate.

Third it had to be lightweight and easy to set up, which of course, is the entire point of a Pochade box. A few I’ve seen on the market have hefty bottom boxes that make the person using them look like an organ grinder without the monkey. But more importantly, the large base restricts your arm movement with the brush, so streamlined is the idea.

And finally, it had to be inexpensive to build. The material cost on this Pochade box was $22.09 US, and $20.08 for the Panel Carrier. Then another $13.27 for misc. items such as glue, stain and polyurethane. All for a grand total of $55.44 US dollars.

So you are probably thinking, let’s have a look at this fifty five dollar Pochade Box? Here she is in all her glory with her side kick, Panel Carrier. Which we will also build so that we have a complete en plain air kit. Ta-da!

Still interested?
If so, then read on and I’ll walk you through the projects with some photos and some simple explanations. Following is a materials list, tool suggestions and a photo to clarify some of these hardware pieces.

Materials: Estimated cost:
1 – 1/4” x 5/16” – Tee nut .98 per bag
2 - #10 washers .98 per bag
1 - #10 – 32 x 3/4” bolt with nut .30
1 - 1/2 inch by 4”x 4” wood stock…… I used a scarp of plywood.1.00 ?
1 - locking table leg brace 2.89
2 – 4” x 3/4” continuous hinges 7.00
1 - 1.75oz container #18 x 5/8” Wire Brads .98
1 – 2’ x 2’ 1/4“ luan plywood 3.40
3 - 36” x 1/2” x 3/4” Hardwood Square Dowels 4.56

Tool List:
Small hand saw
Miter box,… handy but not necessary.
Philips head and standard driver
Drill, with a 3/16 inch wood bit

Your first step is to decide on the size of your box. I wanted mine to hold panels as small as 5”x7” and as large as 9”x 12”. So the finish size was 14”x 11”, perfect for fitting in most backpacks. Once you have made this decision cut your 1/4” plywood to your finished size.
I used a normal handsaw, but you certainly can use a jig saw. Be warned, this stuff cuts like butter. In fact you can cut it with several passes of a utility knife. The Luan plywood is probably the main thing I would do differently on this box. Wherever you touch it with wood glue it saturates the wood fiber and does not allow a nice stain penetration, even after wiping off the excess glue. Pretty much acts as a resist. On the Panel Carrier I switched to Birch plywood, more expensive but worth the better finish. Also try to get the two panels as square as possible, the better they match up, the easier it will be to complete.
Next, measure 4 inches down from the top, on one of your two panels. Then measure in from the side 4-1/2 inches. You should have a vertical line on this panel reaching one third of the way in from each side. These will be your panel clip guides. Carefully cut both line as straight as you can with the saw, and sand smooth by doubling a piece of sandpaper in half and sliding it through the slots. If your cut line is a bit wiggly, sanding will help, but on location with a panel in place you’ll never notice if you wandered off the line.

Moving on to the box frame, what we are using is a stock commonly referred to as hardwood square dowels. Usually located where they sell finish grade lumber, they come in a variety of sizes. I had no problem locating this material. I used the 1/2” x 3/4” stock so I could have the bottom of the box deeper for paint and the top thinner. The construction is to simply cut your square stock to length and shadow box your panels using butt joints. Use the 1/2” on end for the bottom panel and flat on the 3/4” side for the top. See photo. Thinly coat both the panel and square dowel with wood glue and let them set a minute, tack together using the small wire brads.
Cut one piece to fit down the center of the Pochade Box top, in the wood space between your panel clip guides.

By now you should have something that’s starting to look like a Pochade Box, and it’s all down hill from here!
Now for attaching the base plate and the Tee Nut, I used a 1/2” scrap piece of plywood, but any stock material a half inch thick will do. (If you build the Panel Carrier at the same time, you can use the extra 4” stock.) If you already have a tri-pod, check the fit of the Tee Nut with it. The size listed here is standard for most, but it is best to be certain. Once you’ve got the right size, take your 1/2 x 4 x 4 stock and drill a hole in the center and drive the Tee-Nut in with a hammer. They usually sell this hardware in a bag of three so you can have a couple of try’s at it. Center base plate on the bottom box about an inch from the lip, glue and tack from the inside palette side with wire brads. Place some weight on top of this and let set for a day, you need a strong bond here.

At this point, with everything dry, I sanded and stained the box and hit it with a coat of fast dry polyurethane. How finished you want the box is up to you, you could go as far as setting the nail heads or just leave it raw wood. I thought the varnish wood help clean-up after use, and I’m glad I did.
As far as the hardware, the back hinges are simple enough to install. The placement of side brace requires a decision. I wanted my box to open as wide as possible, giving me lots of room to move a regular handle brush around without bumping the palette tray. But when closed the hinge brace sticks out about an inch from the box. You can move it in and flush with the edge of the box and still get a good angle. This was just a personal choice, you need to decide which will work best for you. When you mount the brace hinge use the washers in between the wood and metal so that it will slide and not bind the wood. I used a nut and bolt on the bottom and a wood screw in the top. Figuring the bolt side would take the most abuse and needed to be stronger.

Now for the panel clips and how panels are going to be held. It can’t get any simpler than this. I really thought about all the commercial boxes and the “build your own Pochade Box” sites that I’ve seen. The panel mounts were often too complicated or took too many specialized tools. A simple backpackers bungee and problem solved. I actually think it holds much better than some of the sliding mechanisms I’ve experienced. Plus it makes this a box that anyone can build and quickly enjoy the experience of painting on location - pretty much the goal of this whole effort.


So that is the box. Pretty simple and streamlined, it weighs in at just under one pound. And easily fits into my pack with the panel carrier. I made a small hand palette that fits into the carrier from the left over material. And other than the tri-pod spent just fifty five dollars on this entire kit. With the money I saved I can really stock up on paint, where I would rather spend my cash. Besides isn’t that what I am suppose to be doing, painting?
I hoped this was helpful, that you get some good ideas, or it even inspired you to build one yourself. If you do, I would love to see yours, I’ll post it if you’d like. Also, feel free to e-mail me with any questions, or post any comments, or if you share this info, just call it the “Serrett Box”.
In my next post I will be showing how the Panel Carrier goes together, so stay tuned.
Enjoy, Jim

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!