A new set up

For several years now, my plein air set up has consisted of a lightweight aluminum easel, an art-bin with my paints in it, a modified picture frame for carrying wet panels, and various accessories – all stuffed into an old backpack.  It was heavy and cumbersome, and while it worked for some time, I decided it was time for an upgrade.

Old Set up

After some research I settled on Guerilla Painter‘s 9×12 Laptop box.  Guerilla offers a wide range of products and has an extensive number of add-on accessories, all consistently getting solid reviews.

There are plenty of junky mass-produced boxes, and a few high-end paint-box makers out there, notably Alla-Prima Pochade, which are gorgeous, but a little outside my price range for the limited amount of plein air painting that I do.  Guerilla fell right in the middle.

Guerilla accidentally sent me the 9×12″ Pochade box first, then sent my correct order.  I had time with both boxes to compare, and I’m convinced I made the right choice in the Laptop.  My review of both is below.

1) Size.  Plein air painting is about being portable. The Pochade is almost 6″ deep including the feet. Both are meant to hold 9″x12″ panels and possibly smaller/larger with add-ons and modifications.  When open the Pochade has an awkward lip jutting up 2″ from the palette. This was one of the biggest turn-offs for me as I can imagine it getting in the way of my knife and brushes.

The Laptop is considerably shorter, clocking in at 3″, which means less storage, but also less weight and less bulk. The palette is almost flush with the edges and there is a much shorter lip on the front.

2) Construction.  Both boxes are solid, but have way too many screws.  I’m not sure why, as gluing the panels together would give sufficient strength. They probably won’t add much weight, but they clutter an otherwise streamlined look.   The Pochade has a beefy aluminum armature to control tilt.  The Laptop armature is smaller and doesn’t have as many washers, which makes me wonder if it will slip with repeated use. Time will tell.

3) Tripod mount. Both boxes come with a built in tripod mount.  The Pochade has a deeper rubber foot, keeping the tripod mount from touching a table surface.  It also has a leather handle.  The Laptop has shallower feet, which means you need to either remove the tripod plate each time you use the Laptop on a table, or add deeper feet. I’m planning on that, plus adding my own handle.

On the Pochade the mount is centered, but on the laptop it is set on the back edge. (see below about tripods)

4) Internal storage. With the additional depth the Pochade offers almost double the storage. This might be good if you want a whole studio-in-a-box, but my kit has always been as lean as possible. Even without modification, the Laptop can easily hold 10 tubes of paint, several brushes, palette knife, medium, turps, brush cleaner, palette cups etc, and still allow the palette to slide into place. Once my brush handles are trimmed down and a divider put in I will have room for another 8-10 tubes of paint.

Guerilla Painter claims the Laptop can fit 4 wet panels.  I’m not sure how this is possible.  It appears you can get one backed against the lid, two back to back in the clips – but that is only 3 paintings, and I struggled to get a panel cleanly against the lid. It seems the clip is set too far back, causing it to scrape against the edge of the panel.  The lack of storage won’t bother me – it’s rare that I do even two paintings in a day.  But still, Guerilla should either clarify or update.

The Pochade has much larger clips that allow for multiple panels, or even a thin stretched canvas. It also has grooves in the storage box for additional dividers and what appears to be a shelf.  The Laptop has a single groove, but I plan on adding my own divider later.

Both boxes are set up to paint 9×12 in a landscape format.  I’m sure a little modification could easily fix that.  Stay tuned.

5) Tripods.  The trend in pochade boxes is to include an integrated tripod mount. This allows you to screw in a quick-release plate that comes with most camera tripods.  But a pochade box is not a camera.  It is bigger, and usually heavier, and has physical stress being applied (pushing brushes against your palette and your panel).  I purchased a $19 Amazon basics tripod that would work just fine with a standard camera.  However, the quick-release plate was plastic, and the receiving port was also plastic, which meant a LOT of flex and bounce on the Laptop, and almost complete instability on the heavier Pochade box.

I did more research and purchased a $100 Neewer carbon fiber tripod. Everything is sturdier than the cheaper tripod – the legs had less flex, the clips tightened securely, and the quick release mounting plate and port were both cast aluminum: no flex at all when mounted to the box. Neewer also makes some aluminum versions in the $60-$80 range.  They all appear to come with metal-on-metal quick release plates for a rock solid mount. Do yourself a favor and splurge on a good tripod with a metal on metal mounting plate.

Cabot Lodge

The new set up in action at Mt Auburn Cemetery.