Plein air art supplies -
Capturing the essence of a scene with an oil sketch

How one outdoor painter is making the most of plein air with this artist hack.

By Marz Doerflinger (

Making the most of my outdoor adventures: my “micro-pochade”

I’ve become completely addicted to my mountain bike since moving to the desert. I’ve been charging up the mountain trails almost daily in search of my muse, the muse that abandoned me when I left the Pacific Northwest. After many days of riding I found her, but she doesn’t want to return to the studio with me. I’ve decided there is only one solution … if the spirit of the desert won’t come with me into the studio, I’ll take my studio to the desert. I’ve tried the traditional approach of lugging my plein air gear out, but something is lost in the translation between what I feel speeding down the trail and what I capture standing at my outdoor easel.

plein air painting ideas -
Morning commute to my “office”

I’ve taken my tiniest tin of watercolors, a water brush, an ink pen, and a 4 x 6 watercolor block with me. That was almost perfect. I was able to stop and sketch the poppy-lined trail, tuck everything back into my pocket, and head back down the trail. But as fun as the watercolor sketch was, for me it’s no replacement for plein air oil painting.

The solution was obvious. I needed a tiny oil kit I can tuck into my jersey pocket to pull out when the spirit hits.

With this in mind, I invented my “micro pochade,” a tiny handheld easel fashioned from an empty CD case. I simply tape a blank canvas to the lid, pack my paints in contact lens cases (a split primary palette plus white), grab a paper towel, latex gloves, and a palette knife, seal it in a quart-size Ziploc and off I go.

Plein air art supplies -
My micro Pochade kit ready to travel

As soon as I see something that speaks to me, I get off my bike, mix my colors on one side of the CD case, quickly paint the scene, clean off my palette, and shut the case which now acts as a wet panel carrier. I hold my dirty towel in one hand, pull the latex glove over it, and my garbage is completely contained within the used glove. Everything goes back in the Ziploc, well protected as I jostle down the trail, heading for home.

Plein air art ideas -
“View from Pemberton,” oil on linen panel, 4 x 4 in.

How have you adapted to painting outdoors? Share your hacks in the comment section below!

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  1. Brilliant system! I love it! I think I’ll try that one too! I recently made a hack for painting in the botanical gardens here in NYC because they don’t allow tripods. I bought a super lightweight aluminum cellphone/tablet holder that goes around the neck. It’s able to be used right out of the box because the holder fits up to 7″. I taped my canvas on a piece of foam core to make it extra light, and bought a super lightweight small palette which fits right under the canvas holder on top of the bendable aluminum. If I need to step back from the painting, I just take it off and hold it in front of me because it’s so light. The only drawback is that it’s a little close to the face – however I’m very small so for me it’s ok but for anyone bigger than 5’2″ it might be too close. Someone should create a plein air version of this that is longer and has stabilizers attached to the hips. There are many interesting things that can be done with super lightweight bendable aluminum these days. Here’s the link to where I bought that phone holder:

  2. Great idea! I saw your post about this article on facebook and immediately order the lens cases and cd cases.

    I’m going to make something to mount the paint cases on so that I can hold the entire setup in one hand including the paint cases.

    Very creative! Thanks!

  3. I’m a watercolorist, so converted a cheap Jerry Q watercolor palette to hold my Schmincke paints, a sagebrush, a Paul Rubens squirrel that’s only 4″ long & a tiny spray bottle and a 6 x 8 block. It all fits in a small bag which is always with me. I do oils occasionally so this is a great idea. I’m into getting things smaller & smaller.

  4. For watercolorists, I found a fan palette, which is tiny and has 42 colors, with a small mixing area, a pen brush with water in its tank, and a little sponge. That and a small block is all I needed. It worked out so well. There is an index of the colors at the end of each arm of the fan. So easy to carry and be done.

  5. I used a cigar box for my pochade. I put a divider in the bottom. The large area holds paint tubes and the smaller section holds short handle brushes. I use the gummy poster stuff to hold small canvases. The pochade sits on my lap while I paint.


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