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Though the practice by individuals can be traced back further, painting en plein air, meaning in the plain air or simply painting out of doors, was first practiced in significant numbers by artists in the Forest of Fontainbleau in the mid 19th Century.
The practice was subsequently made even more popular by the French Impressionists, and by painters influenced by them in America and elsewhere. Plein air painting has undergone something of a renaissance in the last 20 years or so, a phenomenon which seems to be growing.
As in the 19th Century, there is new equipment that makes the practice easier and more practical, notably a new generation of pochade boxes.
Pochade is a French word meaning a small painted sketch, particularly one painted in oils, out of doors, and often in preparation for a larger, more finished work.
A pochade box, then, is a portable painting box with a built in easel, meant to facilitate the creation of small alla prima paintings or sketches. Portable easels French easels are still in wide use and have many adherents, and they are better suited for some things, such as handling large scale paintings and stretched canvasses as opposed to panels.
There are also a number of other types of dedicated outdoor portable easels for that purpose, like the SoltekSunEden or Take-it-Easel image above, left to rightor the Coulter Plein Air System not pictured. Pochade boxes For small scale paintings, the pochade box is becoming the outdoor painting platform of choice.
Most pochade boxes are designed to handle flat painting panels, like primed Masonite, or canvas attached to a board, though some will also hold but not carry small stretched canvases.
The smaller boxes are lighter but also have a smaller palette area, though most manufacturers offer palette extensions or add-ons of some kind, as well as ways of attaching fluid cups and holding brushes. Most pochade boxes are primarily aimed at oil painting, but some of the manufacturers also have pastel or watercolor models, and oil oriented boxes can be adapted for watercolor with the addition of a watercolor palette, as many of them have panel holders that will open to a reasonably flat position.
The former is a combination of a recessed palette surface, usually a wood traditionally used for palettes, like birch which some artists cover with a sheet of glass or plexiglasswith an attached, hinged panel holder, forming the easel.
There is also variation in the means of adjusting the angle of the easel back. The disadvantage is that the all in one boxes are bulkier and heavier, and require a more sturdy and expensive tripod.
They use a spring loaded horizontal clip system to hold the panels, which allows access to all parts of the panel without obstruction. Their complete kit includes a walnut carrying box and matched wet panel holder.
They also have lightweight kits with a soft pack instead of the outer box. I note that, among others, James Gurneywho is a dedicated plein air painter as well as a talented studio painter and illustrator, uses and recommends an Open Box M pochade box. Open Box M has dedicated models for pastels and watercolor.
They also carry Manfrotto tripods and a line of plein air painting accessories. These also have their adherents among well known painters. Notably, Kevin Macpherson, who some of you may recognize as the author of some very popular and quite good books on paintinghas given the ProChade model his official endorsement.
The EASyL and ProChade models use a vertical spring-mounted holder that does not restrict the size of the panel horizontally though past a certain point, you would overload the box.
The EASyL models though not the ProChade provide carrying for wet or dry panels in the back of the easel, placing them somewhere between the panel and palette style and all in one style of boxes.
Some of the models offer a limited compartment separate from the palette area for carrying a few supplies. You can order a separator grid that fits in the recessed palette area for pastels.
When looking at the product pages on their site, note that they offer downloadable PDF files that go into more detail about the boxes than the web pages. There is also a PDF chart comparing their various boxes side by side.
Their boxes come with a matched tripod. Like Open Box M, Artwork Essentials carries a line of pochade box and plein air painting accessories, in their case one of the most complete, including a clamp-on lightweight umbrella and even plein air style picture frames. Sienna Sienna is a relatively new to me entry in the field, and has rapidly been adopted by art suppliers like Dick Blick and others, as well as by Amazon.
They offer a line of two sizes of pochade boxes, an optional Supply Box, a panel carrier, watercolor and pastel inserts, a Sienna branded tripod and a new line of separate panel and palette style portable easels.
These boxes seem to offer a less expensive alternative to some of the other models in this category. I have to wonder, though, how well their wooden panel angle mechanism will hold up in comparison to the metal systems used by other makers. Strada Easel The Strada Easel is essentially an all metal variation on a pochade box most of which are made from wood.
It was designed by painter Bryan Mark Taylor. There area a variety of sizes. They also sell tripods and ballheads they feel are well matched to their easels. Edge Pro Gear Edge Pro Gear makes pochades that have a form factor similar to laptop computers, giving them a more modern look than some boxes.
The Paintbook and Sketchbook easels have glass palettes. Edge also carries appropriately matched tripods, detachable trays, lighting gear and other supplies.
Don Dos Santos has a review on Muddy Colors. Edgmon makes a line of pochade boxes for pastel and watercolor as well as oil. The other brands usually have to be ordered directly from the manufacturer.LNER Kl Class No at Alnwick station with the branch train to Alnmouth on 10th May G.F.
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Western criticism has grown in the 21st century. Objects of criticism include the morality and authenticity of the Quran and the hadiths, along with the life of Muhammad, both in his public and personal life.