I’ve been through so many artist boxes, pochade boxes, paint boxes, and the like over the past two decades of creating art. I had recently sold my Guerrilla Painter 9×12-inch box so that I could afford a new guitar. What I didn’t take into account is that I used it more than previously thought, therefore it needed to be replaced. The Guerrilla Painter Box starts at a whopping $140 without any accessories. All the accessories thereafter ranged from $15 to $40 each, which does not fit the budget, and some accessories are no longer being made!
When I was hunting for a new pochade box, I thought of the Sienna All-In-One Pochade box, but that too was too pricy. There were this Soho Urban Plein Aire Pochade Box Easel and the Meeden Paint Box Easel. Both are similar to the Sienna box, but this Soho Easel Box has a shoulder strap and is much more affordable. So I bought it.
This Soho pochade box is a cheap Chinese replica of the aforementioned box that is also a Chinese-made product, and it smells like Home Depot. If you do not know what Home Depot smells like, it is a combination of wood, paint and formaldehyde. I was wondering if I was going to die or pass out from off-gassing of the fumes.
BUT, with that said, you can turn this box into a decent workhorse, with some patience.
It comes with a strap, and some wooden panel adapters for 8×10-inch panels that knock around if you are not using them. I don’t use them, they add to the weight of the box. It also includes a paper towel holder, I might put a stuffed animal on it like it is on a swing–for good luck. 🙂
Out of the box, there were some problems that needed to be addressed. The metal on the brush holder was loose, and even when tightening, it doesn’t stay on the box. If you are obsessive-compulsive and need perfection, skip this box, the inside easel is crooked, the paint scratches with a fingernail, some of the hardware is cheaply made, and the metal emblem came right off.
The palette is unfinished, and I recommend sealing it a few coats of linseed oil if you intend to use it, rather than wax paper.
While the magnets are a lovely thought, the brush tray fell off at every opportunity whether it was on the side of the box or on the back of the lid. Use a piece of Velcro to keep the brush holder attached to the lid. Use a cloth to keep the brackets tight enough to hold on the side of the box. The cloth can also be doubled as tool to wipe your brushes, kill two birds with one stone.
There is a very large bottom to the Soho Plein Air Box Easel, which has an opening which is meant to hold two wet panels. I am not a fan of panels, and knew this going in. There is about an inch of wasted space down there. If you forgo the panels, you can fit a regular sized 8×10-inch sketchbook. I use this area for holding various artist papers, wax paper palettes, and a panel that acts as my wet palette or watercolor board.
The bottom drawer is held by two magnets, it will come off at every opportunity. I recommend getting a latch to hold it closed.
When opening the box, be sure that you slide the star knob on the box all the way back, otherwise it will not keep the lid open. It will stick out at first, but will quickly adjust to normal once you open the lid.
Inside, there is an easel can can hold a 20×16-inch canvas famously. It can hold an 9×12-inch canvas, and store it there. The problem with this easel, is that it is crooked and the only thing you can do about it is to adjust the legs of the tripod and use a level at the top of the canvas. The tilt is enough to drive anyone crazy if you use it on a table.
After a week of use, there are many blessings about Soho Urban Plein Air Box Easel. One, it is light weight. At full capacity, the box weighs about nine pounds. The tripod will add about three pounds more. Keep that in mind.
The rubber feet are held in with screws. This is fantastic! My old Guerrilla Painter had rivets on the rubber feet, which made them unremovable, and they were deteriorating. This Soho Pochade box, however, the feet can be replaced as necessary, seriously important to add to the longevity of the box.
The inside area where you place your art supplies is shallow compared to the Guerrilla Painter. This is a bonus, the box is a little wider than the GP, so can hold many supplies, but, unlike the GP, all the supplies are easily accessible and ready to go–they stay put during travel. FABULOUS!
There are many things you cannot really fit into the box, such as a 1 oz medium jar or The Master’s Soap jar, so you have to use your imagination to make this box work. I purchased some medium cups with lids, and a smaller The Master’s Soap and Restorer, which can be refilled as needed.
Furthermore, it can fit full sized brushes, but you need to remove one of the wooden dividers, so you can tilt the brushes. Remember to tilt the brushes toward the handle, so you do not squish damage the bristles while traveling or storing. The wooden dividers are all removable, it is lovely.
When you are blocking in the painting or scumbling, the box wobbles considerably on the tripod, but not as badly as the GP. It is stable on the desk or your lap.
If you use a quick release, be sure to pit it back on the tripod for storage. Trust me on this. I you set the box on your lap, and the quick release hits your knee, YEEEEEOUCH! Plus, it makes the box wobble on the table, and it also could get lost. So, just keep the quick release on the tripod.
This box is sublime on your lap. I you are an armchair painter, you are going to be in artists’ heaven. Seriously, it is comfortable!
If you intend to use this box for watercolors, keep in mind that the does not open to a flat table-like easel, there is a slight tilt. Furthermore the tilt is toward the box, which means it is a very long reach for us short folk. BUT, there is a work around with watercolors.
Remember I said it was super cozy in your lap? Close the box, affix the brush holder on the side as you would when it is opened. The box becomes a lap desk tray and will hold your watercolors, cup, or a sketchbook and coffee, and oh my, it is fantastic. If you turn it around, you can rest a watercolor pad or panel on the two knobs, and it becomes a perfect tilt for watercolors, that you can actually reach!
Carrying on your shoulder as a bag, it is comfortable. Long walks might get a little uncomfortable, as with any bag, but for most instances, it is fine.
If you go to buy this box, understand that it is a workhorse and not an heirloom piece. Recommended to those who want a good box at an affordable price.
Update: OK, so this thing never left the house once—it’s been about three weeks. The brush tray completely warped just sitting in the studio, and one of the screws on it was stripped, therefore it constantly falls off of the box at the slightest bit of weight. I had to add Velcro to the brackets, thus forgoing the magnets that attached it to the back. I installed bigger piece of Velcro to the back of the box so it won’t fall off of the back. Even with the Velcro on the brackets, it still had problems, so I utilized a large binder bull clip to keep it from falling off of the box. At this point, I seriously miss my Guerrilla Painter Box, it was ugly as sin, but never gave me this much grief.
Update: It has been about four months, and it appears that my little hacks for this box has worked. It still smells like formaldehyde but it has become more bearable. It also holds more paint than I thought.