Painting from a Moving Car

Driving down through Switzerland the other day, we were stuck in traffic for hours in one of the prettier part of the Alps. These are a couple of quick sketches I did from the passenger seat using my cigar box palette.

Alpine Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Alpine Sketch #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I wanted to mention briefly that my cigar box has a lot of modifications for better functionality, in case anyone wants to try to make their own.

The cigar box palette.

In 1997 I lived in Paris and had a studio in an occupied ex-high school (Pole Pi or something or other was the name. The police took it back after I left and it is now an architectural university). There was a lot of old furniture still laying around the place and I made a large palette out of the back of an old cabinet. That palette is now the base of my cigar box, complete with the old thumb-hole which is now used to hold brushes when I’m taking a break.

I enjoyed that period of my artistic life and like having the memory around.

My old palette at the base.

Normally, cigar box lids are held to the box with paper. I replaced mine with real hinges.

My carpentry skills in all their glory.

The hinges in turn allow a small gap for the metal easel board-holders to slide through and hold the palette. I use a clip to keep the wind from blowing the lid shut.

Hooking a cigar box to a metal tripod easel.

Cigar boxes and prochade boxes are brilliant for the quick set-up times. Often you’ll see a fleeting effect (or a fleeting view, if you’re in stop-and-go traffic), and the speed of setting up and starting to paint becomes important.


  1. “Form Follows Function” Aesthetic, maybe not but is a simple solution to a need. Box looks a little messy for car and lap. Hee Hee :0) You are a painting fool. :0)

  2. Pretty cool set up–looks like it serves you well. I do wonder why many artist never scrape off the old dried paint. That would distract me. Is there a reason for that?

  3. hi marc, yes, we,re hardwired for symmetry. a recent tv show proved it. will galleries promote wind turbine paintings? i don,t think so. but should we care, paint whatever interests one. painting from the car with pochade box, especially on wet or windy days can be a great alternative to struggling in the elements. i hope your followers note that you painted directly with brush, adding color as you went along, eliminating sketching. marc, this post is what we need, an insight into how you work and think ,sprinkled with safely, regards, gerard burns.

  4. i’m sure your car was stopped long enough to work on your sketch, but that was not what had perked my curiosity. i was fascinated with your homemade pochade box, and also wondered how some other artists as you work from what looks to me like a congested palette space—how do you organize yourself, and your workflow work on such a small surface; how do you use the small space to mix different colors; do you wipe off the small space in between colors mixes; do you have habitual stages, for example, you mix for sky, then the middle ground, and then the foreground?

    just curious.


  5. Thanks for the comments all.

    @Stephanie, I find that many painters use the system their teacher did. In my case, Charles Cecil would leave his old paint out, now I do as well. Many teachers at the FAA clean their palette entirely at the end of the day and put the paint on a mirror in a fridge. Now their students do the same.

    @Dan, I usually am able to finish a small sketch without cleaning the small space. I’ll start with the sky, then use the leftover sky color in the distant mountains, then keep adding pigment as I work my way down the canvas. Most of my colors are muddy anyways. If I need a clean spot for a ‘cleaner’ color, I’ll wipe the palette down.

  6. How do you clamp your painting panel to the easel if you are using the lower canvas clamp to hang your box from?

  7. Thank you for sharing your work, lifestyle and methods with everyone.
    My question is — What is the rolled up place-mat thing doing in your left hand while painting in the car? Your energy and shear volume of work is an inspiring standard of art creation.

  8. How do you clamp your painting panel to the easel if you are using the lower clamp to hang your cigar box? This is Vicki’s question above, and I am curious too. I have a Soltek easel and want to travel light some times, so I am looking for an alternative.
    You probably use your travel bag for paper, brushes, paint tubes?

    Also, are you planning a workshop schedule for 2014?
    I am much enamored of your work.
    Marietje Chamberlain

    • Hi Marietje, I have extra clamps from past easels that broke. On occasions when I was without a third clamp I would just use a regular clip from a hardware store for the top of the painting. No workshop plans yet, I need to find a suitable location in Croatia.

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