Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Etiquette for Plein Air Painters

Point Lobos - Allan Memorial Grove

With the world predicted to add two billion more people between now and 2050, our precious resources will get even more precious.  One of these resources is recreational space - parks, reserves and forests.  Unfortunately, there are two conflicting uses of recreational space.  How do you preserve a park's natural beauty and the peaceful solitude that must necessarily accompany it, and yet give the public access to it?  This question will get harder to answer in a satisfactory way as the years go by.

We plein air painters are, unfortunately, not removed from this conflict.  We want our unspoiled, quiet spaces to do our work in, but we also want access to these spots - and so do a lot of other people.  Photographers and hikers have as much right to them as we do.

I bring this up because of an incident at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  It is a gorgeous spot, but management has curtailed access to much of it by roping off anything that's not on a trail.  They have good reasons - it cuts down on erosion and keeps hikers from wandering into poison oak.

We were hiking one of these trails when it dead-ended in a perfect "photo op" spot.  Two plein air painters had discovered the spot and had set up in such a way that it was impossible for anyone else to get to the view.  Since their location made it impossible to take a picture of the scene, I took a picture of them.

I blurred the photo to protect their identity, but you can see how the space is confined.  To the right of them is one rope, and just out of the frame to the left is another.   They had set up so they occupied the width of the trail and the last ten feet of it.  Now, if I were on a plein air adventure and had come across this spot, I would have thought, "Hm, enough space for one of us, but not for both of us."  I'd have moved on.  Also, judging from the traffic, this seemed a particularly popular spot, and I would have looked for one less popular.  Who wants to deal with people trying to edge in to get the view?

I like to teach my students plein air painter etiquette.  Here's what I tell them:

  • Never block the trail
  • Never block a viewpoint but set up to one side
  • Keep your gear compact and out of the way of others
  • Be respectful of other people's right to share the beauty

Once, when my students and I ended up painting at the oldest church in New Mexico's Hondo Valley, I had to chastise a student who had actually set up her gear on a flat tombstone.  The stone made a great surface to stand on, but I told her I doubted the locals would take kindly to it.

But getting back to the present, we had a great day touring Carmel for old homes and spending time with the Monterey cypresses at Point Lobos.  Tomorrow's adventure:  Monterey.

Just as a reminder, my studio painting sale continues.  I'm posting sketches and demos daily.  If you would, please check it out at my studio store -


Carolyn said...

This is so true! Hope more artists get the word. With the current state of the economy and state and national park cut-backs, there are fewer park rangers to patrol. It is up to us artists to spread the word and teach by example. Maybe a little card with "share the view" or "share the trail" could be given to the uninformed and informed squatters.

virginia belser said...

Thank you for a useful and relevant post Michael... while not often discussed the "plein air etiquette" guidelines are thoughtful and considerate, for what some obvious to some goes overlooked by others.