Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Painting in Public Places and the Dangers Thereof

A Quiet Painting Spot
("Kindred Spirits" by Asher Durand, depicting Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant))

A reader writes:  "I am shy about painting outside such as at the public park because of people stopping and asking questions on what I am doing. How do you remain focused when you have an audience?"

When I teach workshops, many of my students are beginners at plein air painting.  They are happiest when we go to some remote, godforsaken yet beautiful corner of the world where no one will find them.  Sensitive to their need to focus, I take them to quiet places where an audience is unlikely.  Sometimes, though, we do get a few visitors.  When this happens, I  intercept them, politely let them know we are having a class, and then, usually, they leave.

When I'm painting alone, though, it's a different matter.   I, too, prefer to paint in a quiet spot, but sometimes I can't, such as at a plein air painting event, where it is expected for artists to be available.  (The idea is both to educate the public and also engage them for the sales event.)  When this happens, I try to keep the chat on-topic.  That is, I talk about my process and what my brush is doing at that moment.  I may stop and hand them a business card - I always carry them - and give an invitation to visit my website and gallery; if it's a painting event, I invite them to the exhibition and sale.  Most folks are polite and will watch a little longer but then wander off.

But sometimes you get the talker.  This person is legendary among plein air painters.  I'll tolerate this for a few minutes, but I have no problem saying, "I'm sorry, but I have to get back to work."  Being blunt is important, since talkers are so narcissistic they don't read body language or understand the subtle hints.

There are times, especially when I am painting for myself, when I don't want an encounter.  In this case, I'll find that remote, godforsaken spot of incredible beauty.   But even though the chance of an encounter is small, it still can happen.  To prevent this, here are a few tips:

  • Paint off the trail where you can't be seen (if you're on public land, make sure off-trail hiking is permitted)
  • Back yourself into a corner so you are difficult to approach
  • Scatter your gear around your easel in such a way as to create an obstacle
  • Take along a non-painting friend who is happy to hang out with you (quietly) and who can intercept visitors

Oh, I could tell you stories - but I'll wait until you have that brush loaded and ready to go.

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