1. Expect to be overwhelmed.
One of the biggest struggles is narrowing down my focus to one simple subject. Our tendency is to paint everything we see…the barn, the cow, the fence, the no trespassing sign, the weird tree with the broken limbs, and the cloud that looks like Donald Trump’s bad hair day. I’ve found that by using a view catcher you can isolate a particular view of a scene, and it makes it easier to see a dynamic cropping. Plus, it helps when you’re sketching out your composition.
2. Expect to be uncomfortable.
I always advise people to bring bug spray, sunscreen, a light jacket, and an umbrella. There’s nothing more irritating than being unprepared for pestilence and weather when in a perfect scene. Because when you begin to paint you’ll have to swat the mosquitoes as they feed on you…and then, it will begin to rain…the rain will make you cold…you’ll struggle to paint with shivering hands…the sun will come out…you’ll warm up…you’ll get sunburned…and the mosquitoes will continue their lunch. It is a vicious cycle.
3. Expect the light to change.
You may have no more than a couple of hours to capture a particular scene. Large structure shadows will be slower moving while dappled light streaming through the leaves can create fast moving ground shadows. Overcome this painting challenge by finding the shadow patterns and light spots that best serve the painting—and then stick to the plan. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time adjusting minor matters while the whole concept remains incomplete.
4. Expect panhandlers, con-artists, spectators.
I usually park as near to my location as possible. If I’m only painting, I’ll leave my valuables locked up in my vehicle. It’s common to have pan-handlers approach. Here’s how I handle them: If they ask for money, I kindly ask them their name, first. Then, I say, “Sir/Maam, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me to hand out, but what do you need?” You can detect a con-artist from a person in actual need by asking specific questions. If they say, “I need food”, I’ll tell them to come back when I’m finished and I’ll go buy you some food (assuming I have the funds available). Those who have legitimate needs will be patient and accept whatever I purchase for them when I’m done. This approach may not be for everyone, so let your conscience be your guide. Just remember, don’t leave your painting gear unattended, and it’s good to have a painting buddy with you!
About spectators, I personally see their presence as a good thing, because they may be buyers, so have business cards to hand them. Also, it never fails that when you have established your shapes and composition, your spectators arrive. They usually give you that confused look as they glance at the subject matter, and then to your painting, and ask, “So, are you one of them thar’ abstract painters?” I use this opportunity to explain the benefits of my plein air process. Kindness goes a long way and just being friendly may get you a sale.
—Jeremy Sams, Landscape painter,
Archdale, NC, 9/28/15