Painting outside can be an unparalleled pleasure for an artist, but it can also present some unexpected challenges. I usually enjoy besting the forces that endanger my mission – though sometimes I’m not so successful. It seems when the troubles are nature-made, I am usually prepared and able to rise above…but when they’re man-made, well, sometimes the buckle just breaks and patience snaps.
In my plein aire experiences I’ve dealt with the surprise of sprinklers, swarms of mosquitoes, the rise of fierce winds and the fall of rain. I’ve been nipped by dogs and ‘saluted’ by birds. It’s all good; I carry an umbrella, bug spray, and cleansing-wipes, and all manner of handy-dandies. I’m seldom agitated – only a fool could take nature personally. I may be an artist, but I am no fool.
People however, we all want to think people have a sense of kindness, an awareness of the effects of their words and deeds. And most do. Really. Every year, on Mondays during February and March, I am at my easel in front of Blue Mangrove Gallery. The gallery carries, among other delights, a fulsome collection of my oil paintings, so it’s a natural joy to share my creative process with its visitors. Plus I am sheltered from the elements by a broad overhang. It’s my favorite part of the week.
Most passers-by are extremely kind, some are even timid –afraid they’re going to disturb me – I love to assure them that growing up in a family of ten siblings trained me early to work through most any distraction. I answer questions about art, chat about growing up on the Island, and basically enjoy old-fashioned camaraderie with people who were once strangers.
Unfortunately, there are the querulous and garrulous ones. People who have never held a brush in their hands who feel the need to pick a bone with me about any number of topics of which they hold no knowledge. I am always amazed. But I always try to educate them, believing the more understanding people have of art and the artistic process, the better for artists.
A few weeks ago I was blocking in the composition for a sunset painting using a photo I took at the beach. It’s a method I often use: getting a general lay-out from one of my photos then tossing it and letting my creative juices flood the canvas. Up comes a man with an angry red face (could have been sunburn, but perspective is nine-tenths of reality) and scowls over my shoulder.
“You’re using a photo! You’re a cheater!”
Although the mindset that thinks it perfectly alright to insult a total stranger chaps my saddle, I remain good-natured.
“Have you ever painted?”
“No, but I know that’s cheating!” he says proudly.
Okay, I try to enlighten him by politely explaining this particularprocess, but he interrupts.
“It’s plagiarism!” he charges.
“But I took the photo,” I explain, feeling the stress cracks in my demeanor, “and in the end my painting will look nothing like this photo.”
“It looks exactly like the photo,” he says, standing so close he bumps my arm.
I tell him he is too close. I also tell him to get his eyes examined. He tells me I’m too sensitive, that if I’m going to be an artist I should expect to deal with these issues. (If? Going to be? And why, I wonder, should an artist be better equipped to deal with rudeness than any other person?)
I smile. “When you get your eyes checked, sir, I also recommend you get your head examined.”
He stalks off. Now we are both angry. I struggle to recapture my serenity, I find I am actually growling. That’s when I’m visited by the sweetest woman and her perfectly charming granddaughter who attends art school. They are so excited, actually thrilled, to converse with a professional artist-at-work. I want to kiss them. I love them. In less than a minute they turned a sour red-faced man from a source of aggravation into a witty punch-line for a newspaper column. So, it’s still all good.
Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit her at www.taraogallery.com.