Saturday, November 28, 2015

There’s Danger in the Plein Air

September 14, 2009 by  
Filed under landscape painting

There was recent talk about danger while painting on location in the Cindy Tower post. So when I just ran across this recent Wall St Journal’s Life and Style article: “Paint, Easel, Bug Spray, Gun . . . Artists find that working outdoors can be a struggle against nature” by Daniel Granton I thought people might be curious to read this article. I found it interesting that it mentions getting beer cans thrown at you from a passing car, I’ve had that happen to me more than once! Wonder what makes some people want to throw stuff at painters? Another cool troglodyte trick is to scream at you as loud as possible from a passing car – causing you to jump and make a wildly erratic brushstrokes (this has happened to me a couple of times in the past few months!) Interesting to hear Ben Aronson’s and Ken Auster’s story too…

Here is an excerpt from the article ; “… For that matter, one might include guns and flatbed trucks as plein-air accouterments, since a number of artists use one or the other (sometimes, both) when they set out to paint. John Seerey-Lester of Osprey, Fla., and Linda Tippetts of Augusta, Mont., both painters, bring ­revolvers along for protection—he (primarily) from animals, since he is a wildlife artist, and she from people who might bother her. “I’ve been in places where I put my pistol on the ­easel,” she said. “I’ve never had to use it, but I want people to see it’s there.” Another artist, Walt Gonske of Taos, N.M., carries a mace gun, which he also has never used, but he has known human-caused danger. “Once, I had a beer can thrown at me from a car going 50 miles an hour,” he said.

Dangers of painting outdoors can be quite real. In 1996, painter Stephen Lyman hiked into Yosemite National Park and fell, dying of exposure; and wildlife artist Simon Combes was killed by a charging cape buffalo while walking in Kenya in late 2004. Framingham, Mass., painter Ben Aronson had a shotgun aimed at him by a farmer on whose land he had been trespassing (“I was in a field where there was nothing to steal, but I was clearly an oddity”). Asking permission before going on private property is always a good idea. So is not provoking animals. “I threw stones at an elephant to get good photographs of an angry elephant,” said Bernardsville, N.J., wildlife artist Guy Coheleach. “That was a stupid thing to do. I got a better sense of what a terrified artist looks like.” And Ken Auster, a plein-air painter who lives in ­Laguna Beach, Calif., learned the hard way that purchasing a tides book made sense after he got caught on a beach between two rocky points when the tide was coming in and there was no way to get out other than to swim—he had to hold his easel, paint box and canvas above the water for several hours until the tide went back out.” You can read the whole article here.

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8 Responses to “There’s Danger in the Plein Air”
  1. Philip Koch says:

    My experience in nearly four decades of plein air painting has been overwhelmingly positive with only a relative handful of exceptions. For most who come upon you painting, you are the first artist they’ve ever encountered. Naturally they are curious and almost all sense there is something special and a little mysterious going on.

    Like it or not, we plein air painters are spokespersons for Art to the public. When people come up and want to talk to you while you’re working there’s a temptation to shoo them away. Try to remember it’s an opportunity to educate. Sure it interrupts our flow, but it is a chance to give a little gift back to our society.

  2. Wm. Dubin says:

    I’d like to second what Philip says about our relationships with the public. I’ve even had heavy duty gang types come up and be really cool about what I am doing…

    I’d like, however, to add my own warnings for anyone who works near a Governmental facility, or even one that you might not suspect would be “protected” by Homeland Security. I’ve had encounters with these people twice now, and neither time made a bit of sense, nor were they a lot of fun. Once, in San Diego, even included a gun being half-drawn out of its holster, and there wasn’t a lot needed to figure out what the future of that encounter could lead to.

    Choose your locations well….. ask permission if it’s possible, smile a whole lot, and have good I.D. with you.

  3. As a painter, interactions with people while working are rare enough that they oughta be savored. My highlight came while painting at a coffeeshop some ten years back. Teen-aged gangbangers would sometimes come in to play pinball and to menace the hipsters; one of them became interested in what I was doing, which eventually led to an impromptu portrait sitting, bargain-priced at $10. All his buddies crowded into the booth to look on, while the cool kids gave’em a wide birth, casting furtive looks our way from time to time. My subject was thrilled with the result and would nod my way for years after when we’d cross paths…

    • Larry says:

      Most of time people who come nearby when I’m painting outside are also respectful. Rarely have I really felt threatened even while painting in dicey inner city type areas.
      I also had a gentleman approach me who initially struck me as perhaps being a gang member drug dealer type, he said he really liked my painting and wanted to know how much I would sell it to him for, right off the easel. I told him it wasn’t finished and I didn’t like to price it until it was done but he kept hammering away at me trying to get me to name my price. He seemed to imply, “what’s the matter, you don’t think I have the money?” I probably should have sold it to him, now that painting just collect dust in my garage.

      I carry business cards to give to people who seem interested and I’ve sold a few paintings from people I’ve meet while painting outside. Great not to have to give anyone else a cut.

      I don’t know if living in an area with perhaps a higher than normal redneck to hippie ratio has anything to do with it but I have had to deal with the occasional lunatic who is vocal about not liking anything they don’t understand (these are the ones with the beer cans and fondness for screaming at me…

      But you have to admit, stories of plein air danger can be a more interesting read than the positive tales that reaffirm our faith in people.

  4. Philip Koch says:


    It’s true plein air danger stories are more fun to read- I was arrested once while carrying my French easel through the Austin, TX airport and held in a cell until after the last fight of the day had left. Turns out some lunatic had told the cops I had been making terrorist threats (and perhaps in his fevered mind that had seemed to
    have taken place- who knows).

    What burned me though was the abusive attitude of the cops who would lock me up, threaten me, but then fail to even bother to search me suitcase or portable easel. Other than that, my reception as a plein air painter has been pretty good.

  5. Hunter McKee says:

    It is important to be aware of your surroundings.

    While thoroughly involved in a
    painting along a lonely stretch of beach, I would step back regularly to view the progress and while I was at it, relieve myself of some accumulated gas.

    After repeating this pattern more times than I should probably admit, I was stunned to hear the voice of a man standing behind me. “That looks better than the real thing,” he said. I turned to
    see a couple standing about twenty feet back. I guess they figured that was close enough.

  6. Chris says:

    I remember painting an abandoned quarry site, and an hour in (after a lot of stepping back) I stepped back a couple of more paces than normal. Something made me glance behind, to find I was heel-to-rock-face with a fifty or so metre drop. I stepped forward again, thankful that I wasn’t working on a bigger canvas.


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