The Wall Street Journal runs a clever piece by Daniel Grant, a regular contributor, about plein-air painting and the troubles involved in pursuing it. As Grant points out, we never read these complaints in the letters of the Impressionists. Maybe they were more stoic than today’s artists:
Perhaps cameras should be included in portable paint sets, since so many wildlife and plein-air artists rely on their photographs to capture the out-of-doors back in their studios. 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.
Paint, Easel, Bug Spray, Gun . . . . (Wall Street Journal)