Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Plein Air Painting Disasters

(YouTube link) A lot can go wrong when you paint outdoors, but wind is the biggest enemy. Artists at the second annual Plein Air Painting convention share their stories of "gamestoppers," unexpected events that bring a painting session to a dramatic halt.

A few gamestoppers that have happened to me include: 
1. Sudden downpour.
2. Painting falls face down.
3. Subject departs.
4. Forgot brushes.
5. Fog covers view.
6. Tide floods painting spot.
7. Cold air freezes watercolor.
8. Truck parks, blocking view.
9. Biting insects unbearable.
10. Automatic sprinklers turned on.
11. Hordes of annoying tourists.
12. Spat on by people above me.
13. Chair collapses in museum.
14. Drawbridge lifts. I’m on it.
15. Donkey rests head in lap.
16. Easel blown into rapids.
17. Jostled by drunk dancers.
18. Menaced by bull.
19. Kicked out by a guard.
20. Ejected by nun.

Thanks to Frank and Justin for filming, and to Eric Rhoads, Steve Doherty and the Streamliners for hosting. 
To the Plein Air convention gang, thanks for all your stories! Sorry we couldn't fit more of them into this short video.
Please share the video on your blog or Facebook. 


Anonymous said...

Okay. Please elaborate on "spat on by people above me", "donkey rests head in lap", "jostled by drunk dancers", "menaced by bull", and "ejected by nun". Those look like they'd be absolutely fantastic stories.

Aljosa said...

This was one of the most entertaining posts I've read on your blog. :-) I'd love to hear more about some of the more dramatic accidents from your list.

Billy Guffey said...

Hello James. Have you ever been shocked while painting?

When searching out a spot on a particular piece of land, I decided to go into the pasture where the cattle feed. It looked muddy, but there might be a dry spot to paint. Instead of going through the gate I looked at the barbed wire fence and saw it was nailed to the tree which meant no electricity. Well, somebody check my glasses for me please...I had lifted the strand above me with my right hand and was straddling the lower strand, when I pushed down on that one with my left hand... ZAP! I hit the ground hard on my right knee (fenced cranked up because of bulls). Now on the other side of the fence I went thru the gate and ended up painting a little one that hangs in a US Govt. office in Portugal.

I painted my original choice by the way, with no reason to cross the fence in the first place. The shock DIDN'T stop me though.

James Gurney said...

Dustin, Yeah, thanks, I'll have to get to some of those stories some day.

IceZ asked on the YouTube post: "Any tricks for fighting wind when plein-air painting?"
Yes, good thought. Here are a few: 1. Use a smaller canvas (a 9x12 has 1/4 of the wind resistance of an 18x24), 2. Tie down the easel with ropes and stakes, 3. Paint from a sitting height to reduce leverage, and 4. Use weighted bags to anchor the easel.

Robert J. Simone said...

Reminds me, was painting with a group of ten or so on a dock at a popular restaurant along the Intercoastal Waterway on Florida's East coast. My friend Tom's easel blew into the drink; painting, palette and all. It was a chilly night and the funniest part was watching Tom (who is a very experienced painter) hesitate trying to decide whether to dive in as his keepsake Julian easel floated down stream. His swim was averted when a quick thinking bystander grabbed a nearby kayak and retrieved the set up. All Tom lost was a couple of brushes and his bottle of medium.

Michael Pianta said...

I've definitely been foiled by wind. There is a place near where I used to live that I went to several times. It was a scenic hill top with a great view. Problem is the wind up there is always greater than it seems to be - you shouldn't even bother going out there unless it seems dead calm down in the city. I learned this the very first time I went there. An hour of painting followed by thirty minutes of trying to get a bunch of pieces of grass off the painting (unsuccessfully) and that was it for that day.

Cynthia Nicole said...

I love this blog, James. :)

Cameron said...

Mr. Gurney,

I have a question about a painting disaster I experienced last night... my pet snake, Julian, escaped from his enclosure and decided to swim around on a wet canvas. He loves oil paint for some reason. If he gets a chance, he makes a beeline for fresh paint and covers himself in it... I managed to get him mostly cleaned up, but not his destruction. He knocked the wet canvas on the floor, face down, and the carpet is now saturated with oil paint. I tried everything to clean it out but I seem to be making the problem worse. Would a carpet-shampooer work? Have you encountered a problem like this before? Thank you for considering this question.

James Gurney said...

Cameron, I have to say, that's the most unique painting-related problem I've ever heard. I hope your snake is OK. I wonder why he's attracted to rolling around in oil paint? As for cleaning the carpet, I'd suggest dabbing up most of the paint using a light solvent such as Gamsol and then using one of the brush cleaning fluids, such as Paint Magic with soap and water.

Michael and Bill, thanks for the incredible stories, and Cynthia, I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

Terry said...

Thanks for giving us all a little exercise in schadenfreude - even those of us who have had similar catastrophes. My favorite of yours is the bull, and the bridge. Funny how one can just *see* all those.

I'll be sure to stock some picket pins & tie-downs in my plein air kit henceforth.

Diana Moses Botkin said...

What an entertaining video (and ensuing comments). A great story is almost as good as a decent painting. These bits would be a surefire start for a pseudo reality show about artists.

With so much that can go wrong with painting in general, outdoor painting offers a whole 'nother can of worms. It's certainly good to be able to laugh about it.

Cameron said...

Thanks, Mr. Gurney - I will try Gamsol/Paint Magic... hopefully I will make some progress.

Julian is fine, thankfully. Why he likes wet paint so much is anyone's guess. If he smells it or sees it, he becomes single-minded and covers himself in as many colors as possible. Then he gets a snake bath, where I struggle for two hours to get the paint off of him. I'm getting better at this technique though!

Lane Brown said...

Cameron, I think there may be a potential market for abstract paintings made by a snake. Next time he's covered in color, let him loose on a blank canvas! I'm sure Julian's serpentine strokes would one-up all those paint-splattering apes and elephants.

jytte said...

Dear Mr. Gurney
You saved my day. I am still laughing. I especially like : "Forgot my brushes" :o) :o)

Pyracantha said...

Is it still a "plein air" painting if it's done on an iPad? Think of the various newfangled disasters you can have with an iPad. "Lost (or forgot) my stylus." "Ran out of charge." And my favorite, "Too much light reflecting off screen, cannot see artwork."

Anonymous said...

So funny and so great to hear about the travails that we all have while trying to paint out doors!

Welcome to nature!

But even in the midst of those things, having passers by say something great about my painting is wonderful, and even more priceless is coming away with a Plein Air piece that just NAILED IT.


Andy said...

I've been lucky several times. Either I've caught the easel before it's blown over or a painting has fallen off but landed face up.

I once bent down to pick the easel up, with finished painting on board, and my camera bag slipped off my shoulder, right across the face of the painting. So I set the easel up again and did a running repair while I still had mixed paint available.

My worst "disaster" was when my finished painting fell face down into the sand while packing up. As told here. I fixed that one up back at home.

jeff said...

I had friend who was out painting in a cow pasture in Vermont on nice afternoon and for some reason he just did not see the bull. Well all of a sudden the bull was pretty close to him, and it stopped. Then it charged.
He ran and took refuge up a tree. While he was up the tree he could see the bull smashing his FE and paintbox. Afterwards the curious cows came over to see what was up. They then started to lick his palette clean.
From what I recall of this incident he stayed in that tree for about a 30 minutes until the bull was no longer in sight.

jeff said...

If you want to have the most secure easel on the market
I would invest in a TakeIt easel. They are designed to take a lot of weather conditions.

I'm also surprised at how many people attach shade umbrellas to their easels. I don't think that's a good idea.

I've been zapped by electric fences a few times.
Been in a flash hail storm, that was cute.

David Webb said...

Well, I'm familiar with most of those plein air disaster scenarios. However, James, I feel 'ejected by a nun' requires further elaboration.
My own personal favourite was many years ago now. I was sketching in watercolour, by a path running alongside a waterfall in Wales, when I became aware of a set of eyes peering over my shoulder. I glanced to my left and there was a young girl of about 6 or 7 looking at the painting. Before I could say anything, she ran back to her father, who was lagging a few metres back. Then, in one of those whispers that kids do, which can be heard in the next county, she said 'that's not very good is it Daddy'.
I'm still traumatised.

Unknown said...

Love these stories, they remind me of some of mine, but I thought I'd pass along one about Claude Monet. There is some movie footage of him plein air painting along the shore, when suddenly a large wave comes in completely annihilating his easel, leaving him scampering for higher ground. In the next scene he's scurrying into the surf trying to grab his painting which is floating away!

Andy said...

This conversation reminds me of the cover illustration from Jim Wilcox's book of Artist's Excuses.

Sarah Faragher said...

So great (video and comments...)! My painting disasters seem pedestrian compared to yours (no nuns, livestock, or saliva), but here goes.

Once I spent all morning working outside on a 20 x 16 canvas, got it to the take-home stage, and when I carried it back to my car, which I had locked since I was in a remote area, I dropped the painting face down in thick sand and gravel while juggling to get the car keys out of my pocket. No wind, perfect day, just... dropped it.

Another time I had set a finished painting on the top bar of my studio easel, to dry, when I walked by and jostled the easel by mistake, and the painting fell right on top of my head. Wet oil paint in hair!

Final thought - why is it that when you've painted a fine little painting outside, no one is around, like, ever, to ask if they can take a look. But if you make a real dud, all kinds of people walk by and say, "Whatcha working on? Can I see?" and then they look and say, "Oh. Interesting."

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Wonderful post, thank you

forgot brushes...fingers, stick, pencil, cloth

Poppy Balser said...

Mr Gurney,
Plein air painting disasters come in all shapes and sizes. I have had my share, in fact I was checking off the disasters your list until you got to #10 and then you lost me.

I do have one that you did not mention, and that is leaving the completed plein air works behind when you leave the site. This happened to me a couple of years ago. i was travelling from a workshop with a friend and after fighting traffic for 20 minutes or so I realized that I had left my sketches behind on the grass beside the car. As we were late for another event I shrugged and let them go. I wonder where they are now...