Taking art outdoors requires some guts and a little planning, but few things are more exciting and rewarding. Whether you’re art journaling in an outdoor café, painting en plein air, hosting a hand-lettering demo, or just doodling in a notebook in the park, being outside or with other people adds elements of inspiration and surprise to creating art.
The July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is our travel and adventure issue, and it’s filled with great projects for making art on the road—or in your own backyard. Get tips for sketching in cafés, learn how to prepare travel journal pages, and create mixed-media paintings from maps. If you’re a little reticent to go public, you’re not alone. As I write in the editor’s letter, the first time I sketched in a café I was a wreck. A sweaty, paranoid wreck. I thought I’d be judged harshly by passers-by, leaving me with shaken confidence. Turns out hardly anyone noticed, and those who did only had complimentary things to say. I now take my art journal with me wherever I go, creating art in coffee shops, at the beach, in museums—and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
We asked a few mixed-media artists to tell us their tales of taking art outdoors, and we got incredible responses—funny, poignant, and inspiring. Read on:
Rae Missigman (raemissigman.com)
I like to take an art bag with me wherever I go so I can create no matter where I am. You never know when inspiration will strike! Being out of my element is often the springboard I need for new and interesting art material. One day I was working in my tiny Pocket Journal™ while at the beach. I was trying to sketch and paint and journal, all within the confines of my lap, to avoid getting sand in my book. I was struggling a bit, trying to balance my palette, when a woman near me leaned over and said, “I commend you for what you are doing right now, for doing anything it takes to make a little piece of art. I gave it up years ago, and would never have had the courage or patience to do what you are doing right now.” It caught me off guard because I was so busy doing what I am passionate about. In that one moment I realized how much the creative process means to me.
Jodi Ohl (jodiohl.com)
To be honest, creating art in public is something I rarely do. I have a bit of a fear of being judged or scrutinized by people. However, when I make a commitment to paint or create in public I really enjoy it, and the anxiety goes away once I’m in the moment. A couple of years ago I was asked to create a painting during a First Friday art event downtown in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Music, food trucks, tons of people, sidewalk sales, kids’ games, and more were going on while I worked on the biggest painting in my life in front of a crowd. I was stressed beyond belief because of the number of people there. What if what I created was junk? What if I choked? Those fears could have paralyzed me if I had let them. Kids came up wanting to help, so I let them add brush strokes or their names to the piece. Adults wandered in and out of my booth, most with kind and encouraging comments, or they took pictures. One man stopped by and asked me what was I creating—other than a mess. Ha! If that had happened at the beginning of the event I probably would have cried. But, after a couple hours in, and seeing that my painting was starting to come alive, I dismissed what he said and told him that I was creating my life. After the event I took the painting home, finished it, and brought it back to the shop to be put up for sale. I ended up selling the largest artwork I have ever created for the most money for an individual piece. One person’s mess is another patron’s treasure.
Gina Rossi Armfield (noexcusesart.com)
I walk the walk as an artist, author, and educator, so when it comes to No Excuses Art, I truly mean no excuses. The great thing about watercolor is that you can do it anywhere—and I mean anywhere! I have worked in my journal in restaurants, planes, boats, airports, at the beach, in the car, and even at the base of a mountain watching my boys ski. A favorite pastime when I travel is finding a quiet spot in a coffee house or bookstore, and spending a few hours working on watercolor sketches in my journal. I usually do this alone—or sometimes even better, with my sister. It’s so rewarding to have strangers come up to me and ask about my work. They often share their own experiences with creativity, telling me how they used to draw as a child or teenager, but gave it up. I always find this such a wonderful opportunity to encourage them to keep going. My mantra is, you don’t have to be an artist in order to draw or paint—you simply need to enjoy it! I can’t dance and sing like Lady Gaga, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sing along in the car or shake my groove thing on the dance floor. I am an introvert in many ways and can find my happy place working in my sketchbook, drowning out the world. But I’ve found that creating in public allows me the wonderful opportunity to share my passion for art and connect with the most amazing people.
Chris Cozen (chriscozenartist.com)
For years I have done live demos for groups where I have painted in public. But the most fun I have ever had painting in public was last year when I organized a painting booth at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, Ohio. We prepped large canvases with black and white gesso, put them on easels of various heights, and invited people to come paint with us. It was pretty great watching parents, toddlers, teens, and seniors stopping by to put their marks on these big pieces. This painting event was planned as a marketing tool for my niece to introduce her new Montessori school to the public, and it worked like a charm. The booth was never empty, and we filled up six 3′ x 5′ foot canvases. My niece used a couple of the painted canvases as backdrops for class photos. Showing that you are comfortable painting in public really invites people to come over and visit.
Mandy Russell (mandyrussell.com)
The funniest (or maybe not so funny) thing that happened to me while taking art outdoors occurred several years ago on a warm, sunny day in Bath, Maine. I was sitting in a small historic downtown area, perched in my portable camp chair on a sidewalk with my sketchbook, and positioned (unbeknownst to me) very close to a storm drain. The street was hilly and crooked with granite sidewalks and cobblestones. I packed light that day with my art supplies, trying to simplify my routine. I had a cheap black ballpoint pen and several Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons—the glorious water-soluble artist’s crayons that are expensive, but worth every penny. You can see where I’m going here…I had been drawing the street scene for a bit, and I felt the need to reposition myself. I got up, forgetting that I had put the crayons in my lap. The crayons leapt out of my lap, hit the street, and a couple of them rolled down the storm drain. The moral of the story? Have a better organizational plan. Pack light, but don’t depend on your lap for storage!
Before you head out to take your art on the road, get more techniques for creating art and travel journal pages!