Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When Nature Calls for the Outdoor Painter

This is a sensitive subject for plein air painters that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed before. And there is probably good reason why.  Against my common sense, I’ll see if I can tackle it in a way that doesn’t make you all tremble with fear or disgust.

Many folks choose to only paint outside with restroom facilities nearby. This information does not really pertain to them. Although I do think, my opinion only, that if you are making the effort to paint outdoors, going to the trouble of packing the gear, then get yourself out there, and don’t settle on whatever view is in front of you but find the one that grabs your attention. Walk more than just a few feet from your vehicle or the bathroom. Get off that deck and into the woods. Wade the stream and climb those hills. But make sure you are prepared for the unknown.

Every painter of the great outdoors has run into this problem at one time or another.

Sometimes it happens early in the excursion. You get to your ideal painting spot, set up your easel, get all your gear out and in its proper place, ready to tackle the scene before you, to create that next masterpiece that is sure to sell before it ever gets to a gallery wall. Then it hits. You get that first feeling of discomfort.

Sometimes this feeling grabs hold of you toward the end of your painting session. The critical part, when either you firmly believe that you can pull the painting out of the terrible mess it’s become, and save it from being wiped clean. Or it’s the time when you are in the zone and every brush stroke you place seems to be in the perfect place, the perfect shape, and the perfect value, only to realize that either you take a short, uncomfortable break, or stop altogether and finish the painting in the studio.

Whether at the beginning, at the end, or at any other time during your painting session, you know that a decision will need to be made. And it’s not an easy one.

For those of us that have camped and hiked in the wilderness this situation doesn’t bother us as much as it does some of the more novice outdoor people. Men have it much easier than women in this department. Especially when it comes to the number one aspect of the circumstances. Women, on the other hand, have to be more discrete. Now that is not to say that men can do what they want when they want, but it’s just not as obvious.

Hopefully common sense and courtesy will prevail for anyone that is faced with this dilemma. There are certain things you can do to be prepared, so that if a problem interjects itself into your plans you’ll be ready to handle it in different ways.

For the number one plan you must never, ever use a stream, creek or river as a substitute for indoor plumbing. Just because it’s water doesn’t make it the same. Find a safe, and tactfully positioned area, far away from anyone else you might be painting with that day. Keep in mind that other people will most likely be walking on that exact spot at some point in the future, so be courteous.

The other, more disconcerting, and embarrassing situation leaves us with difficult choices to be made. Either stop and leave. Stay and hope the feeling passes; be careful with this one, it could come back to haunt you. Or take matters into your own hands so to speak, probably not the best choice of words, and do what has to be done.

In my opinion the most important task that needs to be accomplished if you find yourself in this predicament is the ability to dig a hole. That is imperative. A deal breaker. Dig it or don’t do it.

The main thing that a exasperated painter needs is paper. No, sanded pastel paper will not work. However, paper towels will certainly suffice. So most of us painters will have ample supply in our kits or backpacks.

My daughter went painting with me once. We walked up a creek for a few hundred yards. Saw a snake along the way. I got set up in the middle of the creek and as soon as I started to paint, she informed me that she needed to use the bathroom. Number one? I asked. Yes, she said. I told her to take some paper towels and go off behind some bushes, but after spotting the snake down the creek there was no way she was going to do it. I packed up and we left.

So, you never know what the circumstances might be. It could be a very difficult situation which requires you to pack up and leave. Or it could be an easy thing taken care of in a couple of minutes. My advice is to be careful, courteous, discreet, smart and prepared. With all that gear you pack for the trip, make sure you think about what you will do if the moment comes and a decision needs to be made. And of course, watch what you eat and drink beforehand, it could make all the difference in the world.

If you find yourself with a group of painters in a very rural area and nature calls, just smile, do what has to be done, then pretend it never happened and whatever you do... don’t make eye contact.


Claire Beadon Carnell said...

This really made me laugh. Many a time I have kept on going until I feel as thought my kidneys were going to explode!

Sue Pownall said...

Great post Bill. I wouldn't go near a snake either :)

Burning the paper after a wee, if you are not in a fire risk zone, is an idea to add in order to look after the environment by not leaving nasty litter.

Nancy said...

Just keep an eye out for poison ivy before you squat! haha

Thanks Bill. So, you carry a shovel? Or do you use one of your palette knives? LOL

Because I love my coffee in the morning, this sometimes is the reason I will choose to work closer to the facilities. If I know I will be in a more remote location, I try to limit my java!

Bill Guffey said...

Claire - I think I have the bladder of a horse by now.

Sue - Burning is good, but be careful! It would be horrible to start a forest fire and have to explain what happened...

Nancy - Avoid three leaves! My knives are so sharp I could cut a tree down with them! A little dirt has no chance.