Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Painting for a Crowd

I was painting at the Calgary Stampede recently in the "Artists' Window". It's the 3rd year that I've done it and it's always worth the trouble of packing up my paintings and art supplies, fighting the rodeo traffic and setting up in the Round Up Centre. For the 4 hours that I'm there, I paint (never anything worth keeping as it's a very short time) and chat with the many people who come to watch and look at my work. The appeal of watching someone apply paint or draw seems to be universal. As the object of this attention, it's hard not to try to give my viewers something worth seeing: a definitive brush stroke; a dramatic value change or a bold new colour passage. The temptation to be worth the attention is strong. However, fighting that temptation and trying to maintain flow and pacing despite the presence of people standing behind me is a discipline worth undertaking. I figure if I can tune these spectators out, and make a decent painting, I'll be a better painter for it.

A few weeks ago I did something similar but on a much more challenging scale in Chicoutimi, Quebec at the Symposium International Jean-Paul Lapointe. More than 40 artists from around Canada, the States, and Europe exhibited their works and painted for 3 days in front of a steady throng of people. I was told that 40,000 people passed through the venue in those 3 days. Many of them commented and most stopped to watch for a few moments. At first, I thought I'd never achieve focus but, during the 12 hour painting days, I found myself able to tune out everything but the task of mixing and applying paint. I became almost as competent in that bustling setting as I am in my studio in Calgary. I counted it as a great accomplishment. I've taken a few workshops and have always marvelled at the way the instructors could paint and comment on their works while standing in front of an audience. I see now that, like absolutely everything else to do with painting, it's a matter of practise.

It seems an impossible task at first but, with repetition, it becomes routine.

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