Women in the wild

Women are the majority of plein air painters, but some are afraid to be outside working alone.
The Alaska Range, by Carol L. Douglas
Louise-Joséphine Sarazin de Belmont was a landscape painter who traveled around Italy painting ‘views’ at a time when nice women were expected to be chaperoned in public. She made a tidy income for herself in the process. She’s one of two female artists represented in the National Gallery’s True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which runs until May. 
The other is Rosa Bonheur, who is best known for her animal paintings (including The Horse Fair). Bonheur was a one-off, refusing to be pigeonholed by society. She dressed in men’s clothing and openly lived with women. She didn’t want to be male; instead, she felt that trousers and short hair gave her an advantage when handling large animals.
Clouds over Teslin Lake, the Yukon, by Carol L. Douglas
We have an idea that 19th-century society was extremely repressed, but Bonheur was its most famous woman painter. Among those who admired her work was Queen Victoria. Bonheur, like Sarazin de Belmont, was an astute businesswoman, able to earn enough by age 37 to buy herself the Chateau de By.
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot are the best-known 19th century painters today; why weren’t they as popular then? In part, they suffered from their restricted subject matter.
Western Ontario forest, by Carol L. Douglas
“Morisot isn’t going out with all of her paint tools, like everybody else, and setting up along the river and painting all day,” said curator Mary Morton in this thoughtful essay by Karen Chernick. “That’s absolutely because of the limitations of her gender and her class. She’s a nice upper middle-class French woman, and it’s just not seemly. In the end, her most accomplished pictures tend to be things she can do indoors.”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, after reading a plaintive letter from a woman afraid to paint alone outdoors. “Can you give me tips for safety?” she asked.
Cobequid Bay Farm, Hants County, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas
Since the plein air painting scene is predominantly female, many women have made the adjustment to working alone. I’ve camped and painted alone through the Atlantic states and for 10,000 miles through Alaska and Canada with my daughter. I’ve been unnerved by tourists acting idiotically, but I’ve never been bothered by human predators.
But perhaps I’m not harassed because I’m so old, this blogger suggests. I don’t think so; I’ve been doing it for a long time. And I’m not the only woman interested in painting on the road. Deborah Frey McAllister created the International Sisterhood of the Traveling Paints on Facebook. Debby calls herself a ‘free range artist.’
Hermit’s Peak, El Porviner, NM, by Carol L. Douglas
It’s possible to run into trouble anywhere. In my experience, there are stranger people in town parks than in national forests. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was being warned away from drug deals. But be alert and aware of your surroundings. 
The subject is something I’ll address when I speak to the Knox County Art Society on tips for the traveling painter. That’s Tuesday, March 10, at 7 PM in the Marianne W. Smith Gallery at the Lord Camden Inn, 24 Main Street, Camden. The talk is open to the public; the suggested donation is $5.

Monday Morning Art School: your first big event

You’re nervous, wondering how on earth you got into this show in the first place. What now?
Brush Creek, by Jeanne Echternach, courtesy of the artist.
I’m holed up on a ranch east of the Pecos with six superlative painters here for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta. “What advice would you give the emerging plein air artist before his or her first big event?” I asked them.
“Find something that grabs you and not the thing you think is the most important thing to paint. If I don’t have that connection, then I don’t have that edge,” said William Rogersof Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Sonoran Preserve, by Richard Abraham, courtesy of the artist.
In other words, don’t focus on the picture postcard view. Sponsors often arrange paint outs for participating artists, and they’re very helpful to those who don’t know the area. But if it doesn’t move you, move on.
“When I was starting out, the worst thing was wasting time driving around looking for the best subject. Once you see something that would make a good painting, stop driving and start painting it,” said Deborah McAllister of Lakewood, CO. “Don’t worry about the other painters in the event or whether you’re going to win an award or not.”
First Snows, First Light, by Karen Ann Hitt, courtesy of the artist.
It’s easy to be unnerved in what is, essentially, a competition. “Find the joy and don’t let the event get in your head,” cautioned Jane Chapin of Santa Fe.
Remember that you were invited to this event because the jurors liked how you paint, so stop comparing yourself to others. That’s an insidious way to mess up your own excellent style. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others, but It’s best to put that in a tiny corner and ignore it for the duration of the event.
Ricardo and his horses, by William Rogers, courtesy of the artist.

I put the question to Karen Ann Hitt, of Venice, FL, as she drove away merrily in her big truck. “Less talk and more wine,” I thought she said. Later, she told me she’d actually said, “Red wine and dark chocolate, main food groups!” I’ll take that to mean: remember to bring snacks and plenty of water.
Later, she talked about the first painting of the event. “Start small, keep it simple, and get your first one under your belt. Don’t sweat the details,” she said. It’s a trap to try to do your masterwork on the first run.
Vendor, by Jane Chapin, courtesy of the artist.
“Paint something you’re familiar with. Play to your strengths,” added Jeanne Echternach, of Colorado.
Richard Abraham of Minneapolis knocked it out of the park with his first painting of this event. “Make sure you do your best painting the first day. Then you can relax,” he joked. But there’s some truth there. If your first painting is good, it builds confidence.
Still, you must leave room to be experimental. “Don’t chase your successes,” said Karen Hitt. By that, she meant, don’t fall into a formula. Take time to experiment, enjoy the place and the event, and challenge yourself.
Cottonwoods on the LaPoudre River, Deborah McAllister, courtesy of the artist.

“You can’t learn any younger,” said Jane Chapin.
Your painting will be better if you’re having fun. Take time to socialize. “Make friends with some new artists,” said Deborah McAllister.