Painting NYC in the Rain

A couple weeks ago a teenaged person quoted another young person, telling me, "So-and-so says real artists don't do that." They referred to my use of photography and method of scaling a work before painting it, so a proper perspective is gained. 

I asked how this person would know what "real artists" do? "She studies," I was told. 

While I agree, works in plein air contain much better light and life, it's really hard to paint moving objects, or sunny objects outside, without the help of a photograph! I admire those who do this well.

Having excellent eyesight and a superbly trained visual memory would also be a great help, I would imagine. While I can see value and color really well, seeing details at a distance isn't my strong suit.

It's difficult to capture even things that don't move when you also have to paint fast. Planning ahead and working within your speed abilities is imperative to a pleasing end result.

This post reveals what my paintings look like when I have little time and not the best painting conditions! 

Quality cannot be rushed, it just cannot! But painting quickly, on site, is a good challenge. I learned things!

Back to photography vs real life for a moment:

Some say real artists don't work from photos at all - they paint entirely from life. 

Well, after over thirty years of drawing and painting wild and domestic animals, completing a multitude of works, then matting and framing them under glass, I guess I have an opinion on what "real artists" do. 

In order to make a living, an artist really needs to save time when possible. It's great to do everything with old-fashioned methods, but I do not have time to make my own brushes, pigment or paper. I use modern technology for scaling when I'm able.

Artists need to depict things which are moving often or changing rapidly with weather and light conditions. 

Painting people plein air 


Painting people en plein air is something I have avoided doing - through fear of failure to a degree. 

Years ago I visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, planning to paint people that day, but the piece I brought home was full of trees and flowers - no people! Conveniently, I avoided even trying to paint what I consider is the hardest possible subject - people in plein air.

In the last few weeks I've painted people as they worked - ironing and peeling apples for applesauce. These studies boosted my confidence to attempt a street scene in NYC, in the rain. 

The day began at 5:15 AM

I arrived in Manhattan at 7 AM. After walking to my destination and choosing a spot to paint, it was 8 AM. With an 11 AM dental appointment, I did not feel I had time for drawing, I just began painting.

It reminded me of playing the piano - when you begin learning this musical instrument, it seems there are way too many things to think about, all at the same time: When to use the pedal/s; your posture and hand position on the keys; reading the notes; finding them with your fingers; rhythm; speed; and volume...then there is the difference between base and treble clef signature! So many things all at once! 

I felt this way on the street this past Monday! There was the rain to consider - I chose my spot under an awning, placing a small box on the pavement for a seat, sat down and began to set up my art supplies. 

The air was full of fog and drops of water were falling, but I was determined to paint that morning, despite the forecast of rain! 

Endless windows, all needing to slant toward the right vanishing point, challenged me. This is where architectural drafting training would help!

I wanted to paint the tops of the buildings - but in working on them, realized later I forgot the third "vanishing point in the sky" - where all the buildings need to come together as they rise upward, so they appear in proper perspective...


The intersection lights were changing and cars, trucks, bicycles and foot traffic continued to pass by. I enjoyed trying to paint car headlights!

A woman went by and murmured encouragingly, "beautiful colors". Then a homeless man began to watch me, and we conversed as I worked.

When I returned to photograph the intersection in the afternoon, a man from the Netherlands stopped to say he'd seen me painting earlier in the day and thought I was a beggar. Then he'd seen what I was doing, painting...

It was a great day in New York City for me, and I hope to return to do this again soon - on a sunny day. I discovered some things to work on through facing my fears, in just trying to paint what seems very difficult to me - moving people in the rain, with watercolors! 

I remain your painting-friend,
He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries. 
~ Psalm 135:7

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