Painting en plein air
Lori Putnam was painting along the Matukituki River on New Zealand's South Island (shown) when about 4,000 ewes suddenly joined her and her class. "They were being driven down to the field where I was teaching on their way to be sheared," she says. "All of our little easels were sticking up amidst the fuzzy woolies baaing so loudly we couldn't think."

So What Does Your Spouse Do For a Living?
And other things people say to plein air artists

When it comes to things people say to plein air artists, there is no limit to the humor or audacity. When we reached out to Lori Putnam and asked her about some of the off-the-wall things she has encountered and heard, we laughed, we cringed, and we knew we had to share this with you!

In addition to the wild comments (below), Lori said the general public is sometimes shocked to see people painting outdoors, not to mention the standard tricks of the trade: “When they see me, like a magician, pulling stuff out of my small daypack and setting up to paint (or packing it all back into a remote spot), they are amazed at just how compact everything can be.”

Lori Putnam, "Kellers Country Events," 2021, 11 x 14 in.
Lori Putnam, “Kellers Country Events,” 2021, 11 x 14 in.

Lori Putnam on Things People Say…

Non-painters who walk by when I only have big masses blocked in just look confused. It takes guts, of course, to do that in front of people. It doesn’t look like any “thing.” Even when I have finished, people who know very little about art will tell me I have a “good start.” They want to know if I will finish it when I get home. That’s just part of painting in a looser style. It takes all I have sometimes to just smile and move on.

Sometimes when someone asks what I do, they are shocked that people actually still do that for a living. They think:

1. All great artists are dead

2. You cannot possibly make money being an artist, and

3. They want to know what my husband does for a living.

It is at this point that I (sometimes) patiently explain as best I can what it means to be a professional, living artist. Then I show them my website, complete with prices, and they get a clearer picture. It’s the same when an average non-art-follower walks into the studio. To them, I am an alien speaking in a totally different language.

Lori Putnam, "Santa Catalina Arch," 2021, 11 x 14 in.
Lori Putnam, “Santa Catalina Arch,” 2021, 11 x 14 in.

On another note, we’ve all heard the guy who walks by and says, “Need me to pose for you?” My reply is, “Yes, that would be great! We’re studying the human form today. Do you mind posing nude?” ~ L.P.

Plein Air Artists Unite

Lori is joining us in Santa Fe soon for the Plein Air Convention & Expo, where hundreds of us will be gathered for several days of painting and sharing similar stories, I’m sure! Visit now to register. And if you’re one of the many fans, followers, customers, and guests who really wanted to meet up with us but don’t feel you can travel, you can now choose the PACE Online option! [LEARN MORE]

What comments have you heard from passersby? Share them with us in the comments below!

Related > Plein Air Podcast 173: Lori Putnam on Painting Loosely and More


  1. I do not know if it is because I live in NYC where we are fortunate to have art everywhere vs wherever Ms Putnam is painting, but my experiences with people coming to say hi over the last 13 years of plein airing have always been overwhelmingly positive- even right at the beginning and middle “ugly” stages of the painting.

    This overwhelmingly positive reaction crosses cultures, socio-economic status, age, all of it. Other artists, non-artists, from drag queens to Hassidic Jews, everyone. I have never been asked what my spouse does for a living, but I have been asked many times if I am a full-time painter.

    The outpour of positive energy from passers-by was not something I ever expected when I started plein airing. It’s incredible to me every time.

    One of the most important things we can do is be friendly to the public. They think we are cool. They like what we are doing. They like encountering it in an everyday situation. They relate to it because they are there, too. They have made an effort to come over and say something nice just because they wanted to.

    Sometimes, this is the most interaction someone has ever had with an artist. Plus you meet some really cool people.

    No one has ever said anything negative to me- the worst I have encountered was a mother letting her kid pee under the same tree I was standing under in Central Park, which was incredibly rude and gross. And then there was the lady in the park in Brooklyn with a suitcase full of….. corn…. and of course she had to settle down on a tree stump right next to me to shuck it. That was pretty annoying so I packed up and moved.

  2. Hi Jessica, Thank you for sharing your experiences too. This particular pic was from New Zealand. I’m very grateful to have painted all over the world and, as you pointed out, I have met the most wonderful people, all because they took the time to come and speak to me. It is a fabulous job, isn’t it?
    Pretty funny about the corn. I had a similar experience in Guatemala, but the woman’s little girl was so adorable I couldn’t even think of moving. She watched every pile of paint being mixed. As I was finishing and packing to leave, she drew me a little picture! I still have it on my bulletin board above my computer. Lovely memory.

  3. I loved this story! My favorite comment was last year when a man asked me “Did you paint this yourself or do you just fill in between the lines?” And my weirdest experience was a man walking his pig on a leash who then just left the pig beside me for a short while to pig sit!!! Then this huge crowd of students gathered because of the pig – oblivious to me, right in front of my easel and my view!

  4. I had an arrest happen 3 yards away from me by a bridge in Norwich, normally a peaceful spot! Police in full gear, with dog handler, shouting at him to get down, guaranteed to put shock and awe into a criminal. I had my easel and kit and wasnt prepared to leave them so I went on painting, much to the amusement of my fellow artist friends who were situated some distance away further down the river. Luckily the guy wasnt armed! Apparently it was to do with the theft of shotguns from a farmhouse.

  5. My favorite conversation was with a 12 year-old who came up to me and stood watching, while I was painting plein air at a farmers market. He humphed and said, “Pretty good.” “Thanks”, I said, “Do you draw?” “Yes.”, he replied, “I was in your drawing class.” “Oh Cool! Did you fill up your sketch book?” “Yes I did and I got more and I now I am painting in oils.” “Wow that’s great!”
    Which made me feel so happy and amazed. One never knows what a 4 day after school drawing session will accomplish, but somehow it touched this boy. I hope he is still painting.


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