Sometimes artists need a little motivation to get out there and paint. Lorin Willey jokingly plans informal paint-outs as military-style operations, and his circle of painters responds. 

He calls the group RATs — Rapid Artist Troops. They are associated with WPS, the Wisconsin Painters Studio, and the outings are called RAT OPs. “I’ve been teaching since 1991, and all through the years the biggest struggle I’ve had is getting people to paint from life, especially outside in natural light,” says Willey. “So I thought, how can I make something fun out of that experience? I started using this pseudo-military language, using the jargon for outdoor painting, and they really liked it. It’s a fun juxtaposition.”

Willey expanded it to include incentives. On an artist’s first OP, he or she gets a hat. After five OPs, a badge is earned. The RATs are on their 14th OP. “It really has worked to get them outside, and it shows in their work,” Willey says. “It’s helping.”

On two occasions, the military conceit seemed especially appropriate. In 2013 Willey inadvertently scheduled an outing on the first day of goose season, and the artists found themselves painting in the Horicon Marsh to the sound of shotgun blasts. “All of the sudden it sounded like the Civil War,” he recalls. The painters quickly put bright-colored objects on their easels, even though the danger was minimal. 

This past fall the RATs set out on opening day of dove season. This time, Willey was prepared, and there was plenty of blaze orange for everyone.


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