Plein Air Podcast - how to start a plein air group
Mary Longe from the Plein Air Painters of Chicago, featured in the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Episode 183

Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews Mary Longe of the Plein Painters of Chicago on a common topic: how to have a successful plein air group.

Listen as Mary Longe shares the following:
• Important questions to consider when starting a plein air group and how to develop a structure for it
• How to make your plein air group successful, and how to grow it
• Why you want to write a “brief” and how it can help in the planning of your events
• What to consider when planning your paint outs
• The most important reason to join a plein air group

Bonus! Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, shares tips on how to become popular with galleries and collectors, and when you should enter an art competition in this week’s Art Marketing Minute.

Listen to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads and Mary Longe here:

Related Links:
– Mary Longe online:
– Eric Rhoads on Instagram:
– Eric Rhoads on Facebook:
– Sunday Coffee:
– Plein Air Salon:
– Publisher’s Invitational:
– Value Specs for Artists:
– Paint by Note:
– The Great Outdoor Painting Challenge TV Show:

FULL TRANSCRIPT of this PleinAir Podcast
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the PleinAir Podcast. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.

Eric Rhoads 0:00
This is episode number 183. Today we’re interviewing community expert Mary Longe who runs Plein Air Chicago and she’s going to talk about how to create local plein air groups and how to keep your group thriving.

This is the Plein Air Podcast with Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of Plein Air Magazine. In the Plein Air podcast we cover the world of outdoor painting called plein air. The French coined the term which means open air or outdoors. The French pronounce it plenn air. Others say plein air. No matter how you say it, there is a huge movement of artists around the world who are going outdoors to paint This show is about that movement. Now, here’s your host, author, publisher and painter, Eric Rhoads.

Eric Rhoads 1:10
Why thank you Jim Kipping and welcome everybody to the plein air podcast and happy August everybody if you’re listening to this on time, I want to say hi to all our new listeners. We have had millions Yes, millions of downloads now. And we’ve picked up a massive number of new listeners from plein air live our worldwide virtual summit, which had a huge attendance The event was a big hit the beginners day and then the four days of top artists everybody absolutely loved it. Everybody was painting together virtually and interacting getting to know one another making new friends. And I even received a note today that said it was like a fire hose into a teacup so much information. So that’s a good thing right? You want a lot of information you don’t want to be wanting more. So anyway, another person told me she had found her tribe it was a huge success. You met a lot of people and turned out to be twice as many people as the plein air convention. So we got a lot of people who came on board and people all over the world. So thank you everyone who joined us for plein air live. We have offered at Plein Air live we offered our attendees a new event called realism live and over 600 of them signed up for the first virtual conference covering plein air. I mean covering realism and covering painting drawing realistic subjects like landscapes, portraits, still life figures, floral seascapes, and a whole lot more. And it’s taking place in October and we’re going to shoot for another world record. This will be the world’s largest virtual art conference and the world’s largest painting together which is going to be fun. You can be a part of it. You can see some amazing painters like Dan Gearhatz, Rose Frantzen, Daniel Sprick, Juliette Aristides, Joshua Larock, Graydon Parrish and many more to be announced. It’s going to be an absolutely amazing experience and you get to do it. from your home, it’s super exciting. It’s lots of fun, we interact with one another, and it’s gonna be a great, great experience. And as you know, a lot of plein air painters do figures and portraits and still life and flowers and more. It’s all painting and studio painting. But it’s important that you know how to do these subjects too. It’ll be a real boost for your painting your confidence, and you’ll make a lot of new friends so I’ll be hosting the event so sign up for realism live at Coming up after the interview. I’m going to be answering art marketing questions in the art marketing minute. But first, let’s get right to our interview with Mary Longe. Mary Longe Welcome to the plein air podcast.

Mary Longe 3:43
Well, thanks, Eric. It’s very nice to be here.

Eric Rhoads 3:49
First off, you’ve done a remarkable job with plein air Chicago, and it is probably one of the most active and successful plein air groups in America. And I think that I’m sure that there are a lot of people behind it. But I know that you’ve had a lot to do with it. And so I want to talk about that. But more importantly, is I want to talk about things like how to make groups successful, and how some of the things that you would recommend to others, so that they can do the same things that you’ve done in their own way.

Mary Longe 4:26
That’s great. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Eric Rhoads 4:29
So part of this, I think, probably has a little to do with your background. Can you give me a 50,000 foot view of what you did in the past? Because this might help other groups identify people in their groups who might have the the right skill sets that are necessary?

Mary Longe 4:50
Yeah, and I think Eric, one of the things that’s made this successful for us or for me, and is that it came at the right time in my life. So as I was growing my own sense of being an artist and also, as I retired out of the work world, and I worked for the American Hospital Association for the last 10 years of my career, and I’d also worked there for 10 years early in my career. But what I had been doing in that was working with corporations that wanted to shell into hospitals. So I was doing marketing strategy plans for companies of all different sizes. So I was running visioning sessions and I was thinking about how to get people involved and how to get healthcare involved. And I was thinking about all the kinds of questions that really go into membership because that’s what I work for a membership organization. So in many ways, this was a perfect fit for me at a perfect time. It all converged as I was thinking about retirement and and also in terms of The painter Chicago there was a group of people that had been going out to paint since 2003. Scott Tolman powers who I know you have videos with was this huge force behind the people in Chicago who like to do plein air, and just would get people going out all year round in our wonderful climate in Chicago. But really, after Scott moved out west, there other people had taken over and had had some movement and some groups going out, but it wasn’t a regular thing as much. And when I got involved, there were people that were wanting more, but there was no leadership and anyway, so that’s how we got started was just deciding that we would get some of the people that were most wanting something more than what we had. And that was a good time for me to step up and I actually offered to do a vision session where we brought those noisy people together and said, What do you want to do? What would you like an organization to be?

Eric Rhoads 7:10
Well, and I want to talk about that a couple of subjects that have come up through through what your answer was here. The one thing that I’ve recognized and this is true for pretty much anybody is that oftentimes there’s a dynamic leader, somebody who really has vision, somebody has the mixture of the the aggressiveness to get things started, the confidence to get things started, the ability to rally people behind her or him and, and so organizations can grow very fast and can get a lot of traction very fast when they get the right kind of catalyst individual behind them, but they also can die or falter equally as fast when that person disappears. And so part of the process that I’d like to know about is How do you develop a structure so that the structure is there and makes it so the organization is not necessarily reliant on an individual.

Mary Longe 8:14
I laugh at that because I keep thinking about succession planning. And I also know that I never take on a project, or even get behind a project without thinking that I will do it myself. So, there is a little bit of that, in fact, we’re doing these great things right now with our virtual paint outs. And the other day I asked somebody, I asked our group, Could somebody please step up and moderate it because I want to take a night off to go to a birthday celebration and no one stepped up. So the reality is, you know, then I had to go fishing for someone and that’s actually a lot of what happens. So, you know, I think, as your question is a really good one Because I think all along that there is great need for that leadership. And I think our people get behind the things that they want to get behind. And so it’s been great to have lots of people involved in different things. And that’s one of the things that we have done is, is make sure that when people sign up to participate in the Plein Air Painters Chicago that they also identify where they will volunteer and what they’re going to be interested in. But that doesn’t say that they will be long term volunteers or, you know, most people seems want to do kind of a one and done kind of volunteering. So that’s something that we continue to think about. But I think the other thing I want to just speak to, is that when we did our visioning session was part of that process that that I facilitated was to get out all the things that people wanted, and that included the competitions, And going on trips and, taking groups as you would to Russia or you know, to places it all got on the board at one point. And then when you get down to that piece about, okay, who’s going to do it, you know, there weren’t many hands being raised. So we decided that we would really get very, and this is part of my thinking about all this is to keep everything as simple as possible. But we decided that we had four elements, plein air painters Chicago, and they were to that our mission was to paint we just wanted to paint together that was the thing that most people came out for, but also to improve our paintings. So that meant anything to do with education and maybe having demos and things like that. But the third thing was to make artists more visible so that we could have more sales. So visibility of the artists in sales is a third thing and then just having fun or, you know, as it gets written, it’s called camaraderie. But to me, it’s camaraderie and inclusion, that everybody who comes to us they will be included in whether we go out to lunch or, you know, we’re going to stay far, far away from excluding people. So it’s those four things, painting, improving visibility and camaraderie is, you know, an anything else that we think about doing. When somebody brings up an idea about, you know, let’s do a competition or let’s do, some kind of big outing. It’s great, you know, go ahead, go ahead and do it.

Eric Rhoads 11:32
And I think that one of the important things that you’ve said here, which I clearly you learned from corporate America is maybe you did, I assume so. is if you have a very clear strategy in mind, all those great ideas that everybody comes up with, don’t get done because they don’t fit the strategy.

Mary Longe 11:55
That’s right.

Eric Rhoads 11:55
So I was teaching on my Facebook Live at noon, the other day And I was talking about strategy and the difference between strategy and tactic. And a tactic is how you know how you would get something done you advertising as a tactic, for instance. But strategy is, who am I going after? Where am I going after them? how, you know, what am I going to say to them, and then everything else kind of fuels that. And anything that does not fit within that strategy really gets kind of pushed aside. And what I love about that is it gives you tremendous clarity. Because, everybody’s got 1000 ideas, and when you’re running an organization like yours, you’re having to combat that. And so it’s really easy to be able to say, Okay, so let’s go back to the strategy. Is it painting? Yes. Does it improve our painting? No. Does it give us visibility or sales? No. Does it give camaraderie? No. Well, it doesn’t fit, you know, if it’s not fitting within those four things, is that right?

Mary Longe 13:06
That’s exactly right. And you know, I think on top of that, then we really looked at…and how we wanted to spend time creating them. So artists and one of the artists are basically our primary stakeholders and the people that we are working with, we have secondary ones that we thought about collectors and you know, the community for partnerships and things. But for the for the collectors. We also decided that we wanted this to be simple. And so we haven’t wanted to go after things that would generate revenue for us because we have nothing really that we need to spend it on. Because we just want to go out and paint and we finally bought a microphone, so if we had demos we could hear somebody outside. But we’ve really kept all of this very simple and the stakeholders, we’ve kept it at the artist and even though that may be part of our sales, we haven’t really spent kind of, like created I guess the strategy for that at this point, or the tactics really to get us a greater numbers of collectors behind us. But I think we’ve really said that the artist in particular are who we’re going after.

Eric Rhoads 14:27
So if you were advising someone today that somebody picks up the phone and calls you and says, Mary, I want to start a Plein Air Group in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. And, what do I do? Do I incorporate it? How do I get it rolling? What is the process to get people behind it, which is always the hardest thing, especially if you don’t really know who in your community may or may not be a plein air painter or if they even exist.

Mary Longe 15:00
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think what really worked for us is that we had a few people, we had probably 10 people that were our first group. And that were our steering committee. So we had we had some idea of, you know, who was out there. But I think the first thing for me would be about having a visioning session. What do we want this to be? Because as I have had those kind of calls at times, some people want to just do things that will generate revenue. I mean, that’s what they have behind it. They want to make money and so they think if they do competitions, they will make money. Others want to do some sort of more in terms of shows, and exhibits and things. So I think it’s, really getting that clarity. Absolutely is the first thing. I think the next thing is then trying to figure out those folks that are going to make that happen. I don’t want do anything without that group behind us. Now, the other thing I have to say that I haven’t mentioned is that we are under the auspices of the palette and chisel, this venerable arts group that Academy here in Chicago that Richard Schmid was a major part of, and it’s a it’s a group that takes care of our liability, and it handles our money. And for me as a sort of leader of this group, I keep them informed, I give them an annual plan, and I tell them about our annual budget. And they don’t really ask us any other questions, but having that behind us so I know that if somebody falls or whatever else when we’re out painting that as a group, I don’t have to worry about that so much because we do have that liability insurance and those kinds of things behind us. So I’m sure there are other things that Other groups should be thinking about that would create an infrastructure of safety and, care.

Eric Rhoads 17:06
I think you brought up a really interesting point is if you could have a relationship, a partnership, if you will, with some organization, you know, there are tons in all communities, there are local arts organizations. And so by having a relationship with a local arts organization and coming under their umbrella, you’re saving yourself a lot of problems.

Mary Longe 17:30
But that was incredibly helpful for us. And, I don’t have to worry about the financial aspects of it. I mean, we have our own sort of treasurer and we have no titles really for any of our steering committee, but someone who acts kind of as a treasure just to kind of figure out where we are on our planning. But everything else then goes through the Palette and Chisel. And so that’s been incredibly helpful and they’re so supportive of us and art in Chicago. So That’s been very helpful.

Eric Rhoads 18:01
How many members do you have? And how far do they come in from?

Mary Longe 18:07
So it’s interesting. So after this in 2017, when we did this visioning session, one of the things we said is that we wanted to buy the microphone, which by the way, is one of these $89 microphones and that hooks on a belt or actually it hooks for us when somebody is doing a demo. And because we have a lot of older, I mean, seasoned artists. Yeah, it’s often difficult as the artist is facing forward to hear. And so we said, we just need a little microphone for the back of the artists so that they can keep looking forward and talking. And so it gives new meaning to sort of talking out of your back end. But it’s a way that was the one thing we wanted to buy, and in particular and so we just We would charge but we wanted a little bit of a membership driver. And so we started something. Three years, we’ve now had three that we call I Heart Plein Air. And we add demos, we had people showing their kits, and then a panel of the seasoned members talking about how they do their painting and that was our first day, the first time that we did that, but it was a way to, so we did charge a fee of $65 for people to come and that gave us some money to work with. Besides the besides the microphone it did allow us to not have to charge for our annual show that we do at the Palette and Chisel and allowed us to do a couple other things. And so that first year we had about 65 people that signed up by the end of the second year last year, we had about 110. And this year even with COVID, we have about that, we have 104. I think, members right now, and that’s without anything but, what’s been driving it? We did have our we actually had our I Heart Chicago on March 4. And Eric, you’ve been part of those, the last two of them by Skype. But in those and we have had with people coming to those we had, I guess I want to say about that is that March, I think it was March 7 that we had our one for this year. And then of course, we went into lockdown. And at that point, we really didn’t have too much more to do for members because that meant our shows that we were planning would be canceled. But turns out we actually started virtual paint outs over zoom that have become very popular. So to answer the second part of your question, we now have members from the corners of the United States. So people have joined us from Arizona and out east and we have people from Florida and Wisconsin on a regular basis. It’s been terrific because we’ve had guest artists every single week. Talking about some aspect of plein air painting. when we do paint outs, we have people that come regularly from the middle of Michigan. We have people that come from Indiana, and from Wisconsin. For us really, if somebody’s listening to this from other places and look at a map. It’s really not that far. And, it’s a two hour drive for the for people that comes from Michigan anyway.

Eric Rhoads 21:55
So, in terms of if you were to distill this down to a formula for somebody who wanted to have successful groups, how often do you do paint outs? How often do you do it your annual, I guess you do your big event annually your I Heart Plein Air annually?

Mary Longe 22:17
Yes. So the way that we structured this year and pretty much last year we had something like 38 paint outs for both those years, 38 or 39. We go from the beginning of April till the end of October. That’s in Chicago, the best month we had last year for shows. And we have one annual show that’s the big one that all of our members can participate in. And then we had some other ones that are either sort of quick paints and paint, then your painting goes up at a restaurant or a coffee shop and We’ve had a couple of different paint outs with, One was open house Chicago, which is a group that is an architectural Group here in Chicago. And they open up many of the buildings that you want to see because of the great architecture here. And they invite us to paint that three or four of those different sites. And so those are the things that we do this year, of course, is crazy. And that’s why we started virtual paint outs, which have, I think, taught us that zoom critiques have been incredible. We have had critics from we had Kali missions from Australia the other night to speaking to us from Brisbane and people from California and Portland, Oregon as well as our local people. So we’ve been able to have amazing critiques that only our members can participate. And so they’ve had at this point, I think 19 weeks of nothing different critiques on a weekly basis.

Eric Rhoads 24:02
Outstanding. Yeah, we learned the same thing with Plein Air Live. We, you know, by doing it virtually, we found that there were people who had never come to a live plein air convention in their life because of their circumstances. And, and yet they would come to this and so we’ve been able to provide a really great experience by doing that. And so, my gut says that this all will continue in some form afterwards, I assume you’ll continue to do virtual paint outs, because you can do them in the winter.

Mary Longe 24:34
That’s exactly right. I think the one thing we learned recently is we did try a paint out of the live paint out and found that people could that social distance though we had t shirts made that say my painting looks best from six feet away. And we just had a very difficult time and that question then, back about inclusion and camaraderie. actually became an issue that people…want to have lunch tables weren’t big enough for people to sit far apart, you know, feelings were hurt. And so we realized that was going against our mission and a bit of a problem that I had not anticipated. But right now with with it, the viruses, we have decided not to have more paint out until from an evidence based process that we can show two weeks of improved statistics around the virus. And so we just decided that we would go that way, I suspect that we will probably end up canceling the rest of our season.

Eric Rhoads 25:47
So how do you prime the pump in terms of if you’re doing live events or virtual events? How do you build a club? How do you get people to join? How do you spread the word? You guys kind of started out with a very few people, but you’ve got a pretty substantial group. Now.

Mary Longe 26:07
Of course, you have to give them value. And so I think when you’re able to identify what that value is, and those are four elements, just having regular paint outs, there are other groups in the Chicago area, but they make go out once a month. We vary it so that people are in different neighborhoods. So I think it’s the value in the places where the paint outs are, you know, so we make sure that we are on the south side on the west side on the north side of Chicago. And by the way, given our current climate, we are looking in the future. We’ve already had a meeting that we will begin reaching out to some of the art groups that are in some of the areas that we don’t typically go out to where it may be in some of the neighborhoods that we haven’t gone out to and wanting to make sure that we can increase our sense of inclusion. So we’ll be looking eventually I think next year in particular will begin to really look at working with some of the other arts organizations to partner with them. So I think that’s one part of it of building from other groups. We do have a very active Facebook page where anybody that’s looking at Plein air and Chicago, they will find us, we have a website that people can find us. We don’t do a lot of other promotion, but we do other kinds, we’ve been in the local papers. And there’s people that are very much into public relations and things that have helped promote that. I think it’s also we have business cards that we hand out at each one of our every single person that’s a member gets up gets a little badge, which has our business cards in it. And so whenever anybody’s around them, they’re giving away their cards. So it’s often, those conversations. So word of mouth, I guess. Our shows, we do advertise for those. There’s a gallery news and some other things here in Chicago that talk about that, and do promote things like our shows. And so that’s going away for us to get new members because they’re, they then see it there. And then will come and visit us and, and become part of our group.

Eric Rhoads 28:39
Outstanding. Well, sounds like you guys have thought of everything.

Mary Longe 28:43
Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure there’s more. And I think this idea of keeping it simple, has been a challenge, because it isn’t easy with a volunteer group. I have to always remind myself that we never allow enough time for anything, you know that with volunteers that we absolutely have to put in more time in the planning and to get people to do things and, everything takes a little bit more education of because people want to feel comfortable, even if it’s knowing how to bring in food for one of our receptions or something. And I think just always for every single event just having really clear objectives, we set objectives for how many artists we want. We have objectives as numbers. We’ve set objectives for how many paintings we want to sell, in terms of our sales and at our specific shows. And we think about the tactics that you were talking About how we’re going to do that. So we don’t leave it to chance. I can’t say that we always hit them perfectly. But that’s the other thing is that, you know, in a group like this perfection is really the is the enemy of completion sometimes and sometimes we just can’t count on perfection or how things are going to get done. It’s just we’re glad that they get done.

Eric Rhoads 30:28
Well, I would say they’re very lucky to have you. And the reason I say that is because of your marketing and sales background. You know, not a lot of people even understand the concept of setting objectives and, having something that’s measurable so you know what you’re shooting for, rather than, hey, let’s hope some people show up. And just that alone, is a huge thing for organizations. And so, I think do you have some kind of a process or form or something, if you’re creating something? Do you have like a checklist or a sheet or something that you always go through? Or is it just something in the back of your head?

Mary Longe 31:10
I would say we do have a bit of a form, I use something that, one of the things I didn’t mention about my background is I did have a business for almost 20 years. So you know, I have run a business before. So this is not like that. I don’t feel quite the pressure that I did at that point. But I do have a form and I just specify everything we do we write what I call a brief and the brief has right at the top of it, the objectives. And it will be about the stakeholders if there are multiple stakeholders for it. So what I mean by that is, you know, how many artists we want or how many, how many people how many collectors how many sales Do we want, those kinds of things are listed on there, and then we write about I have on that brief The, the tactics that we’re going to use, and the budget, and where that’s coming from, and then I at the end of each activity, then I will have a finished section on there of what the cost was and something for us to, to kind of look back on if we need to say, Oh, you know, didn’t quite go that way or we spent more money on ads or we found this vein of new people at this kind of place. And so we might try that next time. So we use a brief for every event. But as I said earlier, we also have a plan for the year and I have been reluctant to go off plan we of course did with our virtual paint outs this this year. But once we have it if we’re going to have three shows or four shows, then we stick to that and if somebody comes saying, Oh, I just found another place. Then we go back and say we’ve got a plan for the year. And note, we can’t we don’t have enough other volunteers to handle it.

Eric Rhoads 33:05
Yeah, let’s bring it up next year, bring it up for future discussion.

Mary Longe 33:11
That’s right. And it’s it’s much easier to say that and at that point, and I’ve just realized that the people that are running these other committees all have their own lives. And so, they don’t want to do more either. So it may be a great idea. But next year, we’ll think about it.

Eric Rhoads 33:30
Yeah, I’ve got a buddy that runs a nonprofit and everybody’s always throwing ideas at him, you should do this, or you should do that. And he does exactly what you did say, Great. Make it happen. You know, and, it kind of deflates the balloon or else somebody makes it happen.

Mary Longe 33:49
But that’s exactly right. You’re working with a group of creatives. So, expect it that’s the other thing. It’s like, these are great ideas. I’m the worst I I can come up with ideas for new things and new ways to do it all day long. And I’m my own worst enemy. So I’ve had to learn it for myself, otherwise, my business would not have succeeded for 20 years. Because I always had a new way of doing things. So at this point, I’ve learned that over and over again, and I continue to learn it here as well.

Eric Rhoads 34:22
One of the things that I have found, and this is just a personal thing, but, I work all week, I want to spend the weekends with the family. I get a little bit of pressure to spend weekends with the family sometimes and so you know, I oftentimes can’t just slip out and go to an event on a weekend. So what I encouraged my local Plein Air Group to do is to come up with double paint outs, the idea of doing something, on a week day, and then something on a weekend because there are those of us who can’t do weekends but we could do a weekday. I can. It’s much easier to take a day off when the kids are in school. For instance, and that’s for me, not for anybody else, probably. But whereas I can’t always get it on a weekend and also certain days on weekends are more difficult for other people, you know. So varying that up, one time doing it on a Saturday, another time on a Sunday so that the people who can’t go on Sundays can go on a Saturday.

Mary Longe 35:20
Well, you know, I’m glad you mentioned that because it reminds me that in our schedule, like I said, we we go from Southside to Northside as one of the things we do with our, our paint outs. The other thing we do is make sure we go from landscape to cityscape. I mean, in the city of Chicago, you could be in the most beautiful part could still have a view of some sort of part of the city usually. But the other thing that we do is the first three weekends of the month, we paint on Saturdays, the fourth weekend we paint on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. We heard very clearly that some people wanted to do their laundry and take the cleaners out on a Saturday morning. So we decided that we would institutionalize it in a way and just say, okay, it’s Friday, the fourth Friday of the month is our Nocturne night. And Sunday morning, we’ll go someplace else. And what that’s done for us, too, is shown us that there’s some other places on a Sunday morning that look a little different than a busy Saturday. So that’s been very helpful for us to kind of think about, which locations the most kind of the most highly populated locations might be better on a Sunday.

Eric Rhoads 36:34
Well, and you also have to keep in mind that some of your members are retirees, and some of them are working professionals or otherwise and so you’ve got to make sure you keep everybody happy.

Mary Longe 36:45
And we’ve also we’ve had that thought about work doing it during the week. And as that has come up, it’s been, okay, let’s do pop ups. And because nobody wanted to take on That does every single week having a Wednesday or, some day that they want a day that they wanted to paint. So we now suggest for people that want to paint during the week that they just put it on our Facebook page and say, I’m going to be at Montrose harbor on Wednesday, or wherever they’re going to be, and, we’ll be there. And, you know, people will will say that they would, you know, want to join them. And we found that the pop ups actually helped us a lot. Even now during COVID when you can’t have groups of more than 10 or as people just don’t want to have, you know, larger groupings that the pop ups are another way for us to to have smaller paint outs.

Eric Rhoads 37:44
Yeah, excellent idea. Now, just a different topic entirely. Because a lot of us don’t paint in the city. What do you face when you paint in the city? Do you do run into certain issues, problems, concerns, regulations etc.

Mary Longe 38:03
In Chicago, we’ve never had issues around regulation says, you know, other places, I think the only one that I know of is right downtown at the beam, our famous sculpture, Cloud Gate, and we no longer can paint there. I actually have a letter into the park district to see if I can get us to be able to do that at least once you know, during the year, we paint across the street, but for the most part, that isn’t an issue. I think the issues that we have face are when it’s incredibly busy. And you have people that may not understand that we had this paint out the other day, or a couple weeks ago now. And I realized I hadn’t done any sort of preparation of people who had never painted up before somebody set up in the middle of a sidewalk, you know, and then It’s just like, you can’t do that you have people all over your ears, you’re tripping people, you’re, they’re gonna be tripping you. So it’s there is much about, in a way some safety kind of things for yourself, just setting up your things. And I think some of the other aspects of the city there there is about, you know, we suggest people buddy up just especially somebody wants to walk away to a restroom or something we do always plan to our criteria, you know, for picking paint out places is about having good transportation there because people take the CTA the buses or the L to R paint outs, but also it’s to have a restroom nearby. And so if somebody wants to lead to use the restroom, they have somebody that will at least watch their Their items. So we we think about those things in the parks, you know, there, you may or may not have people wandering over there could be people that are sleeping in the parks, or, some of the great places in the painter like under some of the bridges and things like that and we are always concerned if there’s strange people that might be posing danger or whatever. So we try to get people to just stay in pairs if they can, they don’t always do that. I don’t always do it. But it’s, I think it’s just being very much aware of surroundings around about your materials, but not having them strewn all over. And I think it’s about going to work in painting in the city. It’s also about thinking about your location, and what is that you’re trying to say about it. And so it goes to the painting itself. What are you trying to really express by being there?

Eric Rhoads 41:11
So perhaps, before we wrap up, you could tell people why you think it’s important for them to consider belonging to a group, any group, any plein air group, what’s your best pitch for that?

Mary Longe 41:28
Oh, gosh. Well, I’ve told you our four reasons to for our group, but I think the camaraderie the one I always was last is my most important reason. I think it’s about being with other painters, because from all of that is all the energy that allows us to allows me to do those other things. And so I think, being able to be around other people who you know, love the smell of paint or love it for me, it’s also I always I knew I wanted to be a plein air painter when I saw people painting outside painting a mountain standing in the back of a pickup truck. You know, I was out in Taos, New Mexico, it’s like, wow, I want to do that. And then I want to do it even in the city, probably not in a pickup truck. But to be able to do it with other people to be able to. I’ve I have been in all corners of Chicago in all kinds of corners in Chicago that I had never experienced before. And to be able to stand in one place and really see the city for three hours to see a neighborhood to see the comings and goings in there. See kind of all the different wonderful diversity that that is. Chicago has been I love Chicago so much more than I knew before because I now know it in a whole different way. And, just walking with people downtown Like, wow, I’ve painted there I’ve painted over there, you know, it’s, that’s where my that’s where Joy’s easel fell in the river. That’s where, just lots and lots of stories. So I think it’s it’s about loving an area it’s that camaraderie. And by the way, I’m going to paint while I’m doing all that.

Eric Rhoads 43:24
Well what a great What a great thing to get involved with too if you’re new to a community, you know, so a friend of mine just moved to Santa Fe and I was thinking you know, wouldn’t that be cool for her to get involved right away with a plein air group because that all of a sudden you get to know 30 friends or 50 friends and and makes makes life easier you know when you know people and we all tend to be kind of victims of our you know, our friendships and our you know, our the people we work with and victims isn’t the right word, but we we kind of stick with within our ranks and it’s nice to Be able to get out and meet new people who have different experiences in life, different cultures, different diversity, etc.

Mary Longe 44:07
But it’s definitely just the sense of place you know, when you are painting an area and being able to get to know it, you know, that’s the thing about Chicago now, you know, we paint in Pilsen, the Hispanic area we paint in Chinatown, we paint all over and you’re spending three hours in one place, being able to just take it all in, it’s not just going into a restaurant coming out again or you know, it’s just, it’s just a great way to see it and want to go back to them and and then you probably do have lunch there. So I think that’s part of it that it’s been a great way to get to know an area so yes, moving into an area that would be the first thing I would do is find that are created.

Eric Rhoads 44:55
Yeah, or created and I think that’s important for people listening. You know, a lot of You are or in areas and you don’t think there are any other plein air painters. But you would be surprised. You know, we have had several million downloads of this podcast now around the world, probably 70 8090 countries. And there is the possibility of creating a Plein Air Group even in the smallest town. You’d be surprised to meet even here I’m doing this right now from near Saranac Lake New York. And, it’s a small little town of 2500 people but there’s a whole bunch of plein air painters and they of course have a big plein air event every year. And so I think it’s really important to get you know, created if you don’t have it.

Mary Longe 45:40
I absolutely agree. And I think even when I travel now, I think about that and I look for those groups because it’s a way for me to get I was in Guanajuato, Mexico, and painting and finding other people to paint with. You know, it’s kind of been amazing to me to be able to Take this other places, even if it’s kind of my own Meetup group. So one way for me to, to go and travel as a single person.

Eric Rhoads 46:11
We’re actually working on a product that you’ll be able to dial in any community in the world and find the local plein air painters. We’ve got a little of that now we have one called You can put in a city and you can find somebody, but we’ve come up with a new way to do it. That’s going to be much more robust, and we just got to get it done. Too many things to get done.

Mary Longe 46:38
I think that sounds like a great idea. I would definitely use it, Eric. I think it sounds it sounds like a great way.

Eric Rhoads 46:45
Well, Mary, this has been delightful. You and I met at the FACE conference. That’s right, which was I think you were there the second year first or second year in Miami. Why does it plein air painter go to a conference about figure painting?

Mary Longe 47:04
And, you know, to me a figure is a microcosm of the landscape, you know, so I can make a forehead then I can make a tree in the distance recede. I don’t know I guess it’s it’s more I can paint a tree differently but I think it’s all about seeing and so for me the figure, the portrait is a wonderful way to enhance my plein air painting and vice versa.

Eric Rhoads 47:42
You know the discipline of painting the figure is that if the figure doesn’t look like the figure and you know the model, you’ve got a problem. If something doesn’t look like a tree, you can kind of get away with it. And so it really trains your brain in terms of drawing And more accuracy. We have quite a few people I’d say about a third of the attendees that come to the face conference attend. They are from the plein air convention. So you know there are people who are plein air painters as well. And this year, of course, we’re doing we’ve canceled the figurative art convention and Expo and we’re doing one called realism live and we’ve expanded it. So realism live is not only the figure, not only the portrait, and by the way we go as you know, we go from loose to tight. So you have people who paint very tightly academically, you have people who paint very loosely. And so we’re going to be also doing still life and floral and landscape and you know, the other disciplines so that it’s more like a whole inclusive art conference. And so we’re going to do that in October, so I hope you’ll get a chance to join us.

Mary Longe 48:54
That sounds wonderful, and it sounds like something it’d be a terrific thing to be a part of.

Eric Rhoads 48:59
Absolutely. Well, Mary, thank you so much. I think you’ve given a lot of people some inspiration. And by the way, I shouldn’t be the one teaching marketing. You should be the one teaching marketing you. You are so good. You have you have such great training and skills and, maybe we’ll have to do something on marketing one day.

Mary Longe 49:22
Well, you let me know. I’ll be glad to help.

Eric Rhoads 49:24
All right. Well, terrific. Thank you for joining us on the Plein Air podcast.

Mary Longe 49:29
Well, you’re very welcome. And I appreciate being here.

Eric Rhoads 49:33
Well, thanks again to Mary Longe. She’s very smart lady. She’s doing a great job with plein air Chicago and I want to thank her for her solid ideas are really good ideas. And if you don’t have a club in your area, listen to that one more time. And I would encourage you to start one. She knows exactly how to do this. We need painters together all over the world. And if you don’t have it in your community, you will find or you will encourage others to do some plein air painting and so I think that that was a good interview. Not not so much that I did a good interview that she did a good interview. Anyway You guys ready for some marketing ideas?

Announcer 50:07
This is the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads, author of the number one Amazon bestseller make more money selling your art proven techniques to turn your passion into profit.

Eric Rhoads 50:18
Thank you Jim Kipping. And you know that book. It just keeps surprising me because it keeps selling on Amazon and other places. It’s like every time I turn around, they’re selling out we have to print more and so that’s a pretty cool thing. It’s a nice feeling. Thank you for making that happen. My goal in the marketing minute is to answer your art marketing questions and you can email me anytime Eric@artmarketingcom a.nd try to use your name and your town so I know who you are. It’s a little easier that way. This one is from Jesse. I don’t know if that’s a Jessie she or he in Jesse in Santa Fe who says if I want to become a big name, the kind of artist who’s getting invited to all the best shows the best galleries and getting pursued by people. collectors, how do I do it? Well, Jesse, that is a great goal. It’s very doable. But it is a process and you have to look at marketing as a process. You know that all great things take time, nothing happens quick nothing happens overnight. persistence and consistency are important. I can spend hours on this topic alone i have i’ve spent hours and hours and hours on it in my videos and talk a lot about it in my book, I talk a lot on, you know, with a lot of ideas and things that you can use. I don’t have enough time to do that here. But you need to spend as much time and effort as possible getting great as an artist you want to be as good as you possibly can be. But at some point, you got to just get out there. And you need outsiders to give you advice on when your work is ready to be promoted. And then you need to know that this is a lifetime commitment that if you’re going to continue to sell paintings or try to sell paintings, you’ve got to be committed to a lifetime of marketing. Next you need to start getting noticed a great thing to do is to end As many art competitions as possible, like the plein air salon or the artists and selfie competition, and and get some wins under your belt, even if you’re a category winner, it doesn’t have to be the grand prize you can be a runner up, you can be a second place a third place a fifth place, it doesn’t matter. What you need is something to help building your brand help you help you build your brand and have something to talk about put on your resume branding is the big thing. A known artist is an invited artist, a known artist is a higher priced artist. The more you repeat your visibility campaigns, the more you get noticed, branding is a lifetime commitment, as I said over and over and over and over again for years. Now you can speed it up with with some advertising and things like that. But you also need time. You need publicity, you need shows you need to do things that stand out, get noticed. Sometimes it’s controversy. Sometimes it’s you know, awards. I talked a lot about this and the things that I just mentioned the books and the videos just keep pounding that marketing drum. Time cannot be completely overcome, but advertising can help you speed awareness. And then you just got to keep building on that awareness.

Eric Rhoads 53:08
Now the next question comes from Cindy in Bar Harbor, Maine Who says I see a lot of art competitions, but I don’t know if I should ever enter them. Which ones I should enter? Cindy, it’s a great question. The answer is Yeah, or no. There are a lot of great competitions and prize money is nice, but it’s not a reason to enter anything. I know that sounds awkward. But if you want to enter art competition, you want to win something that’s going to further your career. For instance, many art magazines like mine, Fine Art Connoisseur does artists and selfie competition, Plein Air magazine does the plein air salon competition. And though we have big prize money and a lot of other prizes, what you really want to do is end up with validation. You want to end up with something you can talk about, and most importantly, you want to end up with publicity. So if you got an award, let’s say you got the main weight award from Plein Air salon, you know, we’re doing stories about you, we’re putting you on the cover of the magazine, we’re doing stories about the people who are the the secondary, and third winners and so on. We’re doing stories about category winners. And so you’re getting publicity. And publicity is more valuable than money. I know that seems odd. But you can’t necessarily buy publicity. You can buy advertising, but you can’t buy publicity. And so when you get that opportunity, it’s more valuable. So it’s okay to apply to things that just have prize money and you know, but if they’re, if they’re not going to be able to promote you by giving you articles and things, maybe they’re giving you articles to their list of other artists, but you want to be seen by collectors, you want to be seen by gallery owners. And so, you know, if you win from something like a National Art magazine, like ours or others, then you’re going to be seen by a lot of people by a lot of the right people, museums, collectors, galleries, etc. The key is to enter and then to milk When What I mean by that is that even if it’s a small category, like a still life category or Nocturne category, they don’t get very many entries. And so you might have a better improve chance and a smaller category. Although sometimes you enter the same painting in two or three categories if it’s a fit, and then you want to do press releases, you know, Eric Rhoads just won the best doctor in painting for this national competition, you know, you want to put it on your website, your business cards, everything. I just did a full hour YouTube video on this and you can find it by going to YouTube and searching streamline art video, and look for the one that talks about how to win art competitions. A good marketer looks at every opportunity and asks if there is value to be obtained for it. You could look at it as something to build credibility. You can tell others about it. You can use it to build your list, whatever it is, so don’t focus on the money. Big prizes are nice. But the real thing that you know, I’ll tell you something that the cover plein air magazine is worth a whole lot more than $15,000. To your to your career. I mean, I’ve watched careers launch because they won the plein air salon competition. I’ve watched people go from locally known to nationally known and getting invited to everything. And that’s happening because they’re on the cover that’s happening because they’re featured. It’s not so much happening because they won the $15,000. But that’s getting them there. So think in terms of what can do what you can do to help build your credibility. And I hope that I hope that makes sense. Anyway, if it doesn’t make sense, it should make sense.

Announcer 56:35
This has been the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads. You can learn more at art

Eric Rhoads 56:42
A reminder to sign up for realism live which is going to be the world’s first realism conference covering multiple subjects like landscape still life flowers, portraits, figures, and so much more. You can learn more about that at I also do a blog on Sunday mornings. It’s up to about a quarter million people That’s kind of nice. It talks about life and art and philosophy and things like that. And and so just check it out. It’s called Sunday coffee. And you can find it at You can subscribe. This is always fun. We’ll do it again sometime like next week. I’ll see you then I’m Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of plein air magazine. Remember, it’s a big world out there. Go paint it. We’ll see you. Bye bye.

This has been the plein air podcast with Plein Air Magazine’s Eric Rhoads. You can help spread the word about plein air painting by sharing this podcast with your friends. And you can leave a review or subscribe on iTunes. So it comes to you every week. And you can even reach Eric by email [email protected]. Be sure to pick up our free ebook 240 plein air painting tips by some of America’s top painters. It’s free at Tune in next week for more great interviews. Thanks for listening.


  1. Great interview. I shared this with our Pleinair group, in Fredericksburg,VA.
    I had seen Mary Longe during the on line Painting Critique they had at Pallett and Chisel.


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