Imagine taking off for a year to explore other countries, painting along the way. It may sound great, but there’s the little issue of necessary income. Antrese Wood explains how she kept money flowing in while she painted her way across Argentina.
“Centro Civico,” by Antrese Wood, gouache on paper, 4 x 3 in. Painted in Bariloche, Argentina
A few weeks ago PleinAir Today took a look at Wood’s project, in which she visited and painted all 23 provinces of Argentina, the birthplace of her husband. During that interview, she mentioned that one of the keys to her extended trip (she’s been in Argentina for three years now) has been finding a way to serve and please design clients in the United States while she travels. This bears closer scrutiny, because while some artists can travel just to paint, many will need to keep their other sources of income flowing.
Wood says it may be easier than people think to stay in touch and in business with freelance clients while on the road. The key is Internet service. She says that, contrary to what some may think, this is less of an issue in Argentina than it is in Western Europe — or even in the United States. In Argentina, it is less common to have computers and Internet connections in the home, in large part because the import tax on electronics is huge. Instead, people go to cafes for free Internet. These cafes are often in gas stations. Wood merely needs to find a gas station to find Internet service. This isn’t foolproof. Wood says it pays to know the sports schedule, as fútbol (soccer) games can mean a very crowded and very loud group gathering around the computers to watch. And not every Internet connection is fast — or friendly. “You have to develop the ability to tell which places have the level of connection that you need,” says Wood. “In some towns here, we can tell how safe it is by the Internet connection. Every town has a main park that’s the center of town, and a lot of them have free WiFi. If we roll into town at 11 p.m. and see people in the park with their laptops, we know it is very safe!”
“Mamushka’s,” by Antrese Wood, gouache on paper, 4 x 9 in. Wood says, “Mamushka’s is a famous chocolate store in Bariloche. They also have gourmet hot chocolate and free WiFi…. “
Wood recommends thinking of backup plans for your backup plans and scouting out places for Internet connections wherever you are. One hair-raising situation in Italy reinforced these points. “I assumed that it would be easier to find Internet connection in Europe than here in Argentina, but in Italy I had a really hard time,” she says. “The cafes didn’t have Internet. McDonald’s in Italy has Internet connection, but you have to give them an Italian phone number, which we didn’t have. We asked the employees to please just enter theirs so we could use the free Internet, and they refused. I had a deadline for a client and I spent the full day trying to find a good Internet connection so I could download my work to them. Finally it was about 4:30 p.m. and the project needed to be delivered by 5 p.m., and I was getting desperate. I found a mall that had a big electronics store, like a Best Buy, and they had a big sign for an Apple department. I asked if I could use the Internet and they said no. I asked if I could buy 30 minutes of repair time and use the Internet and they said no. I went away and then came back and begged, and the manager said I could but I had to make it fast, and use my own computer, but not touch the power plug on the computers the store had set up. So I hooked up my computer and started the download — and there was a shift change for the employees. Suddenly three guys started walking very purposefully toward me and the project was downloading — 74% done, 75% done. My husband, who is 6′ 4″, stood between them and me and fielded the questions: ‘What are you guys doing? You can’t do that!’ And so on. My husband completely stalled them, stumbling with his Italian and making the conversation take as long as it could, as the download went to 95%, 96%, 97%. The security guard went to get help, and the download was finished and we ran out of there!”
“Coffee in Carlos Paz 2,” by Antrese Wood, gouache on paper, 4 x 3 in.
The artist says she now rolls into town and immediately researches a good place to get Internet, and two backups. If she has an important phone call, she gets to the place where she will talk an hour in advance, and makes sure everything is working. She pays attention to where electrical outlets are, in case things run longer than her battery can handle. “Assume that everything will go wrong, and have a plan for how it will be handled,” says Wood.
She works on the hardest parts of projects first, or at least the parts that she thinks are most likely to run into technological snags. Then the rest of the project demands less of her and her work environment. But most of all, Wood puts the client first. “I will never do something like the Italy debacle again,” she says. “There were too many unknowns. You have to eliminate the unknowns, and I didn’t do that. The amount of stress was too much. This cannot happen. That’s why I developed a policy of if someone needs something or if I sense a problem coming, I stop the car and take care of the client. If you can’t keep the clients happy, then you can’t keep the lifestyle up.”
Wood painting in Susques, Argentina
With clients like Disney, Wood has to meet deadlines. She will delay a leg of the trip for a week if the client expresses concern or if there’s a chance they will need her when she would otherwise be unavailable. She’ll finish and turn in a project a week early for similar reasons. Wood will even rent a hotel room for a few days so she can work online in the lobby if that is the only dependable place for Internet in the area.
For phone calls, Wood recommends Skype, a voice-over-Internet protocol service that is free for the standard version, and that also offers a deluxe version that more closely mimics the behavior of a phone. For photography, Wood thinks about redundancy. She keeps her photos in three places: on the camera’s memory card, on her laptop, and in a Dropbox folder. However, she suggests leaving your laptop at home if at all possible. “It risks being lost or stolen — it’s something else you will have to worry about,” says Wood. “And in some places it can be seen as flaunting your wealth, because for them it is extravagantly expensive. I try to be really low-key and conscious of that.” Even an iPad is less conspicuous, says Wood.
“Coffee in Carlos Paz 1,” by Antrese Wood, gouache on paper, 4 x 3 in.
And please, be up front with the clients. “If you have a level of trust with your clients, it’s not a reach to say, ‘I’m going to be traveling, and here’s how it would work,'” says Wood. “The clients I have are people I have worked with for a while, so they know they can trust me, and they think it’s cool to have somebody working from the road — they like hearing about what’s going on. I make sure they are comfortable with it. I tell them if there are going to be two days where I won’t be accessible. And I tell them that if they ever feel uncomfortable with it, I can stay in a town with Internet until it’s all taken care of.”