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Painting in New Settings

No doubt the true painter can find a universe of interest in his immediate surroundings, and many artists have done just that. Settings in early Renaissance pieces are rarely specific. The Dutch School repeated endlessly the interiors of their homes, taverns and churches, or painted the less-than-dramatic fields and seascapes around them. Morandi focused on bottles. But successful painters do look further afield now, and for several reasons:


Paul Gauguin

1. for interest, to increase their appreciation of the visual world

2. to extend their skills by tackling new subjects, or old subjects in new settings

3. to extend the market for their work: a good painting of a popular location is vastly to be preferred to holidays snaps or tourist souvenirs

4. to take a vacation themselves, albeit a working one

Finding the Area

Two matters will guide your choice of budge travel destination: what will sell, and the costs of the painting expeditions needed to get the material.

Reputations are not created overnight, and painters usually specialize, becoming well known for their scenes of Italian life, the lonely splendor of the Rockies, the picturesque hamlets of Cornish coast, etc. The settings are chosen carefully, to exploit and cautiously extend an existing market. Viewed purely as paintings, the local industrial plant may provide the more interesting challenges, but folk rarely hang such pieces in their living rooms, and opportunities here are usually limited to commissions from the companies concerned. Subject matter is important, and gallery owners in particular develop a keen eye for openings. You should take their advice. You may have fallen in love with that unspoiled part of Corsica, but that is of no interest whatever to the average picture purchaser. Joe public has never been to Corsica and the scenes of winding roads and little villages tucked into forested hills could be of anywhere. Try Greece or Venice, but paint them in a really distinctive way.

Developing an eye for what makes a good picture takes time, and is what contributors touring the local art show talk about. What have their colleagues noticed that they have missed? Spotting opportunities becomes even more difficult in unfamiliar settings, and you'd be well advised to think carefully before setting out. Maps and guides should allow you to visualize the landscape. Exhibitions, catalogues, books and the Internet show what is selling, and it is in these categories that your work will have to be placed. Will the new area allow that? Check again with photographs in guide books and holiday brochures, or pay a short visit to the area first.

Value for Money: Budget Travel

Having found the area or areas of possible interest, the task switches to finding the best rates for travel and accommodation. The local travel company can advise, but better rates for budget travel are to be found on the Internet, particularly if you can be flexible on hours of departure and time of the year. Some places are expensive all year round, though even here there may be bargains in neighboring areas out of season. You'll have to balance the time lost in traveling against the extra cost of staying at the ideal location. Some places are only practicable at holiday times, and artists have to put up with high prices and unwelcome attention. Again, plan each day carefully, with alternatives should the weather turn bad, or a bus strike freeze local transport.

Above all, have the essentials in place before setting out. A cheap, comfortable hotel that understands the object of your stay, and that can organize a car and pack sandwiches if necessary. Laden down with painting gear, you do not want to be haggling with local hoteliers for the best rates, or trying in a foreign tongue to find the bus that may or may not be going to your destination. Everyone supposes that they know better than travel industry professionals, but a little research destroys that illusion. All hotels have unused accommodation, and there exists (as anyone who has worked in the industry will attest) a complex chain of deals to ensure that the rooms are filled by any means possible. Likewise empty airline seats. Cut yourself a good deal by getting to know what already exists.


Even when they've secured their budget holiday package, possibly at less than half the going rate, painters still need to make every moment count. There is no time for long trips into neighboring cities to buy what has been overlooked, and in many cases no art stores anyway. Seasoned painters check beforehand — taking a weekend painting trip if necessary — that all equipment is in good working order. That canvases or fiberboard panels can be easily transported and packed when wet. That a lightweight second easel is packed. That they have sufficient paper for sketches, and a good range of paints if they're painting extensively on the spot. Most particularly, the camera should be a trusted model they're thoroughly familiar with, and which comes with a spare body and a range of lenses. Obvious precautions, but sometimes overlooked in the excitement of new fields to conquer.


'Te Reroia' by Paul Gauguin. 1897. Courtauld Institute Galleries. London. Colors rather muddy but with more variety than first appears. Gray-browns and grey greens used to model flesh tones.