First Day Out
By Robert Beck
There is a whole story about how weird it was to be painting in the 65-degree sunshine on the 15th of February, but it sure did feel great. Like it said in my friend’s email, the first days of climate change are the best.
The observe-and-respond process of painting from life benefits from regular exercise, and cityscapes require practice. I had some rust to shake out of my system. The shadows would be the big test. The sun is still low, and the cast shadows would sweep like the hands of a clock. I put a quick drawing in place, mapping their positions. That took the first 30 minutes. In less than an hour the food cart was in the dark. By the time I was done painting, the sun lit sides of the buildings and the sidewalk too. It’s fast.
The changing illumination is just part of the fun. I enjoy talking to people as I work.
The art student. This is what he wanted to be doing. Not just wearing the hat but registering his response to the world around him and giving it a name. You could see the flicker in his eyes as I talked to him about mapping the shadows.
The teacher of 36 years with the camera. It was a gift from her kids when she retired, and now it’s her most prized possession, hanging from her cart where she can grab it. She loves taking photos of dogs.
The guy with the doge de Bordeaux (French Mastiff) named Lilly, wearing a replica of the bat necklace Angelica Houston wore in the Addam’s Family. Lilly is a sloppy kisser but a real cutie.
The woman who wanted to bring her daughter back later in the week to see me work. I’m not sure she understood I wouldn’t be there. While I was talking to her, the coffee-and-pastry cart next to the Halal one was taken away without me noticing. I looked up, and it was gone.
The woman who had never seen an artist painting on the street. She was clearly delighted. I’m sure she called her grandchildren as soon as she got home.
Of course, there was a big scary guy who was talking loudly to himself. He was in the periphery most of the time, keeping his eye on me, but he never came close. Such is the power of art.
You can contact Robert through his website at robertbeck.net
Read other Weekend Columns here.
Beautiful. I love these art stories and paintings.
I finally made it to the Hopper exhibition (this is the last weekend, if anyone else has been meaning to go). It was a good reminder that the light in New York is one of the city’s great treasures. When I lived elsewhere, it was one of the things I especially missed.
Lovely painting. thank you for the rundown on how one paints in plein air! This painting does have a feeling of Hopper about it. Saw the exhibit for the second time yesterday – very moving and exhilarating experience. Today is the last day. If you can, GO.
What a wonderful article! Keep ‘‘em coming…
I love this painting! I”m guessing it’s 79 st facing west ? As if you were standing in front of the old Goodwill facing Broadway? I’m guessing the tall scary guy is the dude who always hangs out around 79 st intersection. He has become much less belligerent and almost polite now when asking for change.