Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Painting at the market was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before, it was exciting, intense, and to my surprise, the most difficult plein air location I've worked in to-date. Although it's been a few years since I created this painting (it was pre-covid) the experience made such and impression that I remember it like it was yesterday. Here's the story:
I'd been to the Tuesday Market plenty of times before, except this time as I wandered around I wasn't looking for vegetables or flowers, I was looking for a scene to paint. Once I'd found a vantage point that captured my attention, I began to set up my easel. It's a quick process and because I've painted in cities, fairs, and markets before, I'm well practiced at setting up in a crowd.
Typically there are curious glances when I start taking supplies out, but once I'm setup and it becomes obvious I'm going to paint, people usually go back to whatever they were doing. There might be a few comments, but almost no one comes over at this early stage to see what I'm up to. That was not the case at the market, immediately several groups of people came over and crowded around my easel. Sorry to disappoint them with a blank surface, I explained I was just starting and that it would be a while before there was anything to look at. Despite my apologetic disclaimer, most people stayed to watch as I began sketching.
Sketch complete, my next step is usually to create an underpainting. In the underpainting stage, things look very... abstract. Not at all the realistic scene you'd expect to see from someone painting plein air. The size of the crowd around me waxed and waned during this stage, but there was always a steady stream of people watching and asking questions about the process. Some asked why I blocked in odd colors, or wanted to know why I'd selected a particular color, others wanted to know what I would do next. As a plein air artist I am used to people stopping to have a look, chat, ask questions, even take pictures. I really enjoy talking with people while I paint because answering questions and public interaction is part of working outside, but this was on a level I had never experienced before.
As the painting progressed the market seemed to get busier, and I learned a fundamental lesson. Crowds draw crowds. At one point there were so many people encircling my easel I could no longer see the scene I was painting. I had to ask people if they could move to the side. I've done several painting demonstrations, but I've never had a crowd of people around me like that before.
It definitely felt a little overwhelming at times, but I tried to relax and just paint as much as possible. To my surprise, I finished the painting on-site in one session! When I look at the painting now it's funny because I remember the intense experience of creating it, but the scene I depicted is of a calm, quiet market. I think I inadvertently created the market the way I'd usually experienced it as a shopper, instead of a painter.
I've plein air painted at the Eastern States Exposition (which is a giant fair for all the states of New England).
The Big E (as it's known) regularly sees 50-100+ thousand visitors a day, but I can honestly say that painting at the Big E was no where near as intense as painting in this small farmers market on a random Tuesday.