In Pieces

4 minutes.

As I dashed across the road with my canvas held carefully, the paint was still wet and it was almost the 5 o’clock deadline. It had been a long, hot day that had started with the luxury of time and ended in a panicked rush and dash to the finish. Was I the only artist that had brought a T-square to the competition?

Naively, I had thought that painting from 9:30am to 5pm would be ample time to complete my vision, that painting outdoors would be pleasant and I would return home refreshed and relaxed from a peaceful days painting. In reality I managed my time badly, the sun and wind dried my paints, blew my paper palettes all over the place and continually shook my canvas. This is why it’s called a challenge. At the end of it I was exhausted, felt like I’d run a marathon physically and emotionally and was far from happy with the result. I was in such a panic by the end of it that I actually forgot to take a photo of the finished painting!!

The most unexpected and wonderful thing for me though, was the people. Now, I’m happy to have a bit of banter, and quickly tried to ignore people standing directly behind me all the time, but the lovely people of Porthcawl surprised me. As well as the usual comments and jokes that you get from sitting on the pavement doing something strange, there were the wonderful overheard snippets from people (especially children) as they were passing. The occasional gasp of wonder or ‘wow’ from a kid can really lift your spirits and make you smile while you struggle to keep your canvas upright in the breeze. One girl told her mum as she walked by that she thought my painting was a puzzle. Another chap who took the time to chat to me at length commented that it was like a broken stained glass window. Instant feedback like this is fantastic and never happens in the studio.

Here is a photo of me at the competition and very early on into the process:

Happily thinking I have loads of time left!

So, in case you are thinking of having a go at an outdoor painting challenge yourself, here is a photo of my entire kit before I started:


Things I packed I wish I hadn’t:

  • So many paints – I think using a limited palette, or pre-mixing some colours to take with me would have saved me lots of time.
  • Such a big canvas – I wanted to push myself on my first ever timed challenge, but perhaps a 24″ by 30″ canvas was a little on the ambitious side…..
  • Sketchbook and pencils – preliminary sketches are great practice and usually the way I work, but I wasted far too much time sketching my surroundings instead of just getting the paint on the canvas!
  • Small brushes – the temptation to get lost in the details was my undoing.

Things I didn’t pack I wish I had:

  • More water – I ended up using all my drinking water to wash my brushes and renew my painting water as it muddied.
  • Another jam jar – I paint with at least 2 containers of water (usually 3) – one for resting my brushes in while in use so they don’t dry out and one for adding clean water to my paint to get the right consistency.
  • A rounded brush – with so many pointy bits in my design, it was a rookie error to forget this type of brush and have to rely on a filbert instead.
  • Sunscreen – being out in the direct sun from 9:30am to 5pm without any sunscreen meant that I burnt.
  • A hat – see above!
  • A bigger cushion, or a chair/foam mat – after sitting on the floor for 7 and a half hours, when I tried to stand up and walk I couldn’t! 
  • A flask of tea – enough said.

Ultimately, the real thing I needed was more time, or a more disciplined way of working to make the most of the time I had. It was a tough lesson, but I really learnt a lot from doing the challenge. To check out the rest of the entries, see my finished “Pieces of Porthcawl” painting and find out who wins the competition, follow Art Challenge Wales on their facebook page, website or on twitter @artinwales.

So – would I like to do it again next year?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz says:

    What a great challenge to undertake! Well done for doing it and I hope the feeling has now come back to your lower half. Kindest x


    1. artistgemma says:

      Thanks Liz! Pins and needles in my legs have gone now, it’s just the pins I’m on waiting for the results! 🙂


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