Inspiration on the Open Road: How to Paint What You See

I’m a fan of the Sunday drive for a variety of reasons: I love the act of being on the open road without a destination, the scenery and finding subject matter for my photography. My favorite way to spend a day is to get in the car and just go, and see where the road takes me.

So when I had the opportunity to meet award-winning acrylic artist William Brody and see his winning painting of a vintage road sign, Curtain Call, at the 2016 Signature and Master Artist Exhibition of the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society in Cincinnati, I was intrigued. (You can read about Brody’s winning art in the Spring 2017 issue of Acrylic Artist.)

I asked Brody for some advice for artists who are in need of inspiration for fresh subject matter for their work. His answer surprised me. His first piece of advice—stay in town. This painter of Americana, or perhaps better described as the conservationist of our past, had this to say. “The first thing artists should do is look right under their own noses. If they’re searching for Americana to paint like I do, look in their own town—it’s sure to have something of interest,” Brody advises.

Reflections of a Diner (20x30, acrylic on board) William Brody, acrylic artist

Reflections of a Diner (20×30, acrylic on board) William Brody, acrylic artist

Brody went on to remind that time isn’t always on our side, as the artist experienced first-hand. “A building I painted took me 20 years to get around to painting. I was lucky it was still there when I finally decided to paint it, for shortly thereafter, it was torn down,” he admits.

Oftentimes we know what we’re looking for in a subject, but perhaps the timing is wrong to paint it right then, or we’re in the middle of another project. When we were limited to film cameras, we were frugal with our photos, due in part to the cost. Now, with the advent of digital cameras and even the high level of performance of phones with cameras, there’s no reason not to record, in great detail, everything you see that inspires.

OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS

Once you’ve scoured your town and exhausted the options for painting inspiration, then it’s time to travel. Brody suggested calling on old friends. Not only do you get to catch-up, but they will also have great insight into where you should explore for inspiration.

After exhausting your friends-to-visit list, then why not simply explore the open road?! “I call it open mind, open road. You pick a direction and go,” Brody explains.

William Brody’s 8 Tips for Traveling the Open Road

  • Ensure your travel partner is comfortable with wandering and having no set schedule. Not all  travelers are well suited for the where-the-wind-takes-us style of travel.
  • Take every interesting road you see on the way to your final destination.
  • Travel old alignments and the original roads. The original roads cutting through old towns and villages, are overlooked for the faster, more direct routes of new roads and highways. But it’s the old roads that take you to the best spots for inspiration.
  • Stop! Double back, and go get that picture. This may be the only time you’ll be here. If you have the opportunity to return, the object or view will likely be gone. It’s now or never.
  • Plan for alone time. My wife once asked me, don’t you have enough barn photos? My reply was, no, never! So be open to your companion staying back in town while you go out on shorter scouting missions.
  • Take notes. Trust me, you’ll never remember where you were, the name of all the towns and roads—you just won’t.
  • Be open to the idea of new subject matter. So it’s not something you usually paint, but the point of the trip is to get inspired and that often means getting out of your comfort zone.
  • Pack Smart. Bring extra memory cards, batteries, charger cords, maps and notebooks. Also, repare for an emergency—bring snacks, water, a fully charged phone and a car assistance membership is nice, too.

You may also like these articles:

COMMENT