Painting in public. Or not.

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

It should be fairly obvious to everyone by now, that I am not a people person. It's not that I don't like people (well, most people), it's that I'm just really, really uncomfortable around them. 

If you don't believe me, just go ahead and try to strike up a conversation. I'll want to chat (I really will) but in the end, we'll both be hearing crickets. (Or worse. )

And the thing is, the thoughts in my head are often far more interesting (albeit more inappropriate) than what comes out of my mouth.

It is for this reason that painting in public is excruciatingly painful for me. Because, you know... people. And while most folks are delightful, some are less than sublime and others are downright offensive. I get it, they don't know what to say either. I mean, artists are weird and you never know when one of them is going to cut off an ear or develop syphilis, right?

Trouble is, I don't have the nerve to speak my mind -- in person.  However, in print I'm such a charmer. That's a joke, by the way.

So, here, in no particular order...  are 20 comments and questions heard while painting in public -- followed by my responses. And my thoughts. 

"Are you an artist?" 


What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: Of course not, I’m a dental hygienist. See my utensils?

"Did you paint that?"


What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: Actually no, I just tossed the guy who was here into the ocean so I could steal his canvas.

"I can’t draw a straight line."


What I say: That’s funny, neither can I. (smiles)

What I'm thinking: Well aren't you original. It's not like I haven't heard that 1000 times before.

"I don’t have a creative bone in my body." 


What I say: Oh, heh heh. Um.

What I'm thinking: I’m not sure what you want me to say here. I'm sorry?

"My Great Aunt was an artist."


What I say: Oh, that's nice.

What I'm thinking: I'm so freaking happy for you.

"Do you make a living from art?"


What I say: It can be difficult, but I make out okay.

What I'm thinking: That depends. Do you have a better offer?

"Do you have a day job?"


What I say: I'm an artist.

What I'm thinking: Would it be fun if I told you I was a brain surgeon?
ps: It's 11'oclock in the morning. This is daytime.

"I wish I could paint." 


What I say: You might surprise yourself.

What I'm thinking:  I wish I had an invisibility shield. Zap. Crap. Nope, not working.

"You are so creative." 


What I say: Thank you.

What I'm thinking:  I’ll bet you’re proud of me too.

"How much would you charge for a painting of ____________?" 


What I say: For this size? Around $100.00.

What I'm thinking: Thanks for asking but I know you're just making small talk and have absolutely no intention of buying my work so shoo.

"How long will it take you to finish that?" 


What I say: Oh, another hour or so.

What I'm thinking: Four hundred and thirty-three hours. And 17 seconds. Give or take. Thanks for asking.

"Do you show your work in, you know, galleries?" 


What I say: Sometimes.

What I'm thinking: Mostly I show in meat-packing factories. But galleries might be something for me to look into. Thank god I ran into you.

"Do you know _________? She’s an artist too. I love her work."


What I say: Yes, I know her.

What I'm thinking: Yes, I know her. She's kind of a shithead and the fact that you like her work makes me question your judgement. 

"Did you go to school for art?" 

What I say: Yes.

What I'm thinking: I thought you might be a snob but now I know for sure.

"Did you draw that out first?"


What I say: No.

What I'm thinking: If I say yes does that make me a failure in your eyes?

"What are you painting?"


What I say: Oh, just that boat over there.

What I'm thinking: Ok Sherlock. It’s a boat. A freaking boat. It’s that boat, in the harbor, right in front of me. Can you stop talking now?

"Is that paint by number?" 


What I say: Haha. No.

What I'm thinking: Haha. I'll be your wife regrets marrying you.

"Is that from memory?"


What I say: No.

What I'm thinking: Yes. I am Just. That. Good. Would you like me to paint you a horse now?

"Do you paint by heart?"


What I say: Not usually.

What I'm thinking:  I don’t even know what that means.

"Good luck to you!" 


What I say: Thank you.

What I'm thinking: Seriously? Good luck to me? WTF?

"Can I take a photo?" 


What I say: Sure

What I'm thinking: What not? You’ve stolen my time, you might as well steal my soul too.

Yeah, I know that was 21 comments/questions. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

And now, because I can't be the only artist who has painted in public (with expected results), I have created a handy visual aid.

You're welcome.

No, really.


  1. LOVE this! (and for the record, also love conversations with you, though it has been far too long!)


  2. I've had to deal with some of those. Also have heard these gems; public glassblowing questions:

    1. What are you doing?
    A: Glassblowing
    Real A: Trying to get my work done. Trying to deal with distractions.

    2. Is it hot?
    A: Yes, 1066 - 1500 degrees Celsius.
    Real A: There is fire blasting out of the reheat furnace. FIRE. You can see the heat waves.

    3. Do you burn yourself all the time?
    A: No.
    Real A: Yes, look at my hideously scarred face. There is no way to learn how not to burn yourself, and being in a hotshop is as dangerous as being in a kitchen.

    4. Do you only make orange stuff?
    A: No, it’s just 'red hot.'
    Real A: Yep. That’s why you’ve never seen a piece of glass that wasn’t orange. Did you really already forget the answer to ‘is it hot?’

    5. Do you bake it in that oven over night?
    A: No, that’s an annealer, similar to a kiln for clay. It brings the glass down in temperature slowly over night.
    Real A: “Bake?” Seriously? What reason could there be for needing to bake something that was made at over 1000 degrees?

    6. So do you just, like, sit around making bongs all day?
    A: No, I don't make them.
    Real A: Go away. I hate you now.

    7. But how much would it cost to make me one?
    A: I don’t make them.
    Real A: Seriously, go away. You’ve embarrassed yourself and you don’t even realise it.

    8. What kind of vase is that?
    A: It’s a sculpture.
    Real A: It’s clearly a jellyfish sculpture, what is wrong with you?

    9. But so then what's it for?
    A: You just enjoy it.
    Real A: Do I really have to explain what 'sculpture' means?

    10. Is that an ashtray?
    A: It’s a turtle.
    Real A: Yeah, I got a BFA so I could make garbage that will smell like death. Where do you think you’re going to put the ashes?

    11. Are you making light bulbs?
    A: No, those are made in factories.
    Real A: You must have seen a light bulb at least once in your life.

    12. Do you make beer bottles and stuff?
    A: No, those are also made in factories.
    Real A: You really think you've been buying 6 hand-made beer bottles plus beer for under $20? What do you think minimum wage is in Canada?

    13. You must be so scared of breaking stuff all the time.
    A: When glass is at least 4 mm thick it retains its impact strength.
    Real A: You’re right, there’s no way to develop skills to deal with that. I’m terrified ALL the time.

    14. Have you ever heard of that Dale Choo-loo-li-ly guy?
    A: Dale Chihuly, yes.
    Real A: The only glassblower you can think of hasn't blown glass since the 70s, hasn't designed anything new since the 90s, and of course I've heard of him. Now you're going to tell me about his school, which I've attended, his glass ceiling or chandelier which he does everywhere, and his restaurant.

    15. So how easy is it to make stuff?
    A: After 4 years of school and at least 6 years of practice, it's pretty easy.
    Real A: That one I actually do give the real answer for. :)


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