Afraid to Draw or Paint in Public?

Painting outdoors, pencil, kgt

Unknown person painting outdoors, pencil, KGT

Overheard on social media-

Person A tweeted: I’m afraid of drawing in public. Person B tweeted: I’m afraid of drawing in private! Person C responded: I’m BECOMING afraid!

We often hear how the fear of public speaking is the number one fear of the general populace in our culture. But for artists, maybe we have our own fears at the top of the list, like fear of drawing or painting in a public place.

Students have an edge if they are part of a class that goes out together to draw or paint. Have you ever joined such a class? I took a plein air painting class in Taos one summer with Don Ward. The class was made up of about half a dozen people of various ages and backgrounds, and fortunately a pretty funny and friendly bunch. We all hung together, and went to different locations every day. No fears, that time.

Diane with pastels in Niwot, KGT

Diane with pastels in Niwot, KGT

Even if you just take a sketch book and sit down to draw, you may likely get curious onlookers, especially if you are in a more busy public place. For some reason, people even feel free to watch over your shoulder and make comments or ask questions. No wonder it’s sometimes scary!



Supposing you are visiting a place with fascinating buildings, should you be brave and just sketch, so you won’t lose the chance to do something you don’t get the chance to do very often? Have you done this? Did you have to overcome a fear?

Various sketches, various sketchbooks, KGT

Various sketches, various sketchbooks, KGT

There is always the option of making photographs and drawing from them later. We don’t always get the time to sketch, like when on vacation and moving from place to place. I do this a lot, why not?

When I was looking through my past sketchbooks for this topic, I realized I draw from photos a lot, and from magazine pictures and even from pictures I see on the internet. Drawing happens in private, all the time. It’s good to be in a quiet place and take time to just draw in solitude, too. Fewer interruptions, and a chance to concentrate is nice when we can get it.

Still, I’m curious to know if you artists out there feel comfortable drawing or painting on your own in public. I don’t see many artists doing this, do you? Maybe we should all get braver, and give it a go now and then.

P.S. Longtime plein air painter Jason Emery is a testament to the rewards of keeping up the effort to paint outdoors.  He says, “Quick decisions and confident intention are key when painting out-of-doors; especially at the end of day, I love that challenge; it demands recording only important elements.”

I know Jason has both painted with other friends, and on his own. Perhaps when you get down to the business of making your painting, the fears and distractions will begin to melt away.


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6 Responses to “Afraid to Draw or Paint in Public?”

  1. Janet Ledoux Says:

    Yes! I do this all the time. In the areas of coastal Maine where I live it’s common practice among artists. There are times that the artists are cheek by jowl along a particularly spectacular stretch of ocean front. 😉


    • Karen Says:

      It’s nice you have a welcoming place to paint along your ocean front. I’m sure you feel secure and enjoying the fact there are others out there with you painting away!


  2. Antje Says:

    I so appreciate that you raise this topic. Yes, I’m afraid to paint in public. Drawing not so much, but putting up the easel and drawing attention to myself as if I was some great painter – really horrible for me! As a result, every plein air session takes ages to prepare because I have to overcome my fear AND find a place that is 1) paintworthy and 2) deserted so that I don’t have to deal with people. It’s hard enough for me to focus on the subject, to see it right, to simplify etc. I just don’t think I can muster that sort of attention if I also have to worry about people. It sounds sad, doesn’t it?


    • Karen Says:

      Not sad, just very truthful. When you take the time to find the paint-worthy place, your hopes are raised for a good outcome. Then people coming along can create added tension. Maybe if we have a little “speech” prepared that might serve to downplay our fears? Just a “hi folks, how’s your day?” thing. Defer the attention away from your easel? No apologies for the painting they see that is in a rough form, most likely. I used to politely say things like, “what you see here is going to change. Want to come back in a few hours?” Of course they rarely come back. Unless you are at the bottom of a trailhead! Good luck Antje. Maybe take a friend along? -Karen


      • Antje Says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I don’t really understand why painting outdoors is so very loaded with stuff for me, but it helps to know that others have been through this, too. I’ll try to take a friend along – lovely idea! Thanks Karen.


      • Karen Says:

        I saw your recent painting on your blog, which is lovely. Looks like you chose a good spot to paint!


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