As artists, we usually create art in the privacy of our studio away from the eyes of the general public. We may even feel more comfortable making art this way, where our little failures and experiments can be done relatively safely, and where we won’t feel the prying eyes of outsiders.

plein air painting in front of live audience

However, if we can get past the reservations we may have about painting in front of people, we can experience a new stage in our creative work… one that is not just exhilarating but rewarding as well.

I have been an artist who has worked at making art in front of people for nearly two decades, whether sketching, painting, or making television commercials. I’m not going to lie… it really freaked me out at first! I felt a lot of pressure to perform and was afraid to make mistakes. But after awhile I got used to it, and I even enjoy it. It is now something that I am known for –  and I embrace it as a quality that helps me stand out and it makes me unique.

As many of Lori’s readers (and Lori herself) are experts in Plein Air painting, it goes without saying that being able to paint in front of others is hugely important. Being outdoors isn’t always predictable… not only does strange weather creep in unannounced, but strangers often do as well! Here are a few tips to help you feel okay, even glad, when you’re being watched.

“Realize that your audience actually wants you to succeed.” ~Mike Roy

The first tip is to realize that your audience actually wants you to succeed. This is a tactic that helps those afraid of public speaking, and it will help us as well. They would much rather see us do well than fail… and even if we do fail, they probably won’t know it! Remember that your skills are likely much more advanced that theirs… and when the shadow tint on that little tree is a little too purple, they probably won’t notice.

Another tip is that we need to realize that we possess creative skill that most others don’t have. We spend so much time honing that skill that we forget what it’s like to not have it. Put yourself in the observer’s shoes… listen to their amazed tone. That’s usually genuine! Instead of feeling self-conscious, practice empathy and focus on the fact that you’re giving a gift to the other person by letting them in on your creative process.

how to feel comfortable making art for a live audience
Lori McNee speaking at 2015 Plein Air Convention

They also may be chatty, and you may not know what to say when they speak. If this is the case, don’t worry… unless they ask you a direct question, you don’t actually need to respond to everything they say. Seeing you paint takes them to a subconscious place, and they may speak in a very stream-of-consciousness style… don’t feel like you have to respond to every comment. Knowing this releases you from any self-imposed pressure you may have to carry on a conversation. If they ask lots of questions that you find distracting, politely turn the conversation around and ask them questions instead… it makes them do all the thinking!

Finally, realize that you are building an audience that is interested in your process and your work. Many people that view you painting live may become so emotionally invested that they buy your work on the spot! Even if they don’t, seeing you paint plants social seeds that you may never know the fruits of until later. In any case, it’s a good idea to carry business cards or marketing materials around with you so you can offer them. It’s not sleazy selling…it’s a gift, a memento of their experience. They may even ask you to sign it (hint: you should do it!)

So the next time you’re out painting and an audience gathers, embrace the opportunity. As with anything you practice, you will get better at it and even learn to enjoy it!

Guest author/artist: Mike Roy is an Artist, Coach, and founder of He enjoys helping artists overcome the obstacles that prevent them from having fulfilling, sustainable creative work they love. If you have creative myths that need busting, visit and get a free Artist Resource Kit.