How to Handle Panhandlers When Painting En Plein Air in the City

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People with a hand out will occasionally be in the picture when you paint en plein air in the city. Here’s how to handle panhandlers.

In certain areas of Los Angeles (and I suppose in any large city), a plein air painter can expect to be solicited by a panhandler for a few coins. If the artist handles the situation properly, the encounter can be a good experience for both the artist and the asker.

All in a Days Work

Some panhandlers would rather work than beg, especially if it is honorable work. What’s more honorable than to be the subject of a portrait.  It can be a source of (excusable) pride for them when it’s artfully done on a street corner under the admiring eyes of pedestrians and motorists.

Once when painting on Hollywood Blvd., I asked the panhandler if he was willing to work for the money he was asking for. He said, “Yes.” I told him I would give them a certain amount if he would pose for me.

Since then, most panhandlers I’ve presented this proposition to have agreed and have been painted on the spot.

Relax, It’ll Be Alright

Whenever your subject tries too hard to pose, they get stiff. So I tell them to relax and tell me about themselves. I’ve heard some very interesting stories. Regarding my subject on Hollywood Blvd.; My model broke out in a song. He had a beautiful operatic voice that stopped pedestrians and motorists alike. I soon discovered that I had to work fast, as their patience often wears thin quickly. I can seldom keep them for more than ten or fifteen minutes.

I met Ole (above) in a park in Pasadena, CA. Along with his very pronounced worry lines and goatee were his very dark, black eyes. I talked to him about Jesus.

Some Panhandlers Are Christians

Ole, like many street people has heard about The Lord. That’s usually the case if they have stayed in a Christian-sponsored homeless shelter. Many of them profess being a Christian. Some of them struggle in life because they refuse to obey the scriptures. I’m not judging; some have voluntarily made that admission. Others have deep emotional or psychological challenges. Either way, God continues to reach out to them.

Here’s a bit of advise for the money exchange. First, have a little cash (one to five dollars) tucked away that you can easily get to. I keep a couple of bills in a front pocket; tucked inside a Talent Search tract. Don’t open your wallet or purse to remove money. Next, explain clearly that you will paint their portrait in exchange for a certain amount of money. Tell them about how long it will take to complete it; nothing longer than 20 minutes. If you intend to keep the painting, which I always do, explain that you will do so. Finally, after the painting is complete, discretely slip them the money. That’s easy to do if it’s inside a gospel tract.

How do you handle panhandlers?

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