This page was last modified on 31 March 2014, at 02:44
Photo Credit: Used with permission of the artist: Mitchell Long
It’s a cold and cloudy St. Patrick’s Day at Jackson Square. The area, usually teeming with tourists and artists, is relatively empty. Many people are in other areas of the French Quarter partaking in festivities or are at home avoiding the chilly weather. Only a handful of artists, Tarot card readers, and a couple of Mardi Gras Indians are scattered around the Square. Taking advantage of the lull, one artist, Mitchell Long, works on a painting. He eschews holiday activities and warmth for the opportunity to work and sell his wares.
Advancing His Talent
Growing up in Winter Park, Florida, Mitchell realized his talent for drawing at an early age. A self-described “one trick pony,” his natural affinity for sketching and painting led him to pursue art.  His parents were supportive of his decision and wanted him to achieve his dream of being an artist. With jobs in journalism and advertising, they became nervous upon discovering how difficult the life of an artist can be, but they were still supportive. Mitchell’s uncle was a professor and a photographer in New York, and his experiences gave Mitchell an idea of the troubles with which an artist has to contend. After high school, Mitchell decided to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design. He then went on to attain his Master of Fine Arts in Painting from Louisiana State University.
After obtaining his M.F.A., Mitchell relocated to New Orleans. With his extensive background in painting, he got jobs working at the New Orleans Museum of Art and at the Historical New Orleans Collection. Over the past ten years, Mitchell has taught two drawing classes at Tulane University. Although he enjoyed teaching there, he felt that he was not there long enough to have an impact on the department or to develop his own authentic teaching style. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, Mitchell made the decision to focus entirely on his art.
Describing the Method
Mitchell’s style of painting is called “en plein air,” a French expression which describes the act of painting outside or on the spot. His favorite scenes to paint are ones that are familiar to him. He has an ongoing series of kitchen interiors and New Orleans landscapes. Observers often mistake his pieces for scenes of Europe, but he “only paints what is right in front of him.” He never uses photographs because “landscapes are very complex and a lot of information is lost in a picture.” Using a photograph can become a crutch for people, but he likes to challenge himself by condensing space and working in ways that relate to how the eyes see. By painting from sight, he can create solutions to spatial or compositional problems that a camera could not solve.
Mitchell describes his style as realistic, yet abstract. He uses a panorama-type perspective. He gets his inspiration from studying paintings from the Renaissance through to contemporary artists in his free time. His love of art and art history leads him to be on the lookout for paintings that might inspire him. Although he has used oil, acrylic is his favorite paint. After discovering the variety of effects it could produce, he fell in love with the medium. It is also a very practical type of paint because it dries fast, is cheaper than oil, and it allows him to change his technique to keep his paintings fresh. He spends at least an hour on each painting, and the paintings that he spends more time on sell for more. The prices of the paintings he sells at Jackson Square range from 50 to 100 dollars.
Making a Profit
Working on his paintings is Mitchell’s only job. He has been able to sustain himself solely off of the profits of his art since 2009. The majority of his profits come from sales to tourists. However, “it’s not an easy life.” He is always busy, and there is no set routine. On average, he paints five paintings in a week, but he cannot paint every day.
Each day is different. He either prepares paintings, constructs frames, applies for grants, or markets his work. Mitchell shows paintings in Jackson Square, at galleries, and on his website. He also sells some via an account on etsy.com. Since he has to sell his work to make money, he very rarely keeps anything for himself. However, he photographs everything and posts the pictures to Facebook. He feels like he can determine the strength of a painting by the amount of “likes” that it receives on Facebook.
He admits that it is difficult getting space to set up in the Square and transporting his work. In the summer and on weekends, the Square is usually full by 10 a.m. During festivals, people will often camp out in order to get a spot. Mitchell blames the lack of space on the city’s abundance of issued licenses. He would like to be able to show larger pieces in the Square, but his only form of transportation is a bicycle with a small attachment to the back, which limits the size that he can carry.
Focusing on the Art
Although there are difficulties in the life of an artist, there are also rewards. As a “complete entrepreneur,” he is free to do what he wants. Also, the process of painting is the most important aspect for him. He feels like a lot of the artists in the area are purely profit-driven and do not truly care about the content of their art. Mitchell does not want to diminish the content and process of his paintings. Instead of creating cheap souvenirs for tourists, he prefers to sell to people who understand his methods. The last painting he sold was to a “14-year-old girl who completely got his work.” Near the end of his St. Patrick’s Day sale, an elderly man came by and proclaimed that he had not “seen good work like that in a long time.” Mitchell does not cater to one particular type of person.
If you would like to view or purchase Mitchell’s art, visit:
- Mitchell Long, interviewed by Kali Snellings, Jackson Square, March 17, 2014.