Art & Design Magazine

Painting in Pirate’s Alley #1 - Spring 2014

By Billlives

IMG_5130This spring I began painting in Pirate’s Alley and offering my paintings for sale.  You need a license from the city, obtained in February. There is a long tradition of painters in Pirate’s Alley from the 1920s, if not before. John Sheldon’s Dixie Bohemia documents the artists and writers in the French Quarter in the 1920s. There is an article on Sheldon’s work in Summer 2013 issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Their living spaces centered at Jackson Square and Pirate’s Alley. William Faulkner came to the alley in 1925. Renting space at 625 Orleans Alley (the official name of the alley at the time), Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, there, a few feet from where we paint. The building now houses a good book store and I am frequently having to tell tourists how to find it.

As a child in the 1950s I remember coming down with my mother to see the artists lining Pirate’s Alley. Sheldon’s book also documents the evolution of the area from immigrant neighborhood to artist colony to expensive tourist area. Even though today’s Quarter primarily caters to the tourist economy, I still feel a connection to the past. Some days this takes more effort than others. Below you can see my paintings set up for sale on two different days on Royal Street. Your spot varies with how early you arrive and how many others before you decided it might be a good day.  


Your license reads that it allows you to paint on the street, but you can also exhibit your work


for sale. Many of the earlier artists were portrait painters who did street commissions but not all, as this photo on the right from the Louisiana Cultural Vistas article indicates. Today some artists only sit and sell, while others work on their paintings. I tend to paint most of the time, while still trying to figure out better ways to promote my paintings. I would get bored just sitting, hoping to sell a work. Most artists are very cooperative, exchanging sales ideas and generally helping each other. I did a video of some of us with permission and posted it on YouTube (see Pirate's Alley Artists on Royal Street).

You can set up to paint on Royal Street on the fence behind the St. Louis Cathedral or around the corner in Pirate’s Alley. In the cooler days of the spring it is best to be on sunny Royal Street because of greater foot traffic. Getting a spot is on a first come basis, so this usually requires getting up with the sun. I try to get there at daybreak. Then I wait for the sidewalk cleaners to finish their daily ritual of power spraying the leftover trash from last night before setting up. We always thank them for their efforts. Sleep in and you end up in Pirate’s Alley, colder, shaded and windy as shown below.

IMG_0363 - Version 2

In summer the cooler qualities of Pirate’s Alley are desired since the afternoon sun makes Royal Street an oven on hot days as it comes around the rooftops. Each season has its entertainers on Royal Street. The spring brings Mardi Gras parades (see my 1 minute YouTube video: Royal Street Mardi Gras Parade 2014), Second Lines (see my 6 minute YouTube video: Royal Street Second Lines 2014) and other celebrations such as St. Patrick’s Day bar hoppers accompanied by trucks with loud speakers blaring 70s rock (see my 2 minute YouTube video: Royal Street Saint Patrick's Day Parade 2014) and antique auto parades: (see my 2 minute YouTube video: Royal Street Antique Auto Parade 2014). There are also street performers, escape artists, and many others parading to be seen. The entertainment continues all day and forms a backdrop to my painting.



During all seasons a great trad jazz band led by Doreen Ketchins sets up around noon only a block away in front of Rouses’s, in good hearing distance. The live music is great to paint by. Brass band music filters over from Jackson Square if you are on that end of the alley. Occasionally, a well-trained opera singer starts up in the late afternoon on Royal.


I began painting on old moving box but graduated to a more professional folding table with a larger surface.



On cold days the early morning chill can be addressed by a hot coffee and roll from Royal Blend. Lunch has known to be gumbo from the Gumbo Shop around the corner. There is a Rouse’s for snacks and a guy comes around every day selling bananas, two for a dollar. I am a regular customer. Accessible bathrooms are a trade secret. Come down to the street and I can share this insider’s knowledge.


The summer season takes a different turn as described in my next post.

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