I had a lot of fun in my studio this morning. I got out my oil paints again, grabbed a canvas and did a very quick painting. From start to finish — assuming that this really is finished — it took less than thirty minutes to paint this woodsy scene.
Recently, a lot of my art study has focused on speed — which we might not normally think of as being conducive to proper painting techniques or the creation of noteworthy art. I’ve finding, however, that speeding things up is a good thing for me to do.
I want my art to have energy — that quality of being alive, of having rhythm and movement. I see it in the drawings and sketches of other artists, but I’ve never understood how to capture energy in my own work.
Except, perhaps, when I do gesture drawings.
Aha! In other words, when I draw as quickly as I can.
And then there was that plein air day at Lord’s Park, where in my frustration, I grabbed a stick of charcoal and more or less scribbled all over a canvas. I know, it doesn’t look like much of anything, but even I can feel the energy coming from this drawing.
I know the root cause of my painting problems, the reason why I fuss so much about details, the reason why it’s so difficult for me to loosen up and let go. It goes back to my childhood, to the fact that I was switched at birth — or, at least, soon thereafter, as soon as my grandfather noticed my tendency to use my left hand for anything and everything I did.
I spent many long hours at my grandfather’s knee, carefully tracing letters from a Spencerian hand-writing exercise book with my right hand. Even now, I hold my pencil with a death-grip, moving slowly and painstakingly as I write, or as I draw. Yes, I’m stiff, I’m rigid, and yes, my paintings typically show that.
And that is precisely why I want — and need — to loosen up. This is why I’m playing with watercolors. This is why I’m working on larger canvases. This is why I’m discovering the benefits of drawing and painting as fast as I can.
When I look back at those fast and furious landscape sketches I made, I marvel at how naturally the lines seem to flow. When I glance at those portraits I made by simply drawing, not thinking, I’m surprised that there is a lifelike-ness about them that’s often missing in my portraits.
And today, I sit here looking at this very quick painting, and I shake my head in wonder. Did I really do this in under thirty minutes? To be honest, it was probably more like fifteen minutes. It wasn’t a planned project. It was a spur-of-the-moment challenge to myself.
I printed out my reference photo, grabbed a canvas, and began, applying a few basic principles:
- Be bold with brush strokes
- Use lots of paint on the brush
- Don’t think about what I’m doing — just do it and be quick about it.
I put down the basic lay-out in less than a minute. A light area for sky, a middle-value for the mid-ground, and a bolder and darker foreground. My values could still use work. In the painting process my mid-ground and foreground values came out about the same, but even so, something in this painting gets my attention. What that something is… well, I think it’s that sense of energy I’ve been looking for.
I like the blobs and globs of color. I like the randomness of the brushstrokes. I like the happiness I feel in this painting. Most of all, I like how simple and easy it was to just put the paint on without thinking too much about it. I’ll definitely be doing more of these “quick paint” sessions.