Be Quick About It!

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.

Be Quick About It (3)
Truly a “Quick Study” in Oil

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.

dancersExcept, 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.



    1. You’re right! I’ve been feeling it more and more lately, and it’s a good feeling to boldly approach a painting — with a loaded brush. 🙂 Look out, world. I’m dangerous now.

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      1. I am really pleased with what I’m doing now — not just with my gesture drawings but with my watercolor. I think you’ll be surprised and pleased with some of my paintings when you see them. With gesture drawings, I’ve been using “Quickposes” again, and I’ve cut my time down to 30 second poses, so I can’t think about it — I just have to quickly see and draw the essential shapes. My sketchbook is filled with messy drawings that are almost incomprehensible, but there’s a lot of energy there, too. 🙂

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      2. I’m definitely getting more comfortable with watercolor and learning a lot from it. My “thing” right now is playing with colors in abstract expressions, along with a bit of landscape painting with watercolors. I only wish I had more time to spend playing in my studio!

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    1. I go back and forth in painting depending on the mood I’m in and what I’m working on. It’s awkward sometimes though, because of the direction in a painting or drawing. Occasionally I do an entire painting with my left hand. In fact 4 years ago — to the day — I posted about being “Switched at Birth”. What a coincidence! Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out. I was just beginning to explore watercolor painting.

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      1. Thanks for sharing that post with your left-hand painting on it–beautiful (I tried to like it, but something in my software preventing me when it’s not viewed from the WP Reader)! I think your grandad did you a big favour–the result was you grew up ambidextrous!

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      2. He was an interesting fellow. He taught me to read long before Kindergarten, and was always encouraging me to learn. But in his day, there were theories about the evils of left-handedness. I’ve read some of the works published by Cesare Lombroso linking left-handedness with criminality. My grandfather was very intelligent, very well-read, and these were ideas popular in his time. Yes, in many ways, he did do me a favor. 🙂

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      3. Your grandad sounds like a very interesting and intelligent man indeed. You are blessed. Thanks for mentioning Cesare Lombroso–I checked him on Wiki–when I come across his name next time, I won’t be so ignorant!

        ‘Hope you’re finding this lockdown period a very productive time for your craft. Cheers! 🙂

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      4. I studied the history of criminal profiling a few years ago. It was interesting to read about all those old ideas and theories, especially since I’d experienced that mindset first-hand. It really helped me understand my grandfather’s thought processes a bit more, too.

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      5. Wow. I’m amazed at the array of interests each of us humans could have. I suppose some day your knowledge and experience will find their way more into your art–that would be interesting!

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      6. I read a lot… so I uncover a lot of different interests to explore. I’m reading about Norse mythology at the moment LOL. There’s always something new and fascinating to learn.

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  1. I love to see and feel the energy of a piece. I also like to push myself with speed when doing portraits and the person is moving around. Sometimes something wonderful happens.

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