Why I Love Quick Studies

Lately you’ve seen a number of quick studies I’ve made in oils while working my way through Mood and Atmosphere by Carolyn Lewis. These studies have focused on different color schemes. Today I’m sharing the last of my quick studies on color theory.

Each of the quick studies I’ve done has been based on an illustration in Lewis’s book. These are very rough copies of paintings she has made and which she uses to show the different color schemes she discusses.

Several of the scenes were landscapes, thus very familiar territory for me. Two, however — yesterday’s Red Flower and Green Leaves and today’s Old Mission (titles I’ve given to these studies) took me a bit off my usual landscape painting path.

This is good. It’s easy for us to get too comfortable with what we love to paint, and I’ll be honest here. It’s a lot easier to stay on the same road than it is to take a chance trying something new. This is why I love quick studies. These little paintings are fun but educational, too.

The “Old Mission” painting above is a subject I would never dare attempt — a building, complete with doorways, windows, and a chimney! But because it was a mere quick study, I gave it a try, and in the end, it looks like a building, complete with doorways, windows, and a chimney. It’s not a great work of art, but it captures the essence of the subject.

This quick study was done with a more-or-less split complementary color scheme. The colors used were violet, yellow-orange, and yellow-green. At least, those were the intended colors. I stumbled a bit in my color mixing and ultimately added not only touches of ivory black and titanium white (for mixing) but also a bit of raw umber.

I surprised myself a bit with this, and I’ve come to appreciate the value of quick studies for a number of reasons.

Quick studies are quick!

That’s a no-brainer, right? But this is exactly why quick studies are so helpful. We don’t have to set aside a significant amount of time. Even on a busy day we can easily make time for a quick study. Even on that long, miserable day when I spent nearly twelve hours at the hospital with my husband and then came home tired and stressed, I was still able to come to the studio and make a quick study. Doing it actually helped calm my nerves. Art soothed my soul. Yes, even a quick study can comfort us.

Mistakes don’t matter.

When we’re doing a quick study, we’re focusing usually on a specific element of art or a specific idea in painting. In my recent quick studies, as noted above, I’ve focused on various color schemes. This has provided me with opportunities to mix colors, to tint colors with white, to darken colors with grays or blacks, and, in general, to learn a lot of the various colors on my palette and how to combine them in a single painting. As I’ve played with these colors, I haven’t had to concern myself over getting details right. I haven’t had to worry about proper proportions or perfect compositions. Of course there are mistakes in these quick studies. What else would I expect when I’m spending no more than 20 minutes — maybe 30 at the absolute maximum — on each one?

Quick studies show our strengths and weaknesses.

Doing a quick study can help us see right away where we’re strong and where we’re weak. In my quick studies, I paint skies without giving them a second thought. I’m very comfortable painting skies and even clouds. But then I hesitate over trees, and tree trunks, branches, and clusters of leaves. Even in the short amount of time a quick study requires, it’s easy to assess our strengths and weaknesses.

Quick studies allow us to take chances.

Just as I would not ordinarily even think about painting a building, I can try any number of different subjects, methods, or techniques when it’s only a quick study. These studies are for us, not for display. Yes, I have been posting mine here and sharing them with you, but that’s only because I hope to encourage you to make quick studies of your own. I won’t be taking these studies to art club meetings to show off, nor will they find their way to any display sites. Creating finished works of art is not the point of a quick study. They’re for learning, experimenting, trying new things, finding different ways to approach our art.

Quick studies reveral possibilities.

For me, this has been the most surprising aspect of doing this recent series of quick studies. While I expected the landscape scenes to be fairly respectable — as far as quick alla prima paintings go — I didn’t expect good results from either the Red Flowers and Green Leaves study or the Old Mission study. Going back to my quick studies about edges, I was definitely surprised when I stepped back from my Weathering the Storm study. I thought it was a horrible mess. Turns out it wasn’t really all that much of a mess after all.

I’m looking again now at the Old Mission and marveling a bit over it. I painted a building. A building complete with windows and doorways. A building with a chimney. I did this in very little time, yet I still came away with a recognizable building. Maybe, in time, with more study and more practice, I’ll actually be able to paint more buildings, better buildings, buildings with lots of windows and doors. Who knows how many more things I’ll be able to paint in the future simply because I took a chance as part of a simple quick study?

Quick studies are fun.

Doing a quick study does wonders for my “art attitude.” I can have lots of fun with them. As I made the windows on my Old Mission painting, I didn’t worry much about how to do them. I just picked up a brush with raw umber and said, “Let me try this.” It worked! It’s fun to dabble with paint, fun to say, “Why don’t I put a bit of this color here?” It’s fun because, right or wrong, whatever we do is fine. It’s not the results that really matter in a quick study. It’s what we’re able to learn, and I’ve learned that the hands-on, give-it-a-try approach of a quick study is one of the best ways to understand the concepts of art.

So, why not make a few quick studies of your own? Grab a few sheets of canvas paper, or inexpensive canvas panels. (I’m using 8 x 10 canvas panels for my quick studies.) If you’re drawing instead of painting, any sketchbook will do. You can use index cards just as I did throughout the month of December for my tonalist landscape” project.

I’ve come to love quick studies. I look forward to doing many more as I continue learning about art and exploring new possibilities.


  1. “it’s easy for us to get comfortable to paint what we love to paint ” this line is so very true. I can do good clouds and foliage and I tend to do more of that but recently I have started to grow beyond my comfort zone and started focusing more on rocks and crevases in the mountains.

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    1. I think we have to find a good balance between what we love doing and where we need to grow a bit. Like you, I love painting clouds, but as I look at my gallery of paintings I see clouds, clouds, and more clouds… and very little else. So I definitely need to push myself to step out of that comfortable place. Good luck in all your art!

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      1. I also saw lot of coastal areas painting in my sheets then I started doing more mountains, rocks . I used to jabe hard time doing pine trees then I started doing just those for sons time and I am a bit better at it..inthink watevervidt hard to paint you should try to paint that at least 2-3 times a week hard to follow but ya good . All d best to u too lovely blog

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      2. Yes, it’s good to pick up a specific element and work on it. I keep pads of “canvas paper” in my supplies because they’re excellent for doing practices in oil painting. Thanks for the good wishes.


  2. when i first started painting i focused on water/oceans. Then i switched to sky scenes/clouds. I got very good at them but over year became bored. I switched my focus to trees and landscapes until they got boring. In the last 5 years i have branched out quite a bit- anything from rainbow splatter forms , animals, archival ink renderings, whatever i fancy. But i must admit i will chase something like a dog until i feel i’ve mastered it sufficiently..quick studies i have tried but really never feel satisfied with them..must be my OCD

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