The 5-Minute Burn

Got your phone? You probably have it in your hand, right? And it probably has a “timer” feature included with its clock. So, grab a pencil and paper, set a timer for 5 minutes, and go! Burn, baby, burn… use those 5 minutes to draw whatever is around you. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, draw whatever is sitting in the corner, whatever is in front of you, whatever is there!

It doesn’t matter what it looks like. Don’t worry about proportions or perspective. Just draw for 5 minutes.

Here’s my first “5-Minute Burn”.


Here I’ve darkened the scan so that you can see the image better. It doesn’t look like much, does it! Well, actually, yes it does look like my easel. Maybe not a very good drawing, but various objects are recognizable. There’s the box I keep my oil paints in. I close it and latch it each day so that our curious cat won’t get into my oils. You can see one bin at the side of the easel, you can see the bulletin board on the wall, and maybe you can guess that there are paintings leaning against the bin and the legs of the easel.

I laughed at the idea of doing a 5-minute burn. After all, what can we really learn from dashing off a rapid-fire drawing? Well, golly gee. I learned that I can actually draw a recognizable box without even thinking about it. I learned that perfect proportions and perspectives aren’t necessary to create a “rough idea” of a scene. I learned that it was a lot of fun to see how much I could include in a 5-minute drawing, and fun, too, to be observant. I actually drew in all those little things hanging on the bulletin board, including one sheet of paper with the edge curled inward. In other words, I was paying attention to the details. Oh, by the way, that’s a blow-dryer on top of that storage bin.

This exercise is one advocated by Bert Dodson in Keys to Drawing. Yes, I found the book — right where it was supposed to be. I’d simply been looking in the wrong place. Same for my oil pastels. But, back to the 5-Minute Burn. Dodson says:

Give no thought whatsoever to composition, subject matter, accuracy, or style. The idea is to capture as much as you can within your field of vision.

What it all comes down to is this… even if you only have 5 minutes, you can put that time to good use. With a 5-Minute Burn you can improve your observational skills, quickly capture an image, and learn a lot about the drawing process. You can have fun with it, too. I certainly did.

NOTE: I completed this 5-Minute Burn with a graphite pencil. You could also use other media such as pens and markers.

Give it a try… and have fun!



  1. This is actually such a good idea! Being in grade 10, I find it really hard to find time to paint. I am beginning to feel that I might just lose touch with my art. Now when I sit to work on a picture, it takes a really long time to reach a point of satisfaction, only allowing me to do lesser and lesser. Earlier, I could finish a portrait in two days and now it takes me at least a week. I think that this ‘5-minute burn’ can be well used to stay in practice. You never know when the shabby lines will become straight! This will also help in improving the pace and making better artworks in lesser time! Thanks a ton!

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