Speeding at 35!

I recently gave a private weekend workshop in Gloucester Massachusetts for a wonderful group of dedicated painters. The workshop was titled 'Speed Painting' and basically everyone gets just thirty five minutes to work on 8"x10" panels! 

On day one, students work from small still-life objects and complete four or five of these panels.  The first painting is of three objects and with each new painting, another object gets added to the original three. For the last painting of the day, they are painting six objects. The objects are painted actual size and students work in groups of three or four to each set-up. I bring along about 100 small objects of varying size, shape and color with me to the workshop and put them out on a table so that there will be plenty of choices for arranging the still life set-ups.

Here is the amazing thing that happens each and every time I teach this workshop. Everyone...and I do mean everyone improves throughout the day. The last painting with the most objects in it, turns out to be the best of the day. The pics that I include with this post will prove that point.

The idea of this workshop is to time each painting and as students work, I move around the room and help them think about how to work smarter. Obviously they have to paint much faster than what they feel comfortable with, but as they paint and repaint these objects, they begin to learn how to say more with less. There is no time to over think anything and so a more intuitive response is going to be generated. They have to draw the shapes quickly and block in the painting quickly. They have to think about how to say the most with each brushstroke.

I demo for the first painting with 3 random objects of large, medium and small sizes. It helps everyone understand the process and they see that it can be done in 35 minutes. I tell them that the first painting will look as though they are just trying to cover the canvas in a small amount of time but as the day progresses, their paintings will get better. And even though we add an object each time, they will be able to handle the timing of it. There is a ton of nervous energy at the beginning of the day with this workshop, but as we get going, everyone begins to rework that energy into something positive and you can actually feel that shift of energy in the room!

After each painting, we have a look at them as a group. Students put their just-completed painting next to their previous one and we compare. They get better each time.

I first learned speed painting when I was in art school. My teacher, Paul Lipp had us doing this. I was a pretty slow painter before speed painting and it helped me to think and work faster and smarter. It's not that I expect people to finish an 8x10 in 35 minutes during their normal painting time, but speed painting will help them work faster and to be more expressive with brushwork. There is nothing more deflating than going outdoors to paint plein air, only to have the sunlight and shadows change so much while you work that you have no idea what to do next. If you learn to paint faster and smarter, you will gain confidence outdoors and this won't be a problem.

The Rockport painter, Harry Ballinger once noted that at one point in his career, it would take him three hours to complete a painting and then one day he started to complete them in about two hours. He wondered what he had been doing during that extra hour. He figured that maybe he napped during it! And that's my point. We can get too comfortable and think and rethink our next move and that can actually hurt rather than help. Charles Movalli would always say, that a painter should work a little faster than what they feel is a comfortable speed. This keeps a fresh and spontaneous look.

On day two, we usually have the class work from the same general area outside and work on 8x10's with a 45 minute time limit. I've seen some amazing results from some of these quick speed paintings. I once had a group outside and the weather was changing and clouds were moving in. There was a highly dramatic moment that happened in the sky that lasted for about 3 minutes. Everybody got it! I was blown away and even slightly jealous that I didn't have my paints out to try and get that moment down too.

For this workshop, the participants wanted a slower pace for day two and we just painted outside for the day. I did a demo down on the beach first and then everyone painted on their own with help from myself and also from Pam. It was one of those spectacular 'almost summer' kind of days and everyone did really well. Two of the students had never painted outdoors before and they worked fast and efficiently out there and did really well! All of the participants for this workshop paint together once a week for the summer and I'm confident that they all learned some new skills and gained a new level of confidence to be more productive and proficient outdoors.