View Full Version : Talking Technique - Fast or Slow

12-17-2007, 12:30 PM
In the last year, there has been an emphasis on Wet Canvas in various Forums on the advantages of painting quickly. Challenges have been launched to encourage members to paint faster. I have not participated, as I don't do well when I paint fast, I just create sloppy work. So I want to discuss the other side of the issue, painting slow. To be fair, I will mention some of the reasons to paint fast as well.

I also think that there is a natural pace at which a painter feels comfortable. I'm a turtle, I like to take my time. So one question to ask yourself is, 'What is my natural pace of working?'

Advantages to painting faster:

- for outdoor painting, to capture the quickly changing light conditions
- to capture the essence of a scene, to omit extraneous detail
- to work out compositional, value or colour schemes for larger paintings

Advantages to painting slower:

Richard Schmid, a plein air artist, in International Artist magazine, Issue #30 says:

'Slowing down to get it right - Naturally, the best way to use my working time, outdoors or in the studio, is not to make mistakes....I have often spent more time correcting my errors than I have on constructively painting my picture. And here I am not talking about the kind of technical failings that are normal at various levels of proficiency. With time and good instruction, I got better, but I still did many things carelessly. I knew what I was doing; I just was not taking time to think clearly. My errors were the result of simply painting too fast....I hadn't learned that simply finishing a painting is not the point in working from life....After all, what is the point of finishing a painting if it is not right?'

Harley Brown, a portrait painter, says in International Artist magazine #36:

'Don't take on too much learning at once. That's the frantic method and it doesn't work. Ponderous is how you want to pace your progress. However insignificant your piece is: the side of a building, a limb of a tree, a solitary rock, an eyebrow - if you did it right, you are way ahead of the person who finished a complete painting that is awkward, forced and just plain sloppy. In art, the turtle really does win the race, but it is a race in which the artist competes only with her/himself. You would be amazed at how slowly and deliberately the best artists work.'

So have at it. What do you think? Jane

12-17-2007, 02:35 PM
I think of myself as a slow painter, but other artists who look at the amount of work I do in a year often think of me as a fast painter. As a working artist who makes a living from the sales of paintings in art galleries, a certain body of work has to be done every year. I have no choice in the matter. That's the way it is.

I usually start out slow and finish fast. A thoughtful accurate drawing and underpainting is essential for me. I try to do a small area of the painting in a very detailed way and that can be very slow and deliberate. This is usually the center of interest. Most of the painting is neither fast nor slow although it tends to be medium slow. I love doing some fast spontaneous, thick, sure strokes at the end. They give life to the painting.

A sloppy painting is a sloppy painting and speed is no excuse in my opinion. You need to have loads of experience and/or talent to do good, fast paintings. Conversely, an awkward slow work is not necessarily a good work.

You have to work hard to make it look easy. The quality of the work is the determining factor and not the speed, or lack thereof, by which it was created.

I guess, Jane, we'll never be members of the "painting a day" crowd and that's alright with me.


12-17-2007, 02:58 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Wendell. I find when I paint in OPs that my pace is steady, as I work from one area to the next, completing one section at a time. In oils, though, it is more varied as you suggested. Most of my oils are landscapes, so I usually draw in fairly quickly and then slow down to paint. I tend to speed up toward the end as well, although sometimes adversely, I think, as I get tired. I could never be a "painting a day" person, that's for sure. The only time I paint more quickly is when I'm participating in the WDE where the guidelines ask you to try to finish in 2 hours. My paintings there always look less finished than I would like, but it is fun to participate. Jane

Pat Isaac
12-17-2007, 05:37 PM
I am a painter like Wendell. For me a good drawing is the basis of any art work. I am rather slow at completing work, mainly because I am not at my studio every day. I do manage to complete about 7 paintings a year, plus commissions. When I have a show, as I will next year, I am more focused on getting work done. I work all over my painting and build it up all at once.
I do love the quick sketches I do in a life drawing class.
I do agree with Wendell's statement that the quality of work is the determining factor.


12-17-2007, 10:32 PM
Thanks, Pat, for your reply. I certainly find that I am happier with the quality of my work when I don't rush it, when I take the time to complete it to my satisfaction. I find that when I participate in some of the Challenges, even when there is no time limit, I don't take enough time and produce work where quality is lacking. There is the notion that, in order to improve, a painter needs to paint a lot, but the other side of the coin is that it might just result in the repetition of mistakes. There are definitely times when I need to slow down more and take more care to ensure a better result. Jane

Shirl Parker
12-18-2007, 12:14 AM
7 paintings a year, plus commissions, Pat? Sounds like that could be 9 or 99. :)

In 11 months, I've posted 34 paintings to my web site. They are OPs, acrylic, oil, and watercolor. Only the ones that I thought were decent enough to be seen. I think the speed in which I paint is partly based on the medium, and goes from fast to slow in the same order I've listed the mediums above.

It also depends a lot on the size of the painting. My 16x21 took longer than my 5x7. But another big factor is how much I am excited by the painting I'm doing. If I'm really into it, well, I'm speedy gonzalez.

I suppose if I actually sat my tush down and did more painting, I would get more done. I don't have to "go to my studio", I live in it, so I can't borrow that reason.

As it is, I spend a lot of time now on WetCanvas, hopefully learning a lot, and also with books and videos. If any of you actually look at my website, maybe you can tell me if it is paying off.:lol: :lol:


Pat Isaac
12-18-2007, 09:02 AM
Not 99, Shirl. I usually have about 3 portrait commissions a year. My work tends to be large, another reason it takes me longer. I do think that if you continue to work at your art all the time, you will improve, both in style and technique.


12-18-2007, 10:02 AM
Shirl, it's interesting that you say OPs are your fastest medium. When I first started painting in OPs (May 2006), I thought that they were a quick medium too, particularly for landscapes. My idea at the time was to use OPs for quick sketches, and then to do larger, more careful renditions of the scenes in oil. But I found I could so many things with OPs, that I couldn't do using a brush, that OPs have become my main medium. I do think that OPs sometimes get a bad rap because people expect them to be a fast medium and as a result end up with sloppy work. That's not true in your case - I think your OPs are among the strongest pieces on your site. There is a definite positive progression in your work over time. So keep painting!! Jane

Pat Isaac
12-18-2007, 11:02 AM
I just looked at your site, Shirl. You certainly have produced a lot of work and I agree with Jane that your OPs are your strongest. I also noticed that you have the original logo of the Oil Pastel Society. I haven't seen that for awhile.


Shirl Parker
12-18-2007, 02:13 PM
Thanks Jane and Pat. I had to modify the Oil Pastel Society logo so that it would show completely as the title picture. The way it is on the OPS site makes it too wide and gets cut off on both sides, so I photo-edited it. I hope that wasn't a no-no.

My brother just emailed me to say that he had put a link to my art on his home page, so now the OPS logo shows there too. http://ks4rs.net/


Pat Isaac
12-18-2007, 04:08 PM
Exposure is always great. It's fine to use that logo, even though that's not what we use anymore. We simplified it.


12-18-2007, 05:31 PM
Good topic. In my intro to OP, my first 2 classes, the instructor was always telling us to work quickly. But I always had problems doing that because I'm a very introspective analytical person. I naturally want to think about and solve my painting as I go. I felt the pressure and also felt that maybe I'm not a good artist if I can't finish quickly. So, LJW, it made feel better to read your post!


12-18-2007, 05:36 PM
Julia, I was feeling the same way too, that something must be wrong with me if I didn't want to, or couldn't, work more quickly. That's why when I read the articles by Richard Schmid and Harley Brown, I felt so much better. I'm glad you found this useful. We all have a natural pace, I think, that works best for us to produce the quality art we aim for. Jane

12-18-2007, 08:10 PM
I don't think it's possible to say which style or speed is "right", but from my personal and relatively short-lived experience, I seem to work slower and slower. Recently that's largely due time constraints, but I think it's also because I'm becoming more demanding and particular about the outcome. I think it's also due to my taking on more challenging subjects. In any case, I find that I'm generally in strong agreement with Jane.

12-19-2007, 08:54 AM
I tend to agree with Ed when he says there's not necessarily a "right" speed at which to work. I've used the Sketch Thread this last year (particularly when we were still part of the SP forum, and there was a 60 minute time limit) to increase my speed. This was a good thing, I think, as I had a tendency in the past to be too tight, and to try to reproduce a photo too accurately. I can remember when I first started with OPs that I was frustrated at not being able to find the exact hue I saw in the ref photo! And my drafting background tends to make me want to work too tightly, although I also produced looser architectural renderings (and quickly, I might add).

I remember reading about John Singer Sargent's working methods, and how although his paintings appear to be completed in a fast and loose manner, in reality he was very precise with his strokes, often wiping down areas and starting over if they weren't just right. Yet he did his individual strokes quite quickly. That's one additional advantage to add to the "fast" column: there can be a beauty to a spontaneous stroke that just isn't possible to achieve when working slowly. But the ability to create such strokes only comes with many years of experience. Perhaps there are a lot of "sloppy" paintings that one has to work through before one has the confidence to produce those spontaneous strokes in a way that demonstrates a control of the medium.

It also depends a lot on what the artist wishes ultimately to achieve, as well as the subject matter. So, I guess that there really isn't any perfect answer to the question. Maybe varying the speed in response to the demands of the particular subject is the best approach.

12-19-2007, 09:09 AM
Annie, great response. I, too, find there is a difference for me in how quickly I approach different subject matter. My landscapes are faster and 'looser' than my animal portraits, and any still lifes I have done, I have taken much more time and care with. Lori' truck, my first attempt at tight 'photorealism', was very slowly and carefully done. I haven't really tried much architecture, because I don't know how to do buildings in anything but a fairly tight rendering. I am working on a lighthouse painting at the moment - I expect I will do it quite slowly and carefully. Jane

12-21-2007, 02:18 PM
Actually, my lighthouse painting did not take that much time, after all. I laid in the sky with bolder strokes using my Sennelier Grande sizes. I treated the top of the lighthouse with care, but used lots of small strokes for the stucco area. And the rocks were done with areas of sunlight and shade, using strokes again. Not that much blending involved, so it went fairly quickly. Not a quick sketch by any means, but perhaps 3 to 4 hours all told over several days. Jane

Shirl Parker
12-21-2007, 02:35 PM
And it's quite beautiful.

P.S. If you find yourself in the Watercolor Gallery, take a peek at my Toucan Triad entry.

Pat Isaac
12-21-2007, 03:05 PM
It is a lovely watercolor, Shirl and I see them quite often near my birdfeeders.


12-21-2007, 03:33 PM
Personally, if I don't finish a painting quickly I tend to lose interest. I've got two such examples on my easel right now. If it isn't finished quickly, the only other thing that will push me to finish is pressure even if I'm on the right track. Whether it is for school or a friend, I seem to require an external deadline.

12-21-2007, 04:39 PM
Julie, that's a good point. I know that if I let a painting sit too long between sessions, I can lose interest. That's not quite the same as having to finish it in a short painting time, but too much elapsed time can be a problem too. Keeping the momentum going without rushing can be a tricky thing to manage. Jane

Pat Isaac
12-21-2007, 04:53 PM
I certainly do understand that, though I rarely finish a painting in one session. I did, however, finish the little pieces for the sketch thread in one sitting. If I can go to my studio on a regular basis, I can keep paintings going. I do like to to work on 2 or 3 at a time. Sometimes, I get going and other things interfere and then there is the current painting a year later still sitting unfinished...:lol: