Artsy Fartsy Friday: Speed Painting

Steve MerrymanArtsy Fartsy Friday2 Comments

Boris digital speed painting
Boris, looking particularly regal, just before eating poop.

Digital speed painting helped me re-learn a valuable art lesson.

This portrait of Boris (a Lab/Mastiff cross who weighs 110 pounds before meals) was a test, of sorts. I had been working on my digital painting skills and noticed that I was getting a little too precious with my paintings, spending way too much time trying to get every last detail just so. As a result, my paintings were 1) taking too long and 2) not very interesting 3) terribly overworked.

Out of frustration, I gave myself an hour limit to do a speed painting portrait of Boris.

I think I finished it in about 45 minutes.

The dimensions are, roughly 8″ x 12″, which is a bit smaller than I usually work. But by not working at my usual larger sizes, I helped the speed painting process. This is because bigger paintings take bigger brushes (which can slow the software down) and have a larger capacity for details, which take a lot of time.

Details. Schmeetails.

In this case, the lack of fine detail actually improves the painting, in my view. Why? Because it allows the viewer to fill in the details in their minds.

This is a big lesson for aspiring artists: let your viewers be participants in your art by leaving something for them to imagine.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but I suspect artwork that asks the viewing brain to “fill in the blanks” is more engaging to that brain than art that tries to stuff every last detail into its eyeballs.

Speed painting is not something I do every day. But it’s a good exercise that forces my artist brain to focus on what’s important. I can see where these techniques have improved much of my portrait work.

Here’s a list of helpful tips on digital speed painting.

Of the all the tools an artist has at his/her command, a nimble brain is the most important, and practicing with speed painting is a great way to nimble-ize an artist brain.

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2 Comments on “Artsy Fartsy Friday: Speed Painting”

    1. I learned graphic design and art in the 70’s and 80’s (High-school – College). There was no such thing as desktop publishing back then. Everything was done by hand; sketches; layouts; final art. I had (and still have) a fine collection of antiquated design/layout/art tools sitting in a box somewhere. The transition to digital was an exciting time. There were challenges, but we knew we were experiencing the future of our industry and it was HELLA fun. When I moved from traditional art to digital, it was because the tools were available to make the transition very smooth. The biggest challenge at first was learning to draw on a tablet while looking at a screen, but having come of age with Asteroids, Pong, and Pac-Man, that skill was already there, it just needed refinement. Now I have a Wacom Cintiq monitor on which I draw directly, so I’m back to looking at my hand and the art at the same time. Happiness!

      I still enjoy working traditionally on paper. Everything these days seems so tied to electronics, and that concerns me. I like to ask young baby designers I meet, “Do you have the skills to still be an artist when the power goes out?”.

      Thanks for dropping by, John. I’ll try to be better about posting regularly now that I know I’ve got a visitor.

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