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On Speed...
by L. Diane Johnson

One of my long-time students was concerned about her painting speed; she said she was being "too slow." My reply to her and to all my students is, "Speed does not an artist make."

Painting speed is a little discussed topic but one which many students think about; "How fast should I paint?", "How come I can't paint faster?", "How can I paint more quickly?" and so on.

How quickly you execute a painting is not in and of itself important. How well you execute and communicate visually is. If your instructor asks you to paint faster it's for good reason; to help circumvent the left side of your brain (the analytical/verbal side) freeing up the right side (eyes/hand) to paint what you see, not what you think you see. The aim is accurately render through a keen sense of observation (even if you are creating highly imaginative paintings). Working a bit faster sometimes accomplishes this.

If you are constantly talking to yourself while painting, (looking more at the painting/drawing surface than at the subject), you may experience difficulty rendering the subject faithfully. Forcing yourself to work at greater speed trains the brain, hand, eyes to work in unison. Once you have blocked-in or painted a passage physically step back, then use self-talk to evaluate what you've done and make deliberate thoughtful changes. Going through this process this will generally reduce the need for corrections.

If you find yourself working over an area repeatedly try to speed up a bit. Get your arm moving, and look more at the subject than at your painting surface. Refer to the painting just to reestablish where you are. Painting en plein air can help you achieve this. Because the light changes so rapidly, it forces you to "see" and capture the subject more quickly.

Tight, representational techniques, will demand more periods of slow, careful examination and rendering. But no matter your style, stay open, loose and paint swiftly for as long as possible. This is key to accuracy and capturing the character of your subject, whether a landscape, portrait or still-life.

Pushing yourself to work a bit faster is a challenge, but can be very rewarding. Painting too fast however, can produce errors and haphazard execution. The best painting pace is what is most comfortable for YOU. Speed will come automatically by painting frequently and becoming familiar with both your subject and medium. Your true speed therefore, is a natural outgrowth of your experience. Speed as with personal style emerge over time and on their own by "doing".

Happy Painting!


L. Diane Johnson NAPA PSA NAPPAP, is an fine artist and instructor with over 30 years experience. Visit her online gallery for more information or reach her via email.

©1996-2004 L. Diane Johnson - Online Art Supplies