Practicing speed painting

Yesterday evening I started practicing some speed painting. It has been over 17 years since I last drew something on a regular basis. I guess lack of motivation was part of that.


I am picking up drawing again and working on an illustration I noticed that I needed more training. Where I was able to setup the basis of that drawing in about 30 minutes, I spent about 20 hours “getting it right” and still not being satisfied. The main issue I faced was this:

  1. I spend a lot of time correcting mistakes, only to find out that these corrections are still delivering a crappy result I am unhappy about

I do not have that time. I want to do a lot of other stuff as well. So the most effective approach for me is to make hit & run productions which nail the thing in 8 hours time, or can be discarded if they do not.

Nothing new

Unlike what the Wikipedia page seems to suggest, speed painting is nothing new. Everyone who did one or another art course did it when drawing a model. You see speed-drawing in quick sketches by Rembrandt and some of the work of Toulouse de Latrec. For all things: practicing it is very essential I guess.

One hour

My average time per drawing is currently one hour. Only in the fourth drawing and the last I made last evening I spent more: about 2.5 hours. And the one I spent most time on is the least successful.

Even less

I think with more training on my side, the type of drawings you see below can be made in under 30 minutes.


There are several aspects to speed painting and I guess it is different for each. For me the main reasons to do this are the following:

  1. To stop thinking in drawing – thinking hampers the process
  2. To allow myself to take more risks – when things have to be perfect the first time you start playing safe.
  3. To allow myself to develop faster – I am a very limited “artist” right now. I do not know yet how to do hair and do not get complex shapes right.  Working fast allows me to prototype over and over again and try different approaches and styles until I start to understand and feel the basics. From that, drawing becomes more and more like natural speaking.
  4. To get more grip on what makes a painting work – by allowing myself to make mistakes and by producing about one new drawing per hour
  5. To understand when to give up on something that does not work – my main tendency is “to get it right”

Speed painting is about achieving as much as possible in a short amount of time. It is not about perfection, but reaching a specific goal as fast as possible.

3 out of 4 are completely disposable / crap

Instead of “every single one has to count”, about 3 out of 4 drawings are likely to be crap or below standard. (And on a bad day that score of crap might even be higher.) Currently part of me has a problem with that. That part simply has to get over it.

Things I noticed while doing it

I noticed several things.

  1. Instead of correcting mistakes, I simply applied new layers – It is tempting to erase stuff and work in layers and “get it right” but it is slower and stops the flow
  2. It takes a lot of time to correct a drawing that is flawed / it is faster to make a new speed painting – kill your darlings I guess. It is sometimes hard to let go, but that is the entire purpose of this exercise.
  3. Transparency is really awesome – It allows me to make stroke after stroke in a fast succession to build up layers very much like you do sketching with a pencil. Errors are corrected with each next stroke and texture and shades are so much richer. In most cases the ideal setting was between 15% to 25% of transparancy for subtle shadings and 50% to 70% for fast work on solid bodies and backgrounds. Backgrounds I set up with 100% shading.

Results (click to enlarge)

First speed draw attempt - just doodling

The first drawing was without a real goal, just doodling. I think I spent about 10 minutes.

Second Speed paint - girl with hoody

The second had more of a purpose and came out quite OK. About 45 minutes work. Added layer over layer of transparent color to create shades and light. Tried a golden ribbon in the fabric which came out quite OK. Eyes are looking at the viewer.

What I did not correct: Irises are too small. Skin colors are meh in shades. No reference material (like photos) was used.

Third - girl with hoody

The third speed paint was a side-view. Had troubles getting the right skin-shadings like in the second, but result is not bad. Basically the best of four. It took about 45 minutes to one hour to make this. No reference material (like photos) was used.

Hoody 3 - meh

The fourth was to the end of the evening and took 2.5 hours. It has potential, but the speed drawing did not work out as I intended. Instead of starting a new one, I tried to: “fix” it. There are still several things wrong, like the shading of the eyes and the side of the face in shadows – which is a complete mess. Unintentionally and accidentally it also looks like a very classic “Holy Mother Mary” type of image. No reference material (like photos) was used.

The shades were setup differently in this painting. I started with a very raw peach/dark brown light/shades setup and added shadings on top. I think I should have stopped 10 minutes after I found that stuff was not working out and started a new one afresh.

No mercy / no  fear leads to better results

What this brings is the mind-set that having no mercy about stuff not working, having no fear about failure and failures will lead to better results. Part of that is destruction of “what could have been” but did not work out.

I guess, in a way, this is very Zen.


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