When you watch some of the top artists paint, you may be wondering how they do it so fast! They seem to make every stroke without hesitation and the canvas quickly takes form and fills with color.
The reason they are able to paint so fast is mostly due to experience. The top artists are able to make quick decisions, which is really what allows them to paint so quickly. It is not because they are making rushed strokes with their brush. In fact, it is usually quite the opposite. They will make a quick decision, then a calm, calculated brush stroke.
Experience cannot be substituted, but there are some practices you can adopt which will help you paint faster and more efficiently. It is also important to stress that by faster, I do not mean recklessly. You should always be calculated and deliberate with your strokes.
Anyway, here are some tips to help you paint faster and more efficiently.
Use Larger Brushes and Palette Knives
You should be doing most of your work with medium to large sized brushes. I like to think of the large filberts and flats as the “workhorses” of the painting process. The smaller brushes are only necessary for the really fine details, depending on your painting style.
Using a large brush achieves a few things:
• You will be able to cover the canvas quickly.
• You will be able to create brush marks which are not possible with smaller brushes.
• You will learn to treat every stroke with importance and meaning.
I suggest you do a quick assessment of the brushes you most frequently use and determine if you need to start incorporating some larger brushes into your arsenal. The palette knife can also be an extremely useful tool for creating bold strokes of color which are not possible with a brush. You can also use a palette knife to quickly scrape away paint from an area which you would like to re-do.
Use More Gestural and Broad Strokes
When you start a painting, you should use very gestural and broad strokes to quickly capture the essence of what you are painting. Once you have the essence on the canvas, you can start building more form and structure.
Try to capture the general flow and movement of the scene you are painting. Even if the scene you are painting is mostly static (like a landscape), you should still be thinking about the gesture of the scene and how everything is connected.
Make sure when you are making these broad strokes that you use the full action of your arm, not just the action of your wrist. The range of movement from your wrist is actually very limited.
Take advantage of the early stages of a painting and really try to get a feel for the subject. You can see Claude Monet was doing this in his unfinished painting below in the lower part of the body.
Claude Monet, Self Portrait In His Atelier, 1884
Simplify The “Noise”
If you try to paint everything in the scene with complete accuracy, then of course the painting will take ages to finish. You should try to identify what is actually important in the scene and simplify the rest.
Think about the areas where your eyes are drawn towards in the scene. These areas will usually be your key features. Everything else can be painted out of focus. If you are painting from a photo, remember that the photo does not capture what we actually see. A photo will usually capture everything in focus, however, when we focus on something in life we tend to tune out all the “noise”.
In the painting below by John Singer Sargent, notice how basic the painting is if you take out the main two subjects. The background is literally nothing but a few general shapes and colors. But you don’t notice as you should be focused on the two subjects in the middle.
John Singer Sargent, Rosina Ferrara Dancing Tarantella, 1878
Plan Your Painting
I spend a considerable amount of time planning my paintings. Most of the work is done before I actually pick up a brush.
• The planning includes:
• Deciding what to paint
• Taking appropriate photos (if I am not painting from life)
• Analyzing the photos and picking an appropriate one to paint from
• Considering a strategy for the painting
• Sometimes doing quick notan (light dark harmony) or color studies
The planning stage allows me to paint fluently and usually without interruption once I pick up the brush. It also prevents many mistakes during the painting process.
Paint Less Complicated Subjects
I find complicated subjects to be incredibly demanding on me mentally. They also require so much more time to complete as you need to take so much care with the drawing. Of course, a complicated subject will help you improve in terms of drawing and composition, however, those are only two aspects of painting. There are other aspects you can focus on like color, value and brushwork.
Painting a basic subject is not necessarily an easy task. In fact, it can sometimes be more challenging to succeed with as you are not able to rely on the complex nature of the subject to create interest. Your handling of the paint and artistic elements becomes the focus of the painting, rather than the subject itself.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1908
Take a look at the beautiful painting above by Claude Monet. The subject is literally nothing but water lilies on the water. But the stunning use of color and brushwork makes this painting appear incredibly sophisticated.