Painting quick landscape studies can be a lot of fun. The practice also has an uncanny knack for improving our painting skills and can make a very noticeable difference in our larger gallery paintings.
There are gazillions (that may be a slight exaggeration) of benefits to setting a time limit and drawing and painting with quick deliberate strokes.
Some of the benefits of quick studies are:
- Working out compositions for larger paintings
- Learning to reduce details into simple shapes
- Improving your ability to edit complex scenes quickly – eliminating unnecessary information
- Increasing confidence with a paintbrush
- Experimenting with color combinations
- And, it’s just pure fun!
Drawing Quickly from Life and Imagination
I got in the habit of painting quick studies while in art school.
Since almost everything was drawn and painted from life, the flowers, and sometimes even the model, wilted before I could finish a big piece. Plus, Leon Parson taught us to use 30-second gesture drawings and fast color sketches to warm up our fingers and our brains. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of my old gesture drawings.
Egypt was done from life in about 20-30 minutes after a warm-up with several 15-30 second sketches (interesting side note – the models we used always wore swimsuits – church school). Leon told us to play and create a character using our imagination. We had to move quickly because the model changed poses after a set amount of time.
Something about the pose made me think of a fearless archeologist exploring the Egyptian deserts. Yeah, I know, probably nothing like Egyptian clothing, but Google didn’t exist in the 80’s and I had to think fast.
Mainly, I was just experimenting with learning how to capture fluid line movement. So, I used simple sweeping lines to convey my idea.
Use a Timer
Whether you’re drawing a figure from life or a tree on location, take a timer with you. Set your timer for 15 seconds, 60 seconds, 3-5 minutes, and 30 minutes.
With short time intervals, you will find yourself loosening up and searching for the essence of your subject. You won’t have time to scrutinize every detail and you’ll discover joyous freedom of expression.
30-60 Minute Painting Studies
In my early years, I would complete both small (6×8) and large (30×40) paintings on location. I would spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours on a painting.
Texture, Contrast, Color, and Movement
Plein air painting for me was about capturing texture, contrast, color, and movement with as big of brushes as I could hold.
Pink Roses (6×8), Sunny Days (8×6) and Wildflowers (9×12) were each completed on location in less than an hour.
In Pink Roses, I was exploring the use of thick paint texture.
Sunny Days was about the contrast between the bright yellow flower and the deep greens and browns in the background.
Wildflowers was focused on movement across the painting using brilliant colors and quick fluid brushstrokes to guide the viewer from one area to another.
Quickly Capturing Light
Anticipation was all about light – especially the light that envelops objects and makes them glow. I finished it in less than an hour. Light like that doesn’t stick around long.
A Daffodil Welcome was so much fun. Kristie isn’t a fan of Daffodils because she thinks they look like something out of a cartoon. I think they’re fantastic – such interesting shapes and they light up a landscape.
This study focused on capturing the essence of brightly lit daffodils. I used broad brushstrokes and simple shadows to give the flowers dimension.
Stand by Me was done in my studio. I kept the colors muted because I was studying the form of the rose petals rather than the color nuances. It was completed in less than two hours.
Ignoring color to focus on the rose petal form allowed me to work more quickly. I was able to practice using my brushes to both represent a petal in one stroke and play with thin highlights.
Knowing the intent of our quick studies helps us hone our skills.
Fast Painting Purely for Fun
Wintersill Drive was done on location in somewhere between 1-2 hours. This was one of those pure fun paintings.
I was mesmerized by the endless color variety and contrasts. All I thought about was color shapes and painting fast.
Quick Study for a Larger Painting
All of the paintings mentioned so far were done to better learn and capture a specific effect unique to each location. Greenhorn Creek, however, was completed as a study for the purpose of creating a larger painting.
This study was all about recording the colors and feeling of the mountain creek to help me compose a larger studio painting later.
What I’ve discovered over the last 40 years of drawing and painting is that working fast can accomplish wonders for developing our skills as painters.
It’s also incredibly fun!
Sometimes we need to slow down and carefully observe the subtle nuances and shifts in nature. Quick studies and fast painting is not meant to replace slower considerate work.
Combining the occasional practice of quick studies with intentionally slower work is a recipe for powerful paintings.
Nice study. Pat Stephens
Hi Bill I so much enjoyed this selection of studies and your comments on them. I appreciate all what you said and have learned from you. Thank you for sharing your wonderful skills