I’ve given myself the gift of working with artist and painting mentor Sarah Sedwick to spur my growth as an artist, learn new techniques, improve skills and get help from an expert who can spot problems that may be hindering me and that I can’t see myself. We’ve been working on value and color mixing with limited palettes, and after an awful bout of reworking a painting to death she challenged me to do three one-hour paintings. Unfortunately I seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing 1-hour studies, although I haven’t given up trying. My 4 studies above are all 7×5 inches on Arches Oil Paper. Below are the work in progress photos including a photo of the still-life set-ups (though these were all done from life) and in some cases, the color palettes used. You can click on any image to see the set enlarged.

Despite my intention each time to do a one-hour study, I painted three-hour (or more) studies. I worked quickly enough to leave them looking unfinished to me, but slowly enough to lose the freshness and conviction of the original brushstrokes. As Sarah explained, the goal wasn’t to learn to paint fast but rather to loosen up and get out of the rut of perfectionism, to get bold and concise with brushstrokes. She said, “The point of timed paintings is to set a constraint so we can be more free in other ways, not create more struggle. We aren’t attempting to create finished masterpieces in one hour, here – it’s a challenge to yourself to see how much you can do, how freely, how efficiently. Setting a time limit frees you to experiment – to slap on some thick paint in an area and go with it – to not stress as much about the drawing and composition – you can fix any issues in the NEXT painting.”

Part of my problem with these attempts I think, was setting up too complicated of a subject. When I get back to the studio today I’m going to use a simpler subject. And will force myself to stop at one hour no matter what. If I sketch in the composition too quickly it’s inaccurate and I spend my painting time correcting my drawing mistakes. By the time I’ve done a preliminary sketch and/or a careful sketch on the canvas, blocked in the shapes and values with a quick burnt sienna wash/underpainting, the hour is up. I can easily spend another half hour pre-mixing my paint.

Then when I start painting I get interested in all the cool light effects and details I see and want to capture. I forget my plan to go with 3 values per subject, simple planes and shapes, big brushstrokes and instead soar off into the groove of seeing and painting, seeing and painting until I look at the clock and suddenly it’s 8:00 pm and I haven’t had dinner or midnight…and I long ago turned off the timer and have lost it again!

I painted the 4th still life below with a limited 4-color palette (White plus Cad yellow pale, Cadmium Red Medium, Ultramarine blue) but in the end I added in a bit of Cad yellow medium and Phthalo blue) because I just couldn’t get the colors I wanted for the lemons and blue background.

But I am determined, and today I will succeed! I am an optimist, for sure, since that’s what I always say when I go to the studio, but I will obey my timer and see what I can accomplish in one-hour one more time.

Oil Painting, Painting, Still Life
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Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. This is so thorough and helpful – thank you so much for sharing – your work is just wonderful!


    • Bless your heart Joani1 for sending the positive message and encouragement. I always wince and feel sheepish about sharing my struggles and “dirty laundry!” So comments like yours is very reassuring. I learn so much from others on the web so I guess it’s only fair to share what I’m learning too, right?


  2. These are great, Jana! You really hold yourself accountable – it’s not “dirty laundry,” as you see, your process is helping all of us think about our own struggles in a new way!


  3. Jana, I think you are doing great. I saw your Flemish style paintings in your online gallery, and since you are located in the Bay Area I suspect you might have studied with Sadie Valeri or in BACAA? I am an atelier trained artist myself, and sometimes it is really hard to shake the habit of getting the drawing “exactly right!” or spending forever premix the right colors once you have gone through this kind of training. However, the exercise Sarah have suggested you do have a completely different purpose. It is supposed to force you learn “editing”. Edit out the color neuances. Edit out the elegant curves and see if you can use 5-6 straight lines to describe a rounded object. Edit out gradation and separate value into planes. Edit out subtle edge qualities and be more bold with applying the paint with definite strokes… The result is not aimed at classical realism, but a more design-oriented, graphic quality. If the composition or the shape of an orange is not exact, but is pleasing enough, it is ok to let go and not fix it. At least not fix it in this painting. There is always next one and you’ll be surprised how much you improve the second time you paint the same setup!

    Your last painting is actually a lot “looser” and the application looks much more sure of yourself compared to the first one. People like Sarah and Carol Marine had literally gone through thousands of these little paintings to reach the loose style I so admire. You can’t be so hard on yourself to blame yourself of not being able to learn all their secrets in four paintings! You would not put such harsh judgement on anyone else. So no should you beat yourself up over it! I think if you keep at it you’ll be amazed at how much “looser” your artworks will become after a month or a year of such exercises. I am looking forward to see that progress here on this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Arena I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful comment. It was so helpful and gave me just the insights I needed to finally “get” the how and why of this exercise. I was able to try again today and this time succeed in approaching a painting as you describe. There is so much good information in your message. I’m going to print it out and put it up next to my easel to remind me. Do you teach painting? I clicked over to your linked blog buts empty. Do you have a website?

      THANK YOU!!! You are wonderful to take the time to share your wisdom and I am extremely grateful! Jana

      On Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 10:04 AM Jana Bouc, Artist wrote:



      • I’m with Jana, what great information – something I very much need as well. And thank you again, Jana, for all you share with those of us who are helped by watching your progress. ❤


      • Hi Jana, sorry for the link! I must have entered it wrong on my wordpress profile… I do have a blog (http://arenashawn.blogspot.com/) and a website (http://arenashawn.FineArtStudioOnline.com), both really needed update as in the past year I am so swamped with work in the atelier and totally neglected them… I need to put my oil paintings and new drawings there… 😁 (So much to do, so little time!)

        I do teach privately for both drawing and painting methods, both in oil and watercolor. If you know someone who is interested, I can be reached by phone (765-491-8338) or email (arena.shawn@gmail.com). For oil painting and drawing I mainly teach in the method I am trained in — sight size, from life, and it is not very loose or alla prima, although it is a direct painting method and different from the glazing procedures of Flemish painters. The information and exercise you are currently receiving from Sara is extremely valuable. Whatever painting procedure you finally decide to settle in, lessons emphasizing value and direct observation from life are always of top importance. When I first started painting in oil I did an entire year with only black and white (grissale painting) and learned so much from it…

        Keep in touch and feel free to email me or contact me on either Facebook or Instagram — if you search Arena Shawn on either one I would be the only person that comes up. I love reading your blogposts and appreciate you share your insights as well as struggles there for the benefit of anyone who is in the same struggle of learning to see and striving to become the best painting they could be…


  4. These are all gorgeous! The look very much like Sarah Sedgwick’s work, well done!! I’m especially impressed by the beauty of the one does with a limited pallet- I always think I need more colors!

    Thank you, Nicole Carrier-Titti


    Liked by 1 person

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