Oil Painting Painting Still Life

Trying and Failing to Do 1-Hour Studies

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.

Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Revised Post: Color Boot Camp Monochrome Studies

Color Boot Camp Part I Monochrome. Left to right: Color reference photos, B&W converted ref photo, my two studies
Color Boot Camp Part I Monochrome. Left to right: Color reference photos, B&W converted ref photo, my two studies

When my art friend Chris Beaven commented on the previous version of this post that it would be interesting to see my studies compared to the black and white versions of the photo references, I did a virtual dope slap (Of course! What a perfect way to see if I got the values right!) and then decided to redo this blog post to show that comparison (above).

While I often convert color photos to black and white to see the values, when I did these studies from Bill Perkins’ Color Boot Camp on New Masters Academy I wanted to try to do the conversion in my artist brain instead of using technology. But putting my studies next to the converted photos gives me just the reality check I needed. I can see that I did pretty well in painting the values from the color photos.

In the lesson he set up one model in four different lighting situations and then demonstrated doing a 30-minute painting of each in black and white. He recommends doing the studies in no more than 30 minutes, emphasizing that it’s more important to do many starts, without worrying about getting a likeness or making finished paintings. I have to admit spending longer than 30 minutes, probably up to 3 hours on some, and in retrospect, the longer I worked the less effective the study was.

If you want to see Bill Perkin’s studies and mine in greater detail, click the “read more” link below.

Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Color Boot Camp, Part I: Monochrome Portrait Value Studies

CBC Part 1-3, Janas #1 High Key, High Contrast Painting
CBC Part 1-3, Janas #1 High Key, High Contrast Study (My favorite of 8 below)

Being a member of the New Masters Academy is like having a treasure chest of jewels to explore, with new art classes added all the time. The only downside is that I have to assess my own work and be my own teacher since NMA doesn’t offer feedback to the video lessons’ assignments.

I revised this post by publishing a new version of it so I’ve deleted the content here. Please see the next post for the rest of the content from this post.