People often ask me how I can painting a painting in six minutes. The short answer is, I can’t. Oh, I stand before a congregation and do that very thing night after night, but the truth of the matter is the reason I can do it is because I’ve done hours of work in advance.
There’s no substitute for experience
The first reason I can do it is because I have been making art for nearly half a century. You might say, “You’re only 52.” Of course, I would then say, “I didn’t say professionally, but all the work that I’ve done has led to what I do now, even the bad, amateur stuff.” I’m not saying you need fifty years of experience, just that you need to make a lot of art, even if it’s bad art, to build your skills.
I rarely paint a painting live for the first time
There have been times over the years where I have painted a painting for the first time before a live audience (never in six minutes though). Sometimes I was even pretty successful, but for the most part I have sketched and then worked a painting out several to many times in my studio before an audience ever sees it. For example, these two paintings are pieces I worked out this week. They are rough sketches for two presentations I am working on.
They’re not exactly right yet, but they’re a start, I’m working out composition, getting the facial expressions right, etc. These were not six minute paintings. I spent close to an hour on each, because at this point, I’m trying to get the image right. They’re not beautiful, their painted on old canvasses, I’m just working it out. From there I…
Break it down
One of the first things we learn as artists is breaking things down into their basic shapes. This is crucial for live painting. I don’t do an advance sketch on a live painting, i.e. there are no sketch lines on the “canvas” before I begin (with the exception of a few guidelines on a piece that I do where two pieces come together at the end of the night). All the “drawing” is done with the paint, so the basic shapes are crucial.
The performance is important
When it comes to ministry, people cringe at the word performance, so I better explain myself. People like to watch me paint, but the main reason I paint is to draw people into the message. (Your reason for live painting may vary, but this is mine.) For this reason, I work to make my painting process intriguing. I want the people to be guessing for as long as possible. I’m working on a painting on grace right now, for example, and I am trying to formulate a way to write the word “grace” on the board and use it as the basis for the painting. When I paint a face I line up the eyes and nose by painting a cross on the board. I always want to keep the people guessing as long as possible. I also try to paint something very meaningful but not always totally obvious. I want people wondering why I painted what I painted so they are engaged when I tell the story.
Leave perfection and detail behind
The first step in a six minute painting is “done.” Translation, the first thing you need to do is have a recognizable finished image at the end of your allotted time. Once you have that you can perfect and detail the piece in the time remaining, but the first thing you need to be is done. It’s best to keep it simple and try to be as effective as possible. Remember, this is not the best painting you can do, it’s the best painting you can do in the time allotted.
These steps will help you have a pretty successful speed painting. Don’t do it the first time before an audience. Practice, practice, practice!