Posts Tagged ‘how to speed paint’

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!

I’ve been posting these posts (1,2,3,4) to tell you about how to do the actual paintings and there is more to come, but I wanted to take a moment and talk a little bit about content. Before I go on, it is important once again to point out that our motivations for speed painting may vary. I, for example, do my paintings to lead into what I will be speaking about. This article comes out of that motivation, but I think it is helpful for any speed painter, working in any context.

Because my motivation is to use art to “draw” (see how I did that) people into my message, I want to keep them guessing. Because of this, I try to make the painting somewhat misleading in the process of creating. I want to keep them guessing about what I am painting for as long as possible. The reason for this is pretty simple. If they are guessing, they are engaged. They are wondering what I am painting, so they will want to know more. The question “Why?” is also powerful, as in “Why did he paint that?” I don’t always go for the obvious image. What I am looking for is engagement. I want to draw them in. I want them to really want to know more.

devilpaintingAn example of this is when I do my Pictures of Jesus presentation. As I begin the presentation, I tell the congregation in advance that I am going to paint five pictures of Jesus over the course of the evening. I have one part of the presentation I call The Other Lion. In that presentation, I paint a picture that looks like a cartoon image of Satan. Of course people are dying to know why I painted a picture of the devil in a presentation called Pictures of Jesus. I rightly point out that there is another lion in this story. “Be self controlled and alert, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour.” I then give my testimony to the point of coming to Christ, at which point I say, “Jesus turned my life around.” I flip the painting upside down and it becomes a picture of Jesus. The painting gets attention and draws them into the story I am about to tell.

This, behind any kind of aesthetic response is the goal. I am more concerned with an engaged audience than I am with a beautiful painting, though I try to accomplish that as well.

Which brings me to quality. I will often tell people these are not the best paintings I can do, but they are the best paintings I can do in six minutes. This can open the door to helping people leave that “If only I had…” mentality. Life following Jesus often involves doing the best and being faithful with what we have.

I hope these posts have been helpful. Speed painting is a great tool to communicate the Gospel. If you’re interested in trying it, I would love to help you out. You can contact me for more information at