Ever wonder where you’re supposed to find the time to paint?
If you’re trying to paint in your spare time, it can seem impossible.
You’re already struggling just to find a clear space and get your paints set out and sometimes you can’t even manage that.
You want to work on your colour mixing, try a new paint colour, and definitely do some more sketchbook work, but you also have a job, family, friends — responsibilities that are just more important.
And so you wonder: should you just keep going, doing the best you can?
Or is there a strategy you can use that doesn’t require so much time and achieves better results?
I’ve been trying to find the answer to this question:
How can you fit your creativity into an already busy life?
I’ve been working with artists and students to find a different, more effective approach and I think I’ve found one.
As it turns out, the answer isn’t doing more. It’s doing less.
Step 1. Paint with only one colour per week.
Whoever said you have to complete a painting at every sitting?
Nobody, as far as I can tell. It’s just when you see artists working, they often look as though the painting comes with ease, a ‘happy accident’ occurs turning their mistake into a perfectly formed cloud.
Your accidents are anything but happy, causing close family members to ask the worst question anyone can ever ask.
What is it?
Most of us assume that successful paintings are created in a moment of inspiration, a flurry of creative genius, paint flying, brushes waving.
But they aren’t, most professional artists are much more considered.
If you’re strapped for time, there’s nothing wrong with starting slowly, your subconscious might even be grateful. Most people have so much on their minds they don’t have time to create a completed painting at the weekend, and it leaves you feeling frustrated.
By cutting back, and giving yourself permission to achieve one small step towards your finished painting, you’ll make it easier for yourself to stay painting.
Okay, So what colours should I use?
There’s no specific magic colour, but here’s a suggestion: Start with ultramarine blue & white.
To create one good image with one single colour is far better than 100 incomplete paintings with 10 colours. Often creative people are brilliant starters, but not great finishers. I bet you have 100’s of amazing ideas for paintings you’d love to do, if only you had the time.
Start with one colour and work your way up.
The key word is “good.” One well composed, well-thought-out painting is more rewarding than hundreds of hurried ones.
You can create a wide tonal range with ultramarine blue, it has a low series number so doesn’t cost much and will be useful in numerous paintings in the future.
Some artists are faster than others, but in general, if you’re spending less than three hours on one of your paintings, you’re probably going too fast. Cut back the quantity, and focus on quality.
By itself, this will often double or triple your completion time, which will both boost your confidence and skill as a painter.
But it also does something else: it frees up time to look.
Step Two: Find one painting per month to copy.
As you’ve probably seen, there are hundreds of techniques for becoming a better painter. In an ideal world, you would live in Italy, studying classical painting techniques whilst absorbing the Renaissance atmosphere. Stopping for the occasional gelato to watch the world pass by.
There’s only one problem: you don’t live in an ideal world. And neither do I.
Even if you were painting full-time with an army of assistants (Damien Hirst has over 100 assistants to help him paint his works), you couldn’t do everything.
So don’t try.
Instead, focus on one strategy, and get really good at it.
My advice: Start with the master copy.
Why copying from the masters is your best strategy
Here’s why: pretty much every painting technique you need to learn has been done before.
And often these are your favourite paintings.
To make a painting work, you need to learn from the best. So pick a painting, and pick a section from it. You don’t have to paint the whole picture. Just a small section to start with. And try to copy it.
It won’t be brilliant, but you might be surprised. Even though you think that you know a painting really well, you never really see it until you have to draw it. You never really know the subject until you have to paint it, you have to engage and concentrate.
This painting below was a copy, I borrowed it from Jacob Collins, a fantastic painter in New York. I painted a detail, an oil portrait of the head.
Will Kemp, Head study – After Collins, Oil on canvas
Was it perfect?
Did I improve my painting?
The painting ended up getting selected for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition in the Mall Galleries, London. Thanks, Jacob.
To make the composition work, you need to study a well-composed painting. To create colour harmony, you need to understand how muted some colour actually are, even if at first glance they seem bright
And that’s hard when you’re a beginner because you don’t have as many of the skills you need.
In my opinion, it’s far, far easier to understand how great paintings work, and then use those painting principles to create your own pieces.
One painting a week, even one painting a month you would soon have a collection.
Step Three: Slowly start adding more colours
Once you start getting results, I think you’ll find it’s a lot easier to start experimenting with more colours.
Adding burnt umber to create a black and learning about warm and cool colours. It will then be easier to progress to choosing a full palette.
Everyone is more motivated to work on something that’s working.
If you get a good result you will be encouraged, you won’t have to push yourself quite so hard to get back to the studio (or kitchen table)
You’ll want to do it, and that makes painting a lot more enjoyable.
And guess what?
When you start painting, as I’m sure you have found, time flies, you get in the zone, and you’ll wonder to yourself…
Why don’t I do this more often?
Instead of dreaming of learning how to paint, you’ll actually be able to do it.
It’s a very simple concept.
Is the concept perfect?
In fact, it has one serious flaw:
You might not know what to paint next?
And this can be daunting, you want to paint your cats or dogs, husband, wife or children but that seems like a huge leap.
If you want to get started and build your confidence you can learn how to paint in my online course How to Paint with Acrylics.
I show you step by step how I create the painting, and you can follow at your own pace, in between picking up the kids, to fulfil your painting potential.
If you want to make this year about simplifying and getting more results from less effort I think this is something you should think about – You just need a few tricks of the trade to help you get started.
About the Author: Will Kemp is the founder of Will Kemp Art School, has an insatiable appetite for ice-cream, and highly recommends the dark chocolate ice-cream in Grom, Florence (it is immense) He can also teach you how to paint.