1. Use a ground
There are many benefits to working on a ground. One of these is increased painting or drawing speed. A ground covers a painting or drawing surface from the outset. It can act as mid-tone, with only black and white used to apply dark and light areas (as in the examples below) or be left partially visible in the final work. This results in an artwork that is much faster to complete (see our article about painting on grounds for more information).
An A Level Art portrait by Mariam Shafei-Sabett from Dame Alice Owen’s School, Hertfordshire, England and a teaching exemplar from Amiria Robinson:
The beautiful A Level portrait on the left has been completed upon a pale brown ground (this provides a mid-tone skin colour and is also left visible in the background). On the right, a wash of ochre, blue and brown provides a background to the drawing black and white pencil drawing.
2. Incorporate mixed media /patterned surfaces / textural elements
As with using a ground, patterned, decorative or textural items can cover areas of an artwork quickly. Although this strategy should be used with care, selecting only materials which support or enhance your project (usually with reference to a relevant artist model) this can be a great way to speed up your project and introduce creative use of mixed media.
Two AP Studio Art (Concentration) pieces by Alyssa Church from Bingham High School, South Jordan, Utah, United States:
Exploring fairy tales (the ‘Princess and the Pea’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, these well-composed works allow the student to demonstrate observational drawing skills in certain areas of the artwork, while saving time by covering other areas with mixed-media patterned surfaces.
Domestic Violence series by artist Scott Waters:
Artist Scott Waters produces gripping paintings on a range of found surfaces, including wallpaper, postcards and romantic paperback book covers. Note that the chosen surfaces are integral to the message in the work; the shattering of domestic bliss.
Please read this article for more exciting ideas about how to use mixed media within your work.
3. Work on several pieces at once
Working in series – completing several paintings or drawings at one time – is a very helpful strategy for Art students. This speeds work up for a number of reasons:
- A single colour can be used throughout a number of works, without needing to stop for remixing / washing brushes
- While one work is drying, another one can be worked on
- Similar processes or techniques can be mastered quickly and repeated on subsequent works
In addition, when working on several pieces at once, ‘preciousness’ about the work tends to be lost, leading to more experimentation and greater work speed.
The studio of artist Willem de Kooning:
These photos of Willem de Kooning’s studio show several works in progress pinned to the wall and scattered across the floor. Although creating a glorious working environment such as this is not possible in most high schools, many Painting classrooms have small pin board alcoves which can be used to display work in progress.
4. Paint things in the right order – background areas first
Painting things in an illogical order is surprisingly common amongst high school Art students. In almost all cases, the background should be completed first, followed by the middle-ground, ending with the foreground. This is easily understood when considering a tree in front of a cloudy sky. If you make the mistake of painting the tree first, the sky has to be meticulously painted around every leaf and branch: an irritating task that takes hours (and ends up looking a little shabby). Painting the sky first, however, means that a large brush can quickly be used to paint the sky, with the tree then easily added over the top. Painting in the correct order also results in a painting that has layers (which gives it a richness and lustre, as with using a ground). If you find that subsequent layers of paint do not adequately cover earlier ones, you have an inferior brand of paint. (We will detail our paint and art supply recommendations in an upcoming article – stay tuned)!
Note: Once you understand how to build up a painting in layers, you will realise that often this involves drawing items in stages also.
Paintings by artist Susan Danko:
These vibrant, architecturally-inspired abstract works by Susan Danko are a prime example of an artwork that must be painted in a logical order. These paintings would have been exceptionally tedious had the rays of light had been painted first.
5. Use masking tape to create straight edges
Some students are concerned that it might be necessary to ‘prove’ that a straight line can be painted by hand. This is not the case. Your control of a paint brush can be ascertained immediately by looking at the remainder of your painting. Masking tape creates straight edges in seconds. Once mastered, this trick can save you hours – and make your paintings sharper, cleaner and more professional in the process. If you haven’t used masking tape before, buy some now!
This painting is by Amiria Robinson (me):
Enlarged details of this seascape painting can be seen to the right. All of the straight lines were created using masking tape.