November 10, 2007

Art with a timer!

I have always been awestruck with painters who can work fast and convey all they want to with as few brush strokes as possible. Work that is actually impressionistic but looks real. I wanted to give it a shot, after some impetus by plein air painter Larry Seiler at Wetcanvas. Working loose would come naturally to Plein air painters, as they have to capture the moment on canvas before the light changes. It comes with a lot of practice, and gives a lot of life to paintings. In this approach, there is hardly any attention to detail, only the relevant things are highlighted and the painting draws the viewer in.

What I have just completed is my first attempt at working loose. The goal was simple - to paint without spending too much time thinking. Just let myself loose on the canvas. This painting was done in just under an hour, from scratch. It was done using only 1 brush, a 1 inch flat brush. It was weird to actually paint with a timer, as though I was writing an examination!

Generally, my attitude towards an Acrylic or Oil painting is very lethargic. I take my strokes for granted, coz deep inside is the lurking feeling that if things don't work out as I expect, I can always paint over it again. This is an effort to kill that attitude and make every brush stroke count. At every stage, I noted down the time taken for that stage, and everything was painted only once. No redoing at any stage and I am happy for that reason.

Here is a quick look at the painting from start to finish.

Green Landscape - stage 1
(c) Nithya Swaminathan

Seen above is the initial sketch, as roughly as I could. My sketches for landscapes are generally very vague, I do not follow the picture to the T, but this was more sketchy than I normally do. The sketch was done in under a minute.

Green Landscape - stage 2
(c) Nithya Swaminathan

Then I start with the skies, and in about 5 minutes, do the sky with some cobalt blue and white. Then randomly do the clouds as I please. A touch of crimson here and there.

Green Landscape - stage 3
(c) Nithya Swaminathan

I then do an underpainting of the far away trees in tones of red. This is to enhance the effect of the greens which will be done on top of the reds. I have not marked values, just done a plain monotone underpainting. Another 2 mins spent there.

Green Landscape - stage 4
(c) Nithya Swaminathan

And then I started with the greens, did a green wash without much details in the foreground. There is no actual depiction of grass as yet. This was about 15 minutes.

Green Landscape - Acrylics on Canvas, 12 * 16 inches
(c) Nithya Swaminathan
Original available, email me for purchase info.
Prints available here.

And finally I complete the painting with more details on the grass, complete the reflections of the sky etc. Another 25 minutes spent. So start to finish was done in approx one hour. I wanted to finish this Alla prima, in one sitting, but it got spilt over to two sessions. So that defines my next goal - to finish a painting in less than an hour and in one session. I have put this WIP into a slide show, check it out.

It is a lot of fun working like this, it is very liberating since there is no time to think and I just paint. My mind doesnt ponder over what I should do, it is only a spectator. I love the whole thing, though I cannot say for sure if this will be a new direction that I will focus on. Let us see. I would love to hear your views on this. And since my readers already know how much I suck at titles for paintings, I would love to hear some title suggestions as well. I just could not come up with one!


  1. Hey Nithya

    I like the concept, but is it limited to landscapes only? I mean I understand its primarily intended to capture the light effects within a limited time frame. But can one do maybe a still-life? I definitely like the color palette, very soothing to the eye.

    Hm, how about "whirlwind willow"? or "lightning lush"? :) Waiting for more.


  2. Hi Altoid,
    Did my post give an impression that I painted en plein air?! I am sorry in that case, coz this was painted in studio from a picture. The ability to capture light would come naturally on doing a lot of plein airs and yes, it can be applied to still lifes too. Paint more from life is the key.:)



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