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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Speed Painting

Speed Painter, D. Westry, Takes the stage in
Anderson's Viewers Got Talent.

Despite what the wise old King Solomon claimed in the Bible's book of Ecclesiastes about there being "nothing new under the sun," my thinking is that he was more than a little shortsighted. Perhaps that was the case some three-thousand years ago during Old Testament times, but it's doubtful, were he living today, that Solomon would find little that is not new (under the sun or otherwise). Even if he was speaking figuratively, rather than literally, there's little doubt King Solomon would find any number of items having to do with human nature that could be considered "new." The world today thrives on newness while at the same time also viewing it with some trepidation, or at least, many people do. Nowhere is newness embraced more wholeheartedly than in the world of art. The very definition of art has to do with creativity (originality) and thus, newness. In fact, we refer to art that isn't new with one of the worst epithets an artist might face--trite.

Beyonc√©, S. Macguire, Time-lapse Speed Painting using Photoshop

However, most of that which is new in our world today is driven, not by art, but by science and technology. This has been the case ever since prehistoric painters began using sharpened bronze chisels (employing the science of metallurgy) to flatten and smooth rocks before painting on them. It continues to this very day as digital artists create amazing works without even touching a brush or dirtying their hands with errant pigments (above). If the artist makes a mistake, that's what the "back" key is for. In fact, the creative hardware and software today is powerful enough to "remember" virtually every step in even the longest creative process, and can be forced back step-by-step to a blank "canvas." As convenient as this feature may be, it goes far beyond the ease of correcting errors. In fact, it allows the "painting" process to be recorded and replayed in a sped up version to the point that the creation of a work of art taking dozens of hours can be recreated in a matter of minutes. Quite apart from the novelty, the entertainment value, or the training benefits such a feature provides, the result is, in fact, a new art form. It has come to be called "speed painting."

Denis Dent - Portrait Michael Jackson
Although there may be a great deal that's "new, under the sun," there is very little "newness" that is without precedence. Art history recalls that as early as 1980, a California painter named Denny Dent (above) billed himself as the first "speed painter." Indeed, he once painted a portrait of President Gerald Ford from life in just eight minutes. In terms of traditional paint on canvas that might seem unprecedented.

 Bob Ross - A Walk in the Woods (Season 1 Episode 1) 

However I contend that speed painting goes back still farther than that. Remember Bob Ross and his mentor, Bill Alexander? (The latter goes back as far as 1974.) Both used the science and technology of color television to teach (or inspired) thousands of amateur artists to paint landscapes in as little as a half-hour (with time out for commercials). Above is Bob Ross's first TV "speed painting" ca. 1984.
 Time Lapse Paintings (Lost Treasure)  Marc Doiron
A few short years later painters discovered time-lapse photography and found that, with some judicious film editing, they could beat old Bob and Bill by at least half the time. The advent of video made the process still easier and cheaper while digital "painting" aided and abetted the newly emerging art form still more. Marc Doiron (above) has it down to a little over five minutes. Compare this to the months and (some say) years Leonardo da Vinci spent on the Mona Lisa.

 UPSIDE DOWN - Speed Painter entertainer.
Jackson Pollock would have loved this guy. 
Speed painting, especially as seen today using traditional paint, brushes, and canvas, usually on a grand scale, unavoidably blurs the line between painting and crowd-pleasing entertainment. Is it, or should , such painting be considered a performance? Some might question whether speed painting is, indeed, art, or simply a dazzling "nightclub" act set to music as seen in Dent's portrait of Michael Jackson accompanied by the singer's Billie Jean. There's little question that such work, regardless of the manner and speed with which it is created, fits the definition of art. BUT (and this is a might big but) it is art only in the sense that singers, dancers, musicians, actors, and the like are performance artists and what they do is also considered art, though endlessly rehearsed and highly staged. It takes DG (above) just three to five minutes to create a speed portrait of a famous person or a company's CEO. (It helps to be ambidextrous.) Such artists often paint their images upside down to prolong the theatrical suspense and provide the obligatory "big finish" when the canvas it inverted at the end. DG's publicity material also notes the possibility including dancers and musicians.


Speed painting Portrait tutorial in oil paint
-- time-lapse demonstration by Lachri
On a more serious note, and harkening back to the original Bob Ross form of speed painting, many artists have employed time-lapse video as a teaching tool in an attempt to speed up the learning process, as well as making it more fun to watch. Moreover, with a few basic pieces of video equipment (mostly just a camcorder, lights, and tripod) along with a computer loaded with video editing software, virtually any painter, no matter how slowly they're accustomed to working, or how complex their artwork may be, can produce a speed painting tutorial. Having an assistant helps, especially if he or she knows more about video production than the artist. An instructional narrative can be added in the editing process, thus avoiding the high-pitched, hyperactive instructions of Lachri's video above.

A Walk in the Rain, Step by Step Acrylic Painting
on Canvas for Beginners  Painting with Jane.


  1. I must say this blog is very helpful for those who are fond of paintings. All videos are differently themed and style of painting is excellent. Thanks for sharing excellent information.

    1. Randy--

      Thanks for your comment. In writing, I try to remember the broad interest of my readers and the tremendous range in their art knowledge and experiences. I'm especially conscious of this as I deal with art history, particularly that of the distant past and esoteric details, which can be quite boring. That's why in delving into any topic, I always try to deal with the "now" aspect first. I try to humanize art from the past, often using interesting or unusual trivia. If art from the past is seen as irrelevant then it's up to me to try to make it relevant or to screen out that which isn't. Thanks again for following me.