How to Draw and Paint Faster

Are you struggling to get your Art projects done on time? Some students – even those who are dedicated and hard-working – find it challenging to work at the pace required in a Visual Art course. The skilful, perfectionist student usually falls into this category; those who produce meticulous, highly-detailed observational drawings or paintings. Parents and teachers can be unsure how to provide practical, positive strategies for improvement. This article lists fifteen ways that a high school Art student can work faster, without compromising the quality of their work.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

6. Leave artwork purposefully incomplete

Artist work is sometimes purposefully ‘unfinished’. Art students shouldn’t feel obliged to ‘complete’ every item. There are many occasions when a fully rendered drawing is not necessary. Drawings, especially those in sketchbooks, can be left with edges trailing away and tone only applied to some areas.

Leaving work unfinished is particularly useful when conducting visual research, exploring ideas and experimenting with media. Depending on your artist influences, this may even be appropriate in final works – as a way to draw attention to focal points and direct attention within an artwork.