Making art with limited time.

With all the activities outdoors, you might wonder how it is possible to find time for art. There are all kinds of art related activities that can be done in a limited amount of time, say, one hour.

If that is not possible, then I break the project into one hour slices of work. Or I might do two things at once...I search for collage materials while I am watching tv at night. (this might be considered doing three things since I am also weeding out old magazines for recycling!)

(This post was first published December 2017).

Charcoal and pastels are satisfying mediums because they give quick results that are pretty amazing. Remember this type of art doesn't have to be beautiful nor does it have to be perfect. You are just scratching that itch to paint!

When time is limited and you have to get art out of your system, charcoal is one way to go. If you are just starting to use charcoal or pastel, try layering it with other mediums such as gesso, adding different strokes, using the eraser to remove charcoal here and there.

Charcoal is perfect in so many ways

Charcoal is inexpensive, easy to find,  and requires hardly any set up time. Fingers can be used to smudge the charcoal quite effectively so no other expensive tools are needed other than a charcoal pencil (compressed charcoal) and an eraser, kneadable preferably.

Charcoal provides rich values from intense blacks, to subtle greys. Want to try a monochromatic painting? Charcoal can be used to great effect for such a painting.

Charcoal can be mixed with water or with gesso for even more variety. Mix charcoal with soft pastels or water soluble pencils. So many possibilities!

Most importantly, the more you layer it, the more you see the beauty of charcoal.

You can shave charcoal into a piece of nylon and see how swiping the paper with it will result in a soft hazy background. Try using your eraser on this background.

Getting art out of the system

Charcoal is really about being playful and experimenting. As I have a second look at this painting below, I see that I could have continued after the hour was up. I would have used the eraser to bring out more white on the nose for example.

But the point of the painting was not to achieve perfection. It was to get art done with little time. The smudging, the white spaces, the line work, and the values help to create the illusion of a face.

timed charcoal sketch

(Timed charcoal sketch (one-hour) on watercolour paper.  I used gesso in the background to make the surface a little rougher so the charcoal will adhere better to the paper.)

There are excellent tutorials online but I especially like Juna Biagioni's videos for learning charcoal and pastel techniques. Juna's light squiggles and curves on paper are mesmerizing to watch.

I have used charcoal in other painting such as in Danny Boy, a quick sketch using charcoal and pastel pencils, or in Who will help the vulnerable children?

Why use pastels?

Pastels and charcoal work well together. Pastels add life to a portrait and can be blended to create rich depth in a painting. Fingers are handy for smudging pastels much like charcoal although make sure fingers are clean when you do your blending and smudging.

I am always inspired by Ivy Newport  and her tutorials. As she says, pastels "are truly magical and can create amazing brilliant color or whisper soft shades."  I chose the soft shades!

quick pastel portrait

There are many different types of pastels.  For this painting, I used what I had on hand: pastel pencils by Faber Castell and Pan Pastels.

Hard pastel pencils are great for sketching the lines, roughing in shapes, and defining details that have been lost in the process of painting. On the other hand, pan pastels are very buttery and smooth and can fill the tooth of the paper quite quickly. This type of pastel is used for larger areas such as the neck and the cheeks in the portrait above.

Special paper for pastels

Pastels require a paper with tooth so I used Canson Mi-Teintes in all the pastel portraits I have painted such as A Strange Kind of Beautiful and Heartbroken, and in the painting that has become a favourite, Forever a Wallflower. This paper comes in different colours that can be left to show through in the painting, adding an element of interest besides saving time. I did try to leave some of the background colour exposed in the portrait.

The pastel painting took about an hour to develop, but then I played with it some more. It's not easy to stop when you are having fun!

With pastels and charcoal, expect lots of dust. I work in my art room in the basement where I can clean up later if I am in a hurry.  This is art that can be left and easily continued another time. Wear an apron and clean your hands often if you are smudging your work with your fingers. You want to keep your whites white and not spread colours where they shouldn't be.

Most of all, give yourself permission to have fun and not worry too much about the outcome.

The next post will be about collage and the ways it can help save time as well.

What are your secrets for getting art done more quickly?

9 Responses

  • I’ve been using Pastelmat by Clairfontain for my more worked up pieces lately. It gives the pastels a much richer feel than the standard papers (which I still use for life and sketch work)

    • Hi Graham…Since I wrote this post I have discovered better paper for my portraits. I use 600 grade UART Premium Sanded Pastel Paper…and what a difference it makes! I have heard of the Pastelmat paper and might try it some day. Thanks Graham.

    • Janice, gesso is the undo button! Messier than any app to be sure, but I can’t tell you how many paintings have been gessoed over and started again. ?‍?

      • I know what you mean, for me it’s just for experienced things, like trying some color or something. 🙂

  • Superb bⅼog! Do you һave any tips for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a littlе lost on еvеrythіng.

    Would you recommend starting with a free platfօrm liкe Wordpreѕs or go for
    a paid option? There are so many choices out there thаt I’m tⲟtally overwhelmeɗ ..
    Any tips? Thank you!

    • I started with only a blog but then I wanted something more so I migrated everything to a website. There are excellent free templates with wordpress. You have to see what is best for your needs. It took me three years to figure out that I wanted a full website. You can start with just a blog and see if you like that. My best advice is to do something…too much time is lost to paralysis from overthinking everything. Read up on blogging and artists as bloggers but DO something for yourself whether it is posting your art on facebook or instagram or going for a blog of your own or the whole website. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

    • After having had a series of lengthier projects, it is really quite liberating to work on short, timed projects. Because it is timed, I talk myself into walking away and being satisfied with what I have on paper and accepting the art as it is. I really like journaling best of all (part2) although I admit that the time consuming part is finding all the papers in colours that work together with the message (if I have one). A different kind of brain teaser I suppose. Happy New Year to you both as well!

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