January Painting Marathon!

I spent Christmas in Nebraska—some time spent with family, but mostly doing catch-up work in my office/studio there. I am not just an artist, I’m also an administrator and manager and I wear other hats too—so I was in running-the-business mode. Then when I returned to Puerto Vallarta at New Year’s, I promptly got sick and was just resting and not working for about a week.

By the time I was feeling good again, I was really ready to do some painting! But I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to paint.

But that’s all right. I just needed to paint, and it didn’t matter what I painted.


I have a routine I follow when I want to paint but don’t know what to paint: I call it the one-hour painting method. I just choose an image more or less at random from my catalogue of photos, and start painting. The key, though, is to paint fast. My goal is to do a painting in an hour. Sometimes I get it done in an hour, sometimes less, sometimes more, but I like to have the clock ticking, because it pushes me to paint more loosely and trust myself more. The important thing is the goal: to do a painting in an hour, not to do a great painting. (Although when your 1-hour painting starts to turn into a great painting, it’s very tempting to keep going–as you will see.)

When I’m contemplating doing a painting in an hour, the subject matter doesn’t matter so much, because I know I won’t be spending many hours or even days with it. I also know there’s a good chance it won’t turn out great. So that gives me a lot of freedom. I just choose an image without too much thought, tack a piece of canvas up on my easel, and start painting.

So as soon as I was feeling well enough to start painting again, that’s what I did. I set a goal for myself to do at least 2 quick paintings on the first day I got back into the studio. I wound up doing three. None of them was particularly good, but that didn’t matter at all. The point was to paint the whole picture quickly and with confidence—and the result was, I enjoyed the process without worrying about the end result. Usually that is a very hard place to get to, which is why I love the 1-hour painting method—I don’t really expect to achieve a great painting in an hour, so it’s okay if it doesn’t turn out. I get to just enjoy throwing paint on the canvas and seeing what happens.


After that first day (January 15), I decided I would continue the 1-hour painting routine for a while, just to see where it would take me. I set an informal goal of 20 1-hour paintings. Going into the studio 6 days a week, I figured that would take me maybe 2 or 3 weeks.

It’s now January 28 and I have done 17 paintings, so it’s pretty much on schedule. Best part is, I have been really enjoying this. Almost as important is the fact that my painting is growing by leaps and bounds.

There were a couple of paintings that went so well in the first hour that I kept working on them for several hours because they seemed to be calling for that. And they were totally worth it. In both cases, I expected nothing, and was rewarded handsomely.

Below I’m showing you just about all the paintings I did in the past 2 weeks, along with some comments about the process and how things unfolded.


The first 1-hour painting I did in the January Painting Marathon came from my painting-class image stockpile. This is a bunch of printouts of interesting images I’ve found online which I keep on hand for my painting students to work from. In this case it was a pretty complex image of kids running and playing with some old tires. This was a good one to start with because it was so complex I knew I would have to simplify aggressively–and that’s what I did. And I did it in an hour!

The next painting was another one from the painting-class image pile. This was a photograph of a young Brazilian(?) panning for gold, or at least that’s my guess. This was another fairly challenging image which I didn’t let myself think about–just started painting. This one took a bit over an hour but still went pretty fast. One thing I noticed when I was done and comparing it to the source image was that my values* were a bit off. The darks in the upper half of the image, except for the central figure, are darker in the photo than in my painting. This was because I was painting fast but it was also because I got a bit caught up in what I was painting (human figures) rather than paying attention to the values. Lesson here is that painting fast is not a good excuse to ignore the values!

(*Value, or tone, is the lightness or darkness of a color. Getting the values right in a painting is way more important than getting the colors right.)

The third and final painting I did on the first day was from a photo I shot of Manuel in the Dominican Republic. Not much to say about this–pretty straightforward and the type of subject matter I’ve been painting for 40 years so perhaps I was on automatic just a bit here…but not bad considering.

After the first day I was excited about how well the 1-hour painting method was working for me, and looking forward to seeing what would happen in the studio the next day.

The next day I worked from a photo I took of Sothy in Cambodia many years ago. This is an image I’ve worked from before (Sothy in Cambodia) but I wanted to see what I could do with just one hour to paint. I really paid attention to my brushstrokes on this one (the fewer brushstrokes, and the more conscious each one is, the better), and I actually really like the result.

The second painting of the day was from a photo of Vinicius I shot in Hawaii a few years ago. This one is a pretty straightforward nude, the kind I’ve painted hundreds of times. The challenge here was to not get caught up in detail. I did finish in about an hour.

Over the next couple of days I did three more paintings, shown above. The middle one, of Jason at an outdoor shower, was very quick, but the other two kind of got away from me. What I mean by that is they were going well so I stopped watching the clock and paid more attention to taking them to a higher level of finish. So I probably spent 2 or more hours on each one. Nothing wrong with that, just that I’m not always sure that it isn’t better to stop earlier.

The one at right, of new model Zach, is another one that I spent more like 3 hours on. It was a complex composition with complicated light, so I really wanted to see what would happen if I finished it more. I do like the way it turned out, and I didn’t over-finish it.

With the next painting I started, another one of new model Zach (in-progress shots above), I really got carried away. As I was sketching this, I realized it was a bigger challenge than I’d thought. I knew I wasn’t going to get it done in an hour, and in fact, I decided to not even try. I wound up spending a couple of days on it–maybe 5 or 6 hours total–because I could tell it was something special. It came together in a way I hadn’t expected when I began it, and even though I spent a lot more hours on it than the others I’d been doing in the previous few days, I was able to stop before overworking it. Very pleased with this one–I call it Red Pillow.

Despite the more involved, multiple-hour projects that had developed in the previous days, I was still committed to my one-hour painting marathon, so the next day I did a very quick painting of a subject I’d already explored in a couple of paintings: an image of Israel sitting aboard the boat I’d chartered to do a photo shoot on one of the islands in the Bahia de Todos os Santos in Salvador, Brazil. I was happy to be back to painting fast and not worrying too much about the result.

The next “quick” painting I undertook was a landscape, which is kind of a departure for me. I do paint landscapes but not nearly as often as the male figure. But it’s a challenge I really enjoy tackling from time to time. This one was from a photo I shot at Boca de Tomatlán (a beach town not far from where I live), and I knew it would be a challenge–it’s a very complex image filled with detail–but thought I’d try it anyway. I spent probably 3 hours on it and didn’t feel I really captured it. Truth is, it probably would’ve been better if I had been strict with myself about the 1-hour rule on this one. Nevertheless I learned a lot, and I love the image, and I’ll most likely tackle it again sometime soon.

I hate to say it, but on the next painting (from my Palm Springs photo shoot with Rob), I once again got totally caught up in detail. The thing that happens after several days of doing quick paintings is, you get warmed up! And when I’m warmed up, there’s a better chance that the “quick” painting I’ve just begun starts to go so well that I’m sorely tempted to turn it into a finished painting. In this case, it was a great image which I’d been intimidated by in the past but figured it would be a good challenge to do in 1 hour. Of course it went way too well for that–and I spent many hours over 2 days finishing it. I’m very happy with the result, which I call Rob at the Hot Tub.

After finishing Rob at the Hot Tub, I came back into the studio and did another quick 1-hour painting, and this one came together really nicely. For me to be able to do a decent landscape that quickly is pretty surprising. I mean, I’m not that practiced at painting landscapes. But I’m getting better, and after two weeks of warm-up, things are a lot more likely to fall into place. This one is titled Outrigger Beach.

I’m ending this blog entry a bit before I hit my goal of 20 paintings (I’m now at 17 over about 2 weeks), just because I need to stop painting for a couple of days and get my late-January newsletter written and sent out. I fully expect to do a bunch more 1-hour paintings in February. I’m having too much fun (and getting results that are too good) to stop now!

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