Slow Painting

There’s a bias in urban and nature sketching for working quickly. The idea is to get the subject down while on location and to capture the moment, place, or experience. It’s a worthy practice and many people do it well, completing sketchbook pages with lovely drawings and paintings in an hour or two. But there’s also a lot to be said for working slowly. Careful observation and allowing time for a subject to resonate gives you time to figure out how best to approach it on paper. Sometimes I build a painting over days, weeks, or even months. This was one of those slow paintings. Though relatively simple, it took me the better part of last week to complete it.

Before beginning, I mixed every combination of green from the yellow and blue paints in my palette, filling a large sheet to figure out which ones I liked best. Then it took me several sessions to create the depth I was l was looking for in the leaves. When I got stuck or lost a sense of direction, getting up and walking away helped me to return and see what I needed to do next. While working slow or fast is a matter of preference, consider setting your own pace and taking as long as you need to bring your vision to life.

I’m excited to kick off my Savoring Summer Sketchbook Series at Winslow Arts Center on the summer solstice, June 21. Learn more on the Workshops page or at the Winslow website.

30 Comments on “Slow Painting

  1. Whether this took one day or one month-it would be worth the wait. Amazing!

  2. I enjoy slow painting to give me time to relax and enjoy the process; even after completing the painting, several days later I will touch it up to finish it

  3. Jean, thanks! This post is perfect timing for me. I struggle to be “fast” and then get frustrated that I have not finished a page. I will now stop beating myself up and enjoy the process and just do what I do … not based on another person’s style or abilities.

    • I’ve felt the same pressure and it isn’t productive. I often sketch quickly and paint slowly. But whatever your approach, I think you have to embrace your style as your own and try not to compare too much.

  4. Beautiful painting Jean! And yes, I too, savor slow, mindful painting. For me, it is the process that fills me up, even more than the final result. And the slow painting is how I relax and get in that fabulous “flow state”. I love the negative painting you’ve done in this piece and hope you’ll consider doing a workshop on this technique, perhaps at Winslow?

    • That fabulous flow state is a beautiful place! I think there is already a class listed at Winslow on negative painting. I include an introduction to it in my Drawn to Nature 2 class. Maybe I’ll try a technique takeaway sometime to share some basic strategies.

  5. Wow! Stunning work of art, Jean! Are those bleeding hearts, in white? Aka Dutchman’s Britches?” They really pop out over top of the leafy background. Such depth. And I must say your post is one of my favorites when it comes to fast vs slow vs careful page creation. Really needed that reminder, since just yesterday it seemed I spent such a long time reproducing my morning field observation of only a few drought-stressed cottonwood leaves. For me it never seems to be about speed journaling. Thanks a million!

    • Yes, these are white bleeding hearts, but they are different from Dutchman’s Britches (Dicentra cucullaria), which flower very early in spring. This is the common bleeding heart that you typically see in pink, only it’s a white variety (Dicentra spectabilis Alba). It’s quite lovely. I’m glad the reminder to enjoy the process and work at your own pace was useful. I can relate to spending hours on some mundane subject and wondering what’s the point. But it’s the process and the doing that sometimes count more than the finished page.

      • Thanks for such a lovely reply to my comment. I’m only familiar with the garden variety bleeding heart, but really love this species.

  6. I deeply appreciate hearing your perspective on this, Jean. I have felt that bias and struggled to make it happen for me. Sometimes I am happy with a quick sketch, but I’m not sure that’s my ‘style’ and often I want to work something out over time. It’s so good to be reminded that we are all different, and different on different days as well. I’m a huge fan of your art work, finding it so beautiful and inspiring. And, it’s soothing to be reminded to listen to my own inclinations. Thank you! 🙂

    • I’m so glad this resonated with you Lisa. It’s too easy to compare ourselves with others and feel like we’re coming up short. Listening to our own inclinations is indeed a good place to begin.

  7. That’s interesting. I was just having the same discussion with a friend about this very subject. Recently, I had to just get up and walk away to give my self time to decide how I wanted to complete my sketch. It took days. But I’m pleased with the results. Your bleeding hearts are beautiful and a perfect example of how to slow down. A great takeaway for me. Thanks for the advice.

    • I’m always glad when what I write hits home with others. Thanks for sharing your experience. Walking away is an excellent tool that typically works better than leaping without a plan.

  8. I agree with you that it’s fashionable to be “quick” and “loose.” But I have observed that those who do fine portraits, accurate nature drawings/paintings, and detailed architecture are those who receive the most accolades from everyone. Paradox, me thinks. Or possibly the quick and loose advocates have simply lost sight of the notion that art should be pleasing to the eye. Then again, I’m slow even when I want to be quick 🙂

    • Thanks for weighing in Larry. I think quick and loose can be just as pleasing as slow and fine, and often feels more evocative. That said, I think many of the best loose painters have an underlying carefully observed structure that makes the painting work. Alas, as with most things in art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But as artists, I think it’s worthwhile to give ourselves permission to develop our own style, work in our own ways, and let go of the niggling comparisons that tend to chip away at our confidence.

  9. Hi Jean, this post resonated with me. I belong to a urban sketching group, but stopped meeting with them. I am slow and methodical when I sketch. One reason is because I am a beginner, although I have advanced lately. I work on my watercolor sketches for a week and sometimes a month. I go back to my table and see something else to add or change. Sometimes I just have to move on. I love your posts.❤️

    • Thanks for writing Suzette. The pressure to work a certain way in a group can be intense, even if it is unintended. Although it’s nice to work with others who share your interest, it’s especially hard as a beginner because the tendency to compare your work to others and feel like you’re coming up short can really undermine your confidence. I’m glad you’ve continued to work in your own way and build your skills. And you’re right…sometimes it’s best to turn the page and move on. All the best! — Jean

  10. Jean, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this article on slow painting. Also, I really loved your class yesterday, Savoring Summer. I plan to rewatch the session and try the bird nest again. I learned so much by watching you paint in real time. Thank you.

    I have read about the art session at Hog Island and became interested again when a couple of the ladies mentioned that they would be attending this summer. I see that there is a wait list this year and I actually already had a trip planned in July. But I would like to be able to sign up next year if you plan to teach again. I sent an email to Hog Island Audubon Camp to hopefully have my name added to their list of notifications. Is there another way that I should try to be notified in the future?

    Looking forward to painting with you again soon. Mary Linn

    • Hi Mary Linn– Thanks for checking in. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and the first Savoring Summer session and hope you will post your work to the group when you are ready. Hog Island Audubon Camp is a very special place and I hope you will be able to attend in future years. Sending an email to the camp at to ask whether you could be put on a list to be notified when registration opens is the best way to stay informed. There is often a Save the Date in the fall with a schedule for programs in advance of registration opening.

      I look forward to seeing you again soon. — Jean

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