Making “Fast Art”

2013 Artwork Fast Art Sketch

Chances are, I’ll probably disagree with quite a bit of what I write in this article in a couple of decades time. Not to mention that I’d be extremely surprised if I was the first person to ever coin the term “fast art” either.

But, yes, this is an article about “fast art” and how to make it.

I don’t mean art created during periods of religious fasting (for starters, I don’t even follow a religion). I also don’t mean what could possibly be a sneering term of dismissal for popular art amongst pretentious critics (eg: like how some people view “fast food”) either.

No, “fast art” is just what the name suggests. Art made quickly. And I love it.

Whilst it probably goes against the old idea of an artist spending weeks on working a single drawing or a year working on a single painting, it’s still possible to produce good, or at least reasonable art fairly quickly. However, it’s more than that. It’s a way of thinking.

When I got back into making art on a regular basis in April 2012 (I also started this blog in April this year, what is it about April?) I never spent more than an hour and a half on almost all of the things that I drew.

Even these days, most of my ordinary (A5-size) drawings take about an hour or so to make and even an (A4-sized) comic page only takes about two hours at the absolute most (that is, if I’ve actually got a good idea for it, the writing can sometimes take longer!).

What I’m trying to say here is that “fast art” was something I’ve always tended to do. Even when I was fairly new to art, I still liked to make art quickly. Yes, I did a few things differently (which I’ll mention a bit later) and I used to make lots of small sketches, little comics and doodles quite often when I was a kid (even though I dreamed of becoming a novelist rather than an artist/comics writer back then…)

So, this article is aimed at people who at least have a very small amount of experience in making art – if you’re an absolute beginner, then you’re probably best focusing on technique and things like that first. And practising a lot.

Which, incidentally, brings us to the first point on my list of tips for making fast art:

1) Practice. Practice. Practice: As I mentioned in my article about quality and quantity, producing large quantities of art is one of the best ways of improving your skills. And, of course, if you produce art fairly quickly, then you’re going to produce a lot more of it. But, there’s more to it than that.

Practice isn’t about how much stuff you produce, it’s about what you learn. It’s about learning all sorts of physical skills and intellectual skills – and, yes, making art is a physical skill as well as an intellectual one. In order to get the kind of precision and muscle memory that you need for making art, you need to practice a lot.

Although I’m not the kind of person who goes to the gym obsessively (thankfully, I think it’s been at least five years since I even saw the inside of one of those expensive torture chambers…), I’m usually almost obsessive about giving my left hand a daily “workout” [insert double-entendre here…]. And, of course, the other benefit of this is that there’s actually decent music in the background during my daily “workouts” too. Ok, I’ll stop being cynical now….

However, as this amazing comic by Stephen McCranie points out, practice can also stop you from progressing as an artist if you aren’t careful. This is because, it’s very easy to do pretty much the same thing over and over again, especially if you’re working quickly.

I fell into this trap when I starting getting back into art again last year. Almost all of my badly-drawn old drawings featured someone (drawn in the same style) standing in almost exactly the same position, from the same perspective, over and over again.

This is probably one of the better ones, but there's probably at least a hundred drawings like this on my DeviantART gallery...

This is probably one of the better ones, but there’s probably at least a hundred drawings like this on my DeviantART gallery…

And, if I’m not careful, this can still happen to me these days sometimes. The solution to this, as Stephen McCranie’s comic points out, is to make a point of learning how to draw new things by copying a variety of different things that interest you- whilst adding a lot of your own creativity too!

Yes, it will slow you down slightly when you start doing this, but you’ll eventually learn a whole bunch of new skills and techniques which you can use quickly. Trust me, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

2) Don’t set a time limit: There’s a very big difference between fast art and rushed art. If you rush, you’re more likely to make mistakes and you’ll be a lot more focused on meeting a deadline than on actually creating things.

Instead of looking at your sketch pad, canvas or computer screen, you’ll be looking at the clock constantly (or the bottom corner of your computer screen [if you use Windows]).

So, don’t set a time limit when you’re making fast art.

If you’re making fast art properly, then whatever you’re making won’t take more than a couple of hours anyway. If it takes longer, then this either means that you’re more suited to spending longer working on things (and, if it works for you, then go for it…) or it just means that you need to practice more. Regardless, you’ll still have a work of art to show for it at the end.

3) Simplicity: This is one of the best things that you can learn from making fast art – it’s also why I referred to fast art as a “way of thinking” earlier in this article too. When you make fast art, you have to simplify things. You have to focus on the most important details of what you’re drawing and only give a vague impression of everything else.

This skill is especially important to learn if you’re drawing comics or cartoons. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing to learn.

If you don’t believe me, then take a look at a few daily webcomics which have been going for a few years. The drawings still give you a very good idea of what the characters look like and what the world they live in looks like, but the art is usually a lot simpler than the art in, say, a professionally-produced graphic novel (which might have taken a year or more to make). In fact, webcomics can be the perfect example of “fast art” at its best.

But, even if you’re learning how to make “realistic” art, then learning what to leave in your painting or drawing and what to leave out of it is still an extremely valuable skill

4) Size: Fast art is usually going to be smaller than other types of art. This is for the simple reason that it’s easier to fill an A5-sized page quickly than it is to fill an A3-sized page.

Now, whilst you can still put a lot of time and detail into a smaller work of art if you want to, it’s a lot easier to make smaller works of art quickly. After you’ve been practising for a while, you’ll also eventually feel more confident about moving onto slightly larger drawing sizes too.

When I got back into art in 2012, I started out by making drawings which were about the size of a tarot card. I could fit about four of them on a page of my A4 sketchbook. This worked well for a few months until I eventually started to feel that it was “too small” and moved up to A5-size drawings (this also allowed me to draw in landscape, since all of my previous drawings had been in portrait).

However, if I’d started out with A5-size drawings, then I’d have probably felt like it was too difficult to produce one every day and I’d have probably have given up making art regularly out of sheer frustration. So, start small.

However, one problem to be aware of with small art is that it will have a lower resolution if it is scanned or photographed. This might cause problems if you want to use your art for other things or print larger copies of it (since they will be kind of blurry).

It’s also the reason why I only ever make A4-sized comic pages these days, even though I prefer using A5-sized paper for comics. If you make A5-sized comics, then they tend to look extremely blurry and the text can be difficult to read when you put them on the computer. Here are a couple of examples:

A blurry, low-resolution A5 comic page.

A blurry, low-resolution A5 comic page.

A much crisper and more readable A4 comic page.

A much crisper and more readable A4 comic page.

5) Doodle: Even when I wasn’t making “art” on a regular basis, I was still doodling on at least a semi-regular basis. Most of my lecture notes from university were covered with doodles and even my academic planner from my second year in college is practically a work of art in and of it’s own right. As long as you aren’t writing graffiti on something that you don’t own, doodling is a very good thing to do.

In fact, fast art can probably be seen as an elevated form of doodling. After all, it’s something that is done spontaneously, it’s relatively simple and, with enough practice, it can look amazing. In fact, I probably learnt a fair amount of what I know about drawing 3D scenery and 3D objects from doodling a lot.

Best of all, most pieces of fast art can be quickly redrawn as a doodle if you want to:

"A Sonata" By C. A. Brown

“A Sonata” By C. A. Brown

Here it is as a quick 1-2 minute doodle.  And, yes, I felt pretentious enough to use a pencil too...

Here it is as a quick 1-2 minute doodle. And, yes, I felt pretentious enough to use a pencil too…

So, if you want to make fast art, start doodling.


Anyway, I hope that this article was useful 🙂

5 comments on “Making “Fast Art”

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