10 top speed painting tips

Speed painting is exactly what you'd imagine – art against the clock. Artists give themselves a limited time to finish a piece of work, from a few minutes to a couple of hours. It is a great way for beginners to learn how to paint and for more experienced artists to hone their painting techniques. It's also a load of fun!

Unlike sketching, however, speed paintings are considered complete after the time is up – if you alter your work afterwards, it is no longer a speed painting.

To help you become a speed painting master, artists who contributed to 3dtotal Publishing's latest title, Master the Art of Speed Painting, have shared 10 top speed painting tips from the book. On your marks, get set, go!

01. Remember to use custom shapes – Alex Olmedo

Speed painting tips Alex Olmedo

Some examples of Alex Olmedo's custom shapes

Custom shapes are super useful tools for artists and are often forgotten by a large majority. They are simple, fast, and fun to make, and are great time savers when designing and speed painting. On those days when you feel uninspired to make art you can make these instead. Simply scribble abstract shapes using a hard brush, then play with them; try copying, repeating, overlapping, and transforming the shapes and using them in your art.

02. Fill a blank canvas – Katy Grierson

Speed painting tips Katy Grierson

Don't think; just get some brushstrokes down!

Use a big Brush tool to lay down some strokes of varying color, tone, texture, and opacity. Try not to paint anything specific, just fill the canvas with color and texture. You can switch brushes but try to keep the size quite large – this is good for speed and preventing the urge to paint something specific.

This initial letting go can be the hardest thing to master but the effects are worth it in the end. By starting this way there is less pressure to fill a blank white canvas, which can be a hindrance to creativity.

03. Warm up with brushes – Donglu Yu

Speed painting tips Donglu Yu

Try working with only a limited number of brushes to help you save time and not become distracted by different brush types

Before I start working on a speed-painting session I like to warm up with some custom brushes. Depending on the theme, try to limit your selection of brushes for the speed-painting process. Working with a limited range of brushes can force you to work more efficiently by thinking about shapes and design rather than brushstrokes. This may take a while to get used to but it will speed up your whole process.

04. Use the Gradient tool – Massimo Porcella

Speed painting tips Massimo Porcella

Use the Gradient tool to add a base color

Once you have set the tonal values of your image you need to add a base color. The Gradient tool is perfect here because you can choose the color for every part of the sketch, starting from the ground, at the base of the buildings, moving to the skyline shade, and finally picking up a color to define the shade between land and sky. For an even color palette, use the Eraser tool to blend all the colors together.

05. Build your own photo library – James Paick

Speed painting tips James Paick

James Paick created monumental fantasy ruins in one hour using photo textures he found in his personal photo library

I can't stress enough the importance of having a good photo reference library. You can find plenty on the internet but nothing beats going out there and taking your own. You can get the right exposure, scenery, and contrast to work with your current piece, or just interesting landmarks or cloud formations which might spark a new idea and build the imagination.

Don't limit yourself to the natural world; there are so many fascinating and elaborate architectural elements on buildings and other human-made things.

06. Allow boredom to spark creativity – Jesper Friis

Speed painting tips Jesper Friis

Jesper Friis added and mixed the acrylic paint on his old scanner; the speed painting itself took two hours to complete

In a fit of boredom one day I decided I would drag out my old scanner I had sitting around and started painting on the glass with some watercolor. I closed the lid to see what would come out. Since then I have been making weird textures this way from time to time.

It might seem a little silly at first, but even a day spent experimenting with some of these methods for making textures can give you something in your library that you will keep coming back to, something that's uniquely yours and really can't be recreated.

07. Add complexity - Stephanie Cost

Speed painting tips Stephanie Cost

Explore with textures and custom brushes

To add complexity to your painting you should make full use of textures and custom brushes – there are hundreds of free ones on the internet. Find yourself a nice variety such as a rounded lizard-skin-esque one, a smooth chalk-like one, or maybe a chunky, rough gravel brush. They are great for breaking up the internal shapes of your composition. You can try using a soft flat brush with Hue Jitter on each stroke; this is good for harder edges and unexpected colors.

08. Select the right photos – Alex Olmedo

Speed painting tips Alex Olmedo

Choosing photos that blend well together is key

When making photobashing images it is very important to choose the right photos. Often if you try to include a photo with a totally different lighting source compared to others involved in the image you'll end up spending too much time trying to fix the problem and even dismissing the photo.

09. Experiment – Ian Jun Wei Chiew

Speed painting tips Ian Jun Wei Chiew

Compose your image by adding a background gradient, duplicating and transforming your shape assets

The Transform, Clipping, and Smudge tools are essential to my workflow as I prefer to create a collage and find shapes, rather than painting right from the get go. I find this method to be more fun and experimental, which can lead to ideas and compositions you would never think of developing.

There are endless possibilities with Photoshop; you can find a new use for any existing tool. At the end of the day, what makes a good image is your own personal knowledge of the foundations such as composition, values, color, and lighting.

10. Don't over-tell – Donglu Yu

Speed painting tips Donglu Yu

Stay with the most essential story telling elements so you can have an iconic and impression composition – this painting took two hours

My students often like to tell a very complex story with one image. My feedback is always that you should pick the top two or three things you want to tell through the image, and tell them really well.

When a story is too complex, you need to divide your canvas space into smaller portions to distribute it all to the different storytelling elements, making it difficult to come up with an iconic composition.

These tips come from Master the Art of Speed Painting, the latest release from 3dtotal Publishing, aimed at aspiring digital painters and concept artists.