In “Lake Wobegon Days,” Garrison Keillor writes, “I grew up among slow talkers, men in particular, who dropped words a few at a time like beans on a hill, and when I got to Minneapolis, I was not considered too bright, so I enrolled in a speech course taught by Orville Sand, the founder of Reflexive Relaxology, a self-hypnotic technique that enabled a person to speak up to three hundred words per minute. He believed that slow speech deprives us of a great deal of thought by slowing down the mental processes to one’s word rate. He believed that the mind has unlimited powers if only a person could learn to release them and eliminate the backup caused by slow discharge.”
Of all the ologies, Reflexive Relaxology is one of my favourites. At the risk of losing friends, I’m a firm believer that a similar program can be applied to painting. When lecturing on the benefits of speeding up and labouring less, I’ve had grown men stomp slowly out of my workshops in disgust. Women too. “Slow painting” can infect anyone.
Fact is, speed itself unlocks the imaginative mind, increases idea turnover, aids facility and goes a long way toward avoiding dull disasters. As in many of life’s lessons, habit plays a role, and habits, as we know, can be both unlearned and learned. Here are a few:
Change the word “painting” to “sketch” or “rough.”
Take pride in your speed and facility.
Know that daring and audacity are virtues.
Know where your strokes will go, then make them.
Go here and there like a bee to flowers.
Do not overwork, overdo, overstate, or gild the lily.
Study your own time-and-motion strengths and weaknesses.
Combine artistry with efficiency.
While starting slowly may be necessary to understand and negotiate the banks and chicanes you will eventually take at speed, a simple exercise will speed up the process: Paint something that looks as though it was done in five minutes — but take a couple of hours to do it. With this ruse, freshness and better design appear like a genie. Further, joy happens when you work the “relax” part of Relaxology. Apart from the business of developing keen personal skills, nothing beats the feeling of simple joy.
Esoterica: As in speech, if you think one thing at a time, there is only stammering and poor fluency, “like dropping beans on a hill,” but when you habitually visualize the big picture as you lay down the individual strokes, the work flows in unity. We only need to look at our eloquence in speech. When we understand our subject, speech is automatic and facile, with proper pauses and emphasis as required; meaning is clear because we are thinking ahead of our words. Appropriate words (and strokes) fall behind in a fresh and natural way.
Maintaining the ‘zone’
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA
There may actually be a scientific reason that more spontaneous painting works better than slow deliberate work habits. In my workshops I stress being “in the zone.” When we stop and think for long periods there is no way to stay in the zone. The best art is visceral, not cerebral. Of course, there is a place for cerebral, particularly at the conclusion of the painting, but not much is gained at other times in developing an artwork.
Outdoors and deadlines teach speed
by Terry Scott Greenhough, Salmon Arm, BC, Canada
I recently spent a week in the Slocan Valley in BC, where we spent each day up in the mountains painting for the full day. I found that to my surprise I was able to paint three paintings each day. As a result when I came home from this experience the hills and the speed of painting were intoxicating and I spent several more days in the mountains around where I live until the snow and weather stopped me. I am back in the studio and I have slowed down my efforts to complete the numbers of paintings that the great outdoors inspired in me. I can hardly wait until the weather changes so that I can get back some of the energy that my efforts were experiencing. In the meantime working to a deadline has helped to speed me up again here in the studio.
by Vianna Szabo, Romeo, MI, USA
Speed allows us to carry that spark of inspiration through the entire process, beginning to end. Becoming more accurate in our observations and technique, however, allows us to paint faster correctly. I often hear students say, “I’m going to fix that later” when I bring up an area that is obviously giving them problems. My thoughts are, why put down a series of mistakes to follow with a series of corrections later, paint one relationship correctly the first time and build out from there. My class mantra is, “You control the painting – do not let it control you.” The biggest hurdle painters face is not painting what we assume to be in front of us but painting what is truly there. This requires knowledge of drawing, values, edges, and color. This knowledge comes from practice and working from life, making mistakes and learning from them. As the knowledge grows the artist learns to trust their ability to see past assumptions and correctly represent what inspired them in the first place. Painting quickly and as accurately as possible does not mean every painting will be successful. There are many variables that affect the outcome. Painting fast lessens the attachment an artist has to the canvas and opens the process more to learning. Isn’t learning what painting is really all about?
The critical moment
by Carol Ann Cain, FL, USA
While there is the necessity of painting quickly, there can also be the importance of slowing down. As I come to the finish line of some paintings, I deliberate over each brush stroke and its relationship to other strokes. This critical stage of the painting demands tempered discipline and slowing down to complete the painting properly.
I am one of those old guys who stomped slowly out of one of your workshops because you were trying to get us to paint quickly. I didn’t want to learn anything from you Robert, I just wanted to be left alone to paint the way I have painted for years. We can’t all be speedy creative whiz-kids like you Robert, wildly successful, collected everywhere and in demand. Just because you are successful and get big prices for your work does not mean you have the right to inflict your methods on all of us.
Warm-up dismisses misconceptions
by Julie Eastman, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
I begin my watercolor classes with a 10-minute warm-up painting. I instruct the students to pick a photo and then use it for reference to complete a whole painting from start to middle to finish. I compare it to trying to capture a scene for a friend who isn’t there, and you have no camera and only ten minutes. It takes students a few sessions to get used to the idea, but it is amazing to witness some of the fresh and beautiful paintings they come up with. I think we often feel that we have to have hours or days or weeks before we allow ourselves to paint. This little exercise helps to dismiss that misconception big time. And how can one get nervous about a 10-minute investment of time? In this sense, the exercise invites creative risk, spontaneity and even fun.
Painting the music
by Jean McLaren, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada
I took a workshop with Jean Petersen from Calgary and one of the exercises she gave us was to have 10 pieces of plain newsprint 10″ x10″ and three dabs of acrylic paint — cyan yellow and magenta (like the cartridges in your computer). She then had prepared 10 different types of music on a tape, each one was 1 minute long. They were all different — from rap, rock and roll, jazz, classical, western etc. We had to paint what each piece of music made us feel. What fun, I loved it and actually painted some interesting images. Some people resisted strongly, but I taught the exercise to our painting group a couple of weeks later and they all felt amazing energy from the process.
Multi-brush speed painting
by Vivian Anderson, Sydney, Australia
I must have had a premonition of your next subject, Reflexive Relaxology. During the week I took up six brushes of different colours, and painted loosely with each very quickly (hoping not to make “mud”), with a few extra lines for the wind, I think: it was all so quick, on the blue background, and I immediately stopped when I’d covered the canvas with the autumn colours. It looks quickly done, took longer than it should have, but I’m satisfied with how working so quickly turned out on this 1m/sq canvas. It’s such fun, just keeping the paint fresh was a challenge, and I felt all the better after reading today’s letter from you.
by Paul Burns
Many artists don’t reduce mental concepts into words and many people are glad that most artists don’t speak 300 words a minute. Concepts are held in the mind. So getting the internal (in-mind) world into an expression has nothing to do with speed. It is an ability to express what is held in mind and holding the concept in mind — the Buddha called this Concentration that then is called Mindfulness. The concept has been refined by millions since 400 BC. I am a bean dropper — striving for quality beans by-way-of right intention through effort and therefore speech and action.
Importance of gesture
by Gail Mally-Mack, Detroit, MI, USA
My drawing class begins with gesture and also covers structure and anatomy. I stress gesture as the basis of learning to draw. The eye sees and the hand responds quickly and immediately. This is the most accurate and fastest way to learn proportions and relationships of forms and shapes, which gives the structure and anatomy. Development of technique and skill is essential in both painting and drawing. This is more easily learned while intuitive responsive action is taking place. Thinking is necessary but that must be incorporated as part of the evaluation. The student goes back and forth from quick action to concentrated evaluation (that is standing back and looking) then back to action. Eventually the technical mastery and the action blend. Most students think that the first mark they put down must be the perfect one and if it is not they are not an artist. “How many times did they fall when they began to walk?” Artists are visual — they must see to evaluate. They must trust their intuition. The best artists I know make their marks with authority and sureness.
Exercising the eye
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA
There is another aspect of painting direct, speedy painting that could be mentioned. And that is how quickly we see the appearance of the relationships we are creating. My experience shows that in order for our eyes to see quickly we actually need to slow them down first. In other words, we need to practice looking longer so we eventually see every visible relationship in whatever it is we are looking at. Perhaps not literally, but we look long enough to consciously notice the majority of the primary details. This slower looking ‘primes’ the eye to notice the subtler visual and structural aspects. Thus, when in the heat of painting we can respond more accurately to what is in the subject and to what is happening on the canvas. One of the great things about being an artist is the joy of observing the appearance of your surroundings. The visual world is everywhere and thus you can practice and develop your observational skills anywhere and virtually at any time.
Merely a training exercise
by Carole Pigott, Santa Fe, NM, USA
I am so sorry you put out your speed painting idea without emphasizing that they are sketches or rough studies, not complete paintings There are way too many painters who think everything is a complete work of art before it starts getting its energy or who think that pushing their work to a higher level is “laboring over it” and never reach their full potential because of comments like this. Why don’t you instead try teaching painting from instinct and not logic, or do you male painters not understand instinctive painting. Georgia O’Keeffe in her letters expressed the opinion that male painters paint logically and female painters paint instinctually – each according to their nature (there are exceptions of course, but I agree with that observation), example Albert Handell’s Intuitive Light ends up being an instruction manual on technical observations. Joy happens when your creativity is taken over by the right mind and the work flows, the “laboring over it” becomes a dance with the canvas and hours pass without notice. To become totally involved with image and emotion and not just produce another piece. You must let your paint flow instead of relying on training it to flow. Artists today are over-instructed. The saying, “Know when to quit,” gives too many an excuse not to press farther. It is also important to know when not to quit. We need to show importance of quality not quantity, the importance on innovation instead of working within the formulas. What you suggested is a good training exercise — how you said it is confusing.
Enjoy the past comments below for Reflexive Relaxology…
On the Way to Lake Louise
acrylic painting on canvas
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Marti O’Brien who wrote, “When I was in my twenties I did a lot of detail… still life and portraits. I now do meditative art and what a huge difference.”
And also Chuck Harris of Columbus, OH, USA who wrote, “At one time I was taking a course from Berry John Raybould and he used this speed process. Five and three minute paintings.”
And also Barrett Edwards of Naples, FL, USA who wrote, “I urge my students to take a sheet of canvas paper, set the timer for one hour and just paint something — fast and simple.”
And also Karen Sloan of Haliburton, ON, Canada who wrote, “I paint very fast, and have actually been told by people that my paintings and work cannot be very credible or worth anything because of the fast way I paint.”
And also Chris Carter who wrote, “I paint bodies in motion to live music in pubs, at dance performances, yoga class gallery openings and fund raisers. There is no time to ponder. The paintings are filled with movement and energy. Working this way on a regular basis keeps my studio work fresh and alive.”
And also Frances Stilwell of Corvallis, OR, USA who wrote, “In The Natural Way to Draw, Kimon Nicolaides suggests the word ‘sketch’ is demeaning and instead one should say preliminary drawing.”
And also Peter Trent who wrote, “I note that your videos, though edited, seem to indicate that what project you do is completed in a morning or afternoon, say 3/4 hours! I feel I must change to a faster medium or develop a style to permit fast work without blending or smudging (which is a curse I presently carry), or give it all up and take up serious drinking to quell my creative demons!”
And also Shirley McCraw of Beaumont, TX, USA who wrote, “Say as much as you can with as little as you can and get out before they ask you to leave.”
And also Sophie Wajsman of Melbourne, Australia who wrote, “A good friend of mine is very good at telling me to stop ‘pfaffing’ around, her word for too much fiddling. I’ve also learned not to care so much if my first couple of attempts don’t work out. I can now throw them out and start again. I am not so precious about what I’m doing.”
And also Paul Twyford of Langley, BC, Canada who wrote, “Man, Robert really is thinking fast! This is only February 1st but his mind is already in October!”
(RG note) Thanks, Paul. And thanks to the more than 1000 subscribers who noted my date was wrong on the last letter. It was not intentional, nor did it have anything to do with speeding up, time-warp, time-banditry, futurism or self-hypnosis, nor was I testing people to see if they were paying attention. It was a straight glitch of my faulty mind, an inexcusable mistake that will forever be remembered as a black mark against me.
And also Don Sinish who wrote, “Googling Orvillle Sand and Reflexive relaxology turned up nada. Can you offer us somewhere to go to look further into the ideas that you advanced in this letter?”
(RG note) Thanks, Don. Orville Sand and Reflexive relaxology were made up by Garrison Keillor. Orville Sand is actually a character in a Phil Locascio mystery novel that came much later. While Keillor’s reference is fictional the idea is somewhat sound. A great many effective panaceas are based on fantasy, myth and fiction.
And also Peggy Guichu of Santa Fe, NM, USA who wrote, “I don’t know what happened, but I’ve had over 50 hits on my web site today alone and every single one of them was generated from the Painter’s Keys site. Last month I got 36 hits for the entire month and I thought that was great. Did I miss something? I don’t have a clue, but thank you.”
(Andrew Niculescu note) Thanks, Peggy. The reason for the increase in visitorship to your site is due to your featured response in the ‘ Painting lost; reward offered‘ clickback. Contributing to clickbacks with a featured response, allows artists to showcase their work as well as their words. These contributions provide instant traffic to the author’s website(s) through their Free or Premium Art Listing.