Sarah Rowan

Painter.  Photographer.  Freedom Fighter.


Top 10 Tips for Speed Painting

Posted by Sarah Rowan Dahl on March 1, 2013 at 5:25 AM

Artists have been approaching me via social media and events with questions regarding how in the world one paints LIVE so fast and are often interested in having a go themselves. After nine years of painting live, these are my (current) top 10 tips…as best as I can focus with my toddler watching Dora and eating Weetbix. LOL Performing in front of crowds is an art form in itself, often taking experience to develop confidence and an ease onstage. Be kind to yourself!! However the painting turns out in the early stages…be gracious to yourself!!


Keep in mind these are tips for artists (beginners to intermediate) that have never or rarely dabbled in experiential art. If you have been doing LIVE art for some time and I have missed a vital point, please don’t hesitate to write a comment. Also, if any of these tips prove useful to you…please write a comment!! Experiential art is creating art in public spaces for people to experience the methods of creativity and be enriched by them…


1) L – Loosen up. Relax. If you focus on what you think other people may be thinking…your work will reflect that stress and you won’t have any fun.


2) I – Invite friends. Sometimes it is easier to paint in front of strangers than friends because we care more about what our friends think and don’t want to embarrass ourselves. But true friends are great supporters who want to celebrate life with you, and are a fabulous help with set up or pack down….and if the gig is at a cafe or pub, who do you want to have a drink with afterwards? Right, your mates! Speaking of drinks…if you’re super duper nervous and not against drinking…a shot or two does wonders. Too much alcohol however, will slow your movements for LIVE work and cause you to think every stroke is genius…and from a professional level, reflects poorly on yourself and the venue host.


3) V – Videos! YouTube is full of LIVE artists from around the world!! Take advantage of this wealth of inspiration to learn and glean ideas from paint application to materials used, etc. Here’s one of mine! And my favourite speed painters of all time…check out David Garibaldi who has taken speed painter to heights never before imagined, and my friend Scott Erickson, who is an incredible advocate for justice through his work. Erik Black is a bit too neat and the elevator music is ugh, but wow…painting with glue & glitter!!


4) E – Experience. The only way to know if you enjoy LIVE art and have potential with another stream of income is to have a go!! Stop thinking about it and enjoy the experience! PS – Keep a journal after each event of things that went well, and things that didn’t. The more you do in a month or two the better, as there are heaps of kinks to work out in the process.


5) A – Arrive early. Artists are notorious for being late. LIVE art is not something you want to set up for super fast, especially in a location you’re familiar with…bathrooms and sink access are sometimes far from the stage. Take note that your water bucket is in a secure location. If it were to tip over are there any amps or electrical devises that would be destroyed (i.e. your mobile phone, laptop, wires, etc). PS – if you place any tubes of paint near your feet be prepared for the disastrous tube step that fires for several metres. Been there done that. Don’t want the t-shirt.


6) R – Respect the venue!! Some artists like to fling paint and be messy. If your venue is not conducive to this…DON’T DO IT and think you’ll be invited back or not have a bill for clean up. Have a large drop cloth (plastic ones are loud and easy to trip on…canvas ones work better). Don’t leave the sink messy or drip paint around. Check the bottom of your shoes or feet before stepping off the drop cloth at the end of the event!! You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget this step and spend more time cleaning up carpets than painting. Have gaff tape (duck tape) to secure the drop cloth at the corners.


7) T – Time. Time flies on stage. 15 min, 30 min, 45 min, etc. depending on the event or venue. Try painting at home with a CD set to the time limit you may have so you’re not shocked on stage and only halfway through the painting. Having a small tall table to place supplies is super helpful! In this video you can see where I placed mine…usually I put them on my right, but due to venue posters I had to go left. BE FLEXIBLE!


8) I - Investment. A good sturdy easel doesn’t wobble with the energetic movements required when painting fast. Higher series acrylic paints are VITAL when time is short…particularly white and yellow. Nothing more frustrating than needing to highlight a moment in white and having a cheap product that requires layer after layer to really stand out. I have a large tube of Matisse Titanium White at every gig. It is only a series 1, but for some wonderful reason is thicker than most whites.


9) S – Sell! Last year, I sold every painting I did in a LIVE setting…and maybe I gave away a few. But don’t be an art horder that can’t let go of your work. Most LIVE artists who work professionally sell their pieces for quadruple of what I charge, so I am not the greatest one to ask regarding how to price ones work. But each year I am steadily growing in confidence and pricing my work higher, to which I always hear, “Well, you’re worth it and it’s about time!”…which always surprises me. LOL I sell more through my Facebook fan page than my website.


10) T – Thank you. Forgetting this step will lead to a short life on stage. Look people in the eye, thank everyone that helped make the event possible. Write SNAIL MAIL notes of appreciation to venue hosts, clients, supportive friends, event coordinators, etc. To continue in any field of work, showing genuine appreciation for peoples’ time and effort is a non-negotiable. I honestly think it should be unnecessary to even have this step written down, but in this day and age manners seem few and far between. If anyone reading this has not been properly thanked or appreciated for your time and investment into my work, my deepest apologies and greatest thanks. You are the reason I am able to pursue my passion. God bless you!

Categories: Painting

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Reply Lori
9:53 AM on April 28, 2014 
I love this article thank you! I am going to be possibly doing a stage painting this Sunday at my church. Do you think it would be okay to have the canvas with a base coat of black before I start?
Reply Vipin
5:02 PM on January 18, 2016 
Going to try 1st time.. Want to know more.. Which type of paint to be used.. Chart paper or canvas to be used.. Can u help me..
Reply Rebecca
6:26 PM on February 12, 2017 
Hi Sarah,

Thank you for sharing these tips. I do my first live painting tomorrow... I'm nervous and excited!
Reply Jeannine Flores
10:44 PM on February 19, 2017 
Great article
I have a few questions. What kind of canvas do you use? I've seen foam and canvas. Is the canvas prepped in some way? What about paint? I've also seen people use buckets. It looks like house paint. I keep thinking that the paint has to be all mixed afterwards lol. Or are the paints acrylic?
Thank again
Reply Parmi
3:35 AM on June 5, 2017 
What kind of paints to use for speed painting? Bucket wall paints? Or acrylic pots? Or something else?
Reply Taylor Bishop
12:17 PM on August 29, 2017 
Thanks for going over some tips for speed painting. I'm glad that you mentioned to keep a journal after each event to list things that were good and things that didn't go well. As far as I know, doing the work and immersing yourself in it seems like a great way to also gain a better understanding about it. Maybe it could be beneficial to keep one's schedule open so that you can attend some live events frequently and get a lot of practice in.