The 15 Minute Art Student

What can you do in 15 minutes? Eat a bowl of cereal? Walk the dog? Go through your mail? Can’t do much though right? It’s interesting that we tend to look at time a bit differently than other things. Take money for example or a pile of dirt. Hold on, dirt? What?… bear with me here. To buy a house or a car most of us have to save a little each month or get a loan and pay it back a little each month. Likewise, moving a pile of dirt is done one shovel full at a time unless we own a bulldozer or have some sort of super power.

Granted, we look for large-ish uninterrupted blocks of time for many things by necessity: movies, road trips, concerts, shopping, etc. But is it always necessary with art? Why don’t we try more often to learn some of our artistic skills in smaller bites. I confess. I over look the potential of this concept all the time. It can be powerful.

Einstein said,

“Anyone can be a genius, if they pick just one specific subject and study it diligently just 15 minutes each day.”

I know, you’re saying, “wait a minute Steve, drawings or paintings can take hours or even weeks.” They certainly can, but thats not what we’re talking about here. Forget about completing a finished work of art. The art world is chock full of artists trying to run without learning to walk. Focus instead on mastering a skill, or sub skill or sub, sub skill. You get my point. I think you’d agree there are many art skills worth mastering. Can any of them be studied, practiced and mastered in roughly 15 minutes a day? Absolutely!

Consider two key ideas from Einstein’s statement, “daily” and “specific”. Determine what you’d like to master then what steps or specific skills are needed to do that. The more specific the better. Then do it a little bit each day. If not daily then often.

Still not sure what I mean? Here are some examples. From these come up with some of your own. The point is, take a general goal and break it down to its specifics until you have skills you can practice in a short amount of time.

– Don’t practice drawing and painting the human figure, practice just the head or just the overall shape of the skull or planes of the head or sketching the nose, eye or ear. Practice 1 minute then 5 minute gestural figure drawings or even just diagraming correct figure proportions in stick form. Don’t have a good handle on how to determine proportions? Take 15 minutes to research a method or two for seeing and measuring them.

– Don’t practice painting landscapes, paint or draw a tree, or a tree branch or a foliage canopy. Draw a rock or a patch of grass. Paint a simple sky. Do a landscape thumbnail or three.

– Practice watercolor water control. Work on painting any value from darkest to lightest and getting the correct water and paint ratio on demand. Practice blends until you can do them in your sleep.

Other ideas could include things like:

  • Shading simple shapes
  • Rotating a box in 3d perspective
  • Researching a term or technique you’re not familiar with like core shadows or painting in dry brush.
  • Creating various values with ink or line hatching
  • Improving your large gradient washes
  • Studying scale in landscape
  • Analyzing a composition
  • Rendering cloth folds
  • Finding a color’s complement.
  • Tracing a subject to study its proportions
  • Prepping for your next 15 minute session

Drill down into your skillset until you get to the foundational weaknesses you need to work on most. Don’t forget, its 15 minutes (or so) we’re talking about. But don’t step over those minutes looking for hours. I’ll warn you though, there is often a time-warp side effect. The more you learn and discover the more you want to. Don’t be surprised if on occasion 15 minutes turns into an hour…or two.

26 thoughts on “The 15 Minute Art Student

  1. Thank you for this reminder Steve. I have found that if I have a couple of places where I can leave a pen and paper or travel set and small journal out that I am more likely to pick them up for a few minutes each day. Otherwise I when I sit down at my desk to paint dinner is usually late.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are so right. Those little snatches of time can amount to wonderful results. Daily and specific. Once you start, it is difficult to stop and the daily practice is missed if a day has to be skipped for some uncontrollable reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Steve, you always have such helpful ideas. I am going to try and do this on a daily basis, I don’t always do this every day but now you gave me wings. I love art I always have, but I have time now to do something everyday.FLY! Toward a goal. Blessings to you.
    Gayle 💗


  4. Thanks Steve , it reminds me of a vicar who said a similar thing about prayer . The more you pray the more things seem to happen .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an excellent piece of advice. I’ve done this myself and find I get much more out of it than you would imagine. I find myself getting disappointed when I forget to stay with it.


  6. Giving me permission to practice, practice is refreshing. I am new to drawing, watercolors etc and find myself reach beyond my basic skills as well as honing those I have. When I found your you tube channel I felt able to do “it” this blog truly helps me work toward “it”.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks! This commentary about time spent on art is especially important to newbies to art. I am one of those newbies and I need all the support I can get. Practice is sort of forgotten when everything is brand, paper, mediums, subjects, big/ help a great deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have a couple of pages of Kristy Rice’s Watercolour colouring book on the go and often spend 10-15 minutes at a time with them. I see them as great practice for when I will be ready to try a larger “art Piece”. Thanks for all the suggestions you provide.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So helpful. I put this into practice recently with different colors of green. I was doing a painting of a canopy of branches and leaves that had multiple shades and shadows of green. On a ceramic dish I laid out several blues including black and Payne’s Grey. Then laid out next to them a couple of shades of yellow. It was amazing the variety of greens I had to compete my painting. This was always a stumbling bloc for me. P.S. Black and yellow make a fantastic green by the way. WHo knew.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So, I’ve just spent the last 15 minutes enjoying this blog and discovering some great ideas for improving my painting skills . . . does that count? You’re SO RIGHT about the value of small bits of daily practice (just 15 minutes!); we believe that mastery of a skill (as Malcolm Gladwell taught us) is all about a 10,000-hour marathon, when in fact it’s really about building a diverse, and ever more facile, set of skills over time — and more often than not, skill-building done in small increments of time and difficulty.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for this information. Thinking about putting 15 minutes to work is not nearly as overwhelming as thinking about 10,000 hours. This is doable. I plan to put this concept to work. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You don’t preach. You inspire. Over and over… Thank you, Steve, for the love you show in this blog and in your YouTube channel. Oh, and the talent!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Steve,
    I retired last June after 39 years as a United Methodist minister in SC. I spent my early years, elementary, Junior high school, high school and a stent in the USAF drawing and painting. I laid my pencils and brushes down during my ministry years. I never lost my love for painting and decided before retiring, I would return to my artwork in retirement. I now live in the Lowcountry, a haven of beauty for artists. I have been following you since around September and have appreciated deeply your artistic skills and teaching spirit. This blog has been one of the most helpful for me. For months, I have been struggling with how to move forward from my present level. When I read your blog a few weeks ago, you gave me a practical path ahead for improvement and growth. I’m sure this has been true for others as well. Many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Steve, an idea based on this post for a new YouTube series: 15 minute watercolor drills. A weekly video that teaches exercises that you can practice all week in fifteen minute chunks. Brush technique, single color sketches, the possibilities are endless. Thanks for all the content!


      • I love that idea! I am one of your patrons on Patreon. For me, as a renewed art person, I get SO stuck trying to create in happens to be my happy place but not such a skilled happy place. so, really learning the skills from you ..because I love your art. and your way of being an artist..I know my happy place would that much happier! Thanks for considering doing this type of study for your followers.


  15. When watching your your instructive videos, I feel like I am in the presence of an old friend. I smile, learn, and thank God for your kindness, talent, and patience. I am 85 yrs old and love to paint. Thank you young fella!!!


  16. What great thoughts. Sometimes we forget the obvious I think. When you don’t have the time or energy to put in a long time use the time you have. Seems like a simple thought but by the time I set up to do a big thing I’m too tired to do it. The concept of sketching in travel logs never actually came to mind until you gave me the example. I’m not sure you are aware of how many levels you are reaching people. I know you are a man of faith and I know you are reaching people on many levels. If I had a glass of Irish I would tip to you, well done good and faithful servant.


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