Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Minimal Stroke Exercise...It's Back!

Tunnel Through the Trees, pastel, 8x6

In today's world, we live in a society in which we don't like being told we have a limit. We love phrases like "unlimited minutes" and "unlimited miles." But of course, sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad. And even the newest pastel artists quickly find out that too much pastel pigment on a surface is usually a VERY bad thing.

I like to revisit this exercise with my students every so often. It's a great one to do with both beginner and experienced students. Not only do I always get positive feedback from students about how helpful it is to them, but I find it to be a great exercise for me personally. For me, doing these exercises reinforces the importance of economizing every mark that I make on a painting. Each extraneous, unnecessary stroke on a painting weakens the impact of the work.

The above painting is a completed piece that was begun as a 100-stroke demo. Below is how it appeared after 100 strokes (okay, it may have been around 105)...

The completed version was with a total of about 5 more minutes on top of the 100-stroke exercise.

It was suggested to me to occasionally feature some of my student's work on my blog. Below is today's effort on this exercise done by Judy Tiller, who's been studying with me for a couple of years now. I thought Judy did an excellent job choosing a good combination of colors and accurate values, and capturing the basic elements of the landscape scene with good economy of strokes!

Judy Tiller's minimal stroke painting

Below is the reference photo that my students and I worked from today...

If you'd like more information on this exercise, you can click the following links to previous blog posts on this topic:
Minimal Stroke January 2013
Minimal Stroke April 2012
Minimal Stroke January 2012


  1. Hi Barbara, I have a question. Do you consider your minimal stroke painting a finished, frame-able, saleable piece? No judgement here, just curious.

    1. Diane, my minimal stroke paintings do indeed have a somewhat different look than many of my other paintings. Certainly a looser style, since I'm not allowing myself to do much refining on these, because of the objective of the exercise. But some of my buyers prefer the looser look, so I do make these little ones available for purchase.