10 minute painting: Gail Sibley, "Hair Care," Unison pastels on UART 320 paper, 5 x 6 in

A 10-Minute Painting? Yes You Can!

Every week in the HowToPastel Facebook group, we have a Friday Challenge. The challenge could be to paint a specific subject or create a painting in particular way. Last week, inspired by the interviews with Jen Evenhus and Tony Allain, the challenge was to create a 10-minute painting. Yup you heard me. A 10-minute painting. Since it was my challenge, I thought I better darn well take part!

The challenge was 10 minutes to paint so the 10 minutes didn’t include preparation time. I wanted to encourage lots of looking and creation of thumbnails. There was also the chance to pre-select at least some of the possible colours in the correct values ahead of time. (Even though this isn’t how I generally work, choosing pastel sticks ahead of time seemed a mighty fine idea for this challenge!)

Well, I expected this to be a bit difficult but wow – it was hard! For me, 10 minutes went by in a flash.

While I was painting, I stopped the timer twice on my iPhone to take a photo. I tried to restart the timer quickly so I wouldn’t have time to ponder the piece. This stopping and starting probably added at least a couple of minutes but by doing it, I could share my progress with you.

A number of HowToPastellers took part in this challenge. Many of them gave me permission to share their 10-minute painting here. I hope that seeing all of these will encourage you to try out your own 10-minute painting!

See let’s look at the progression of my 10-minute painting first. First, the reference photo:


10-minute painting reference photo: Not a great photo but I loved the gesture and soft lighting of my sister brushing her hair
Not a great photo but I loved the gesture and soft lighting of my sister brushing her hair.


10-minute painting: A quick thumbnail in pencil to determine composition (you can see I cropped it) and choose three main values and how to situate them.
A quick thumbnail in pencil to determine composition (you can see I cropped it) and choose three main values and how to situate them. In the end, the only darks were most of her hair, the hairbrush, and her hands. Most of the background was light and met of her sweater was mid-value.


At this point I selected a few pastels – two darks, four mid-value and three lights – nine in all (see them below). Here’s the paper with trial marks – testing the colour and value of each choice:

10-minute painting: Various colours tried and selected. Can you see I also tried out 'the hand'?
Various colours tried and selected. Can you see I also tried out ‘the hand’?



10-minute painting: v
The recycled piece of UART paper brushed with a piece of pipe insulation to soften the previous image and remove some of the pastel particles.


10-minute painting: Drew up the image in vine charcoal. This took almost two minutes of my 10!
Drew up the image in vine charcoal. This took two minutes of my 10!

10 minute painting - 8:01 mark


10-minute painting: Madly blocking in colour in three values! Almost halfway through 10 minutes already!
Madly blocking in colour in three values! Almost halfway through 10 minutes already!

10-minute painting


10 minute painting: Gail Sibley, "Hair Care," Unison pastels on UART 320 paper, 5 x 6 in
Paid attention to the folds and fall of her clothing. Also used negative painting to shape the hand holding down her hair. Put in the highlights on her hand and sweater. Then called it quits. Gail Sibley, “Hair Care,” Unison pastels on UART 320 paper, 5 x 6 in

10-minute painting - time


Here’s the painting with the pastels used:

Nine Unison pastels used in this 10-minute piece. Gail Sibley, "Hair Care," pastel on UART 320 paper, 5 x 6in
Nine Unison pastels used in this 10-minute piece. Gail Sibley, “Hair Care,” pastel on UART 320 paper, 5 x 6in


There’s lots I’d like to do and change but all in all, I’m pleasantly surprised and pleased with this 10-minute painting!


Let’s have a look at some examples by HowToPastellers. There’s a variety of subject matter from portraits (yes!) to still life to landscapes to night scene. Most of the pieces are fairly small. Many were pleased with the results. A few later went on to spend another 15 minutes or so to work on them, or to create new pieces.

I’ve also included their thoughts about the process.


Some 10-minute landscapes:

10-minute painting - Landscapes by (clockwise from top left): Maria Romero, Patricia Faulkner Cisek, Wendy Prest, Ruth Mann
10-minute painting – Landscapes by (clockwise from top left): Maria Romero, Patricia Faulkner Cisek, Wendy Prest, Ruth Mann

Maria Romero – “This was difficult. To work so quickly, I realized it couldn’t be something too complicated because I wouldn’t have time to get enough in. I always choose my colors on the go. This made me choose them before I started, and made me concentrate on the strokes. This was much looser than I usually paint. It takes a lot of preparation to paint in a short time.”

Patricia Faulkner Cisek – “I’ve been staring at a work in progress on my easel for 3 weeks doing nothing on it… I needed this challenge to free me from my painter’s block and get me painting quicker and looser. Boy did it work! As I began I thought I’d get nothing done in 10 min but when the timer went off, I was happy with my results. Loved having to think quickly.”

Wendy Prest – “10 minutes to work was a fun challenge. Working that fast was really different…and I must admit to the need to really finish it.”

Ruth Mann – “I thought I had prepared this one properly…studied the photo…..small value sketch….chose my palette and then started, timed by hubby. The colours are wrong, the composition I planned got lost etc. It’s taught me that I need to plan better for a quick work like this.”


10-minute painting - landscapes. Artists (from left to right): Gareth Jones and Iris Devadason
10-minute painting – landscapes. Artists (from left to right): Gareth Jones and Iris Devadason

Gareth Jones – “First attempt and found it exhiliarating. It unearthed a different way of thinking and working for me… the colours just picked themselves! Great fun. I quite like it and will do a full version of it at a later date – but it made me think and paint in a completely different way. I enjoyed the process!”

Iris Devadason – “2 visitors sit on a rock with a tower which indicates one end of our city Bangalore…[from a] newspaper photo entitled ‘Riding the Storm’. Learnt a lesson this time. Will choose a familiar subject if I have to do it again.”


A couple of nature close-ups:

10-minute painting - nature close up. Artists left to right: Elaine Benevides and Gisela Llorens
10-minute painting – nature close up. Artists left to right: Elaine Benevides and Gisela Llorens

Elaine Benevides – “I would’ve done much better if I had known we could prepare. (I thought it was against the rules.) I decided to paint it live, and felt really lost and unhappy without doing my value study. I didn’t choose my colors; I did everything in 10 minutes (timed by Siri), from choice of subject in my yard to painting.”

Gisela Llorens – “Found this quite a challenge. I picked my colors in advance and started the timer. Made me quite nervous. I worked quickly and then was surprised to find that 10 minutes is a lot longer than I thought. I tend to do a lot of detail and the timing allowed for none so it is an interestingly loose painting for me!”


Three 10-minute still life paintings:

10-minute painting - still life. Artists from left to right: Gailen Lovett, Karen Israel, Celeste Mann
10-minute painting – still life. Artists from left to right: Gailen Lovett, Karen Israel, Celeste Mann

Gailen Lovett – “I pre-arranged the peppers and took a photo so I could view the values in the value viewer app. The highlights and shadows looked good so I did a little study in my sketchbook in preparation for the 10 min. drawing. Worked on the peppers and finished in the pre-set 9 minutes saving the last minute for the background as suggested by Jen Evenhus. That last minute was fast and furious to get it completed and was the hardest part for me.”

Karen Helfeld Israel – “I set up sour cherries and a plum in my studio and began the line drawing for proportion. Then I set the timer on my phone – 5 minutes to paint (took 5 min to draw).”

Celeste Mann – “I set a timer for 11 minutes (1 minute to get back in my seat!). I chose the pastels before hand and set up everything. I did this from life. I actually was surprised that I could do this in 10 minutes. I was expecting it to be very impressionistic and I got more detail into it than I imagined I could. I thought this was a great exercise. Having to work fast like this gets rid of the ‘censor’. There is no time to beat oneself up or think too much.”


Three 10-minute portraits:

10-minute painting - Portraits by (from left to right): Casey Klahn, Gina Carstens, Lynn Howarth
10-minute painting – Portraits by (from left to right): Casey Klahn, Gina Carstens, Lynn Howarth

Casey Klahn – “10 minutes was too long for this! I was adding stuff to fill the time. I did discover that I don’t do well pre-selecting colors, but if I pre-select some, then go into the compulsive pick new sticks mode then things are fine. This guy is from my sketchbook of a trip to SF this summer. Hip guy, huh?”

Gina Carstens – “I was unable to choose my colours before [painting this], just used the colours which were still on the table. I have never painted before only from imagination, took the pastels intuitively and was surprised, nearly scared, when I saw the result. I discovered a power in me which I had ignored before. Great experience! No time for any reflection. Will continue this kind of training, very interesting.”

Lynn Howarth – “Gosh this was so hard! I prepared everything so that I had all my pastels to hand and set my iPhone timer accordingly. I have drawn this lovely old chap twice before so I know his face inside out yet still there are lots of things I’m not happy with but I know I’ve caught a decent likeness. It is what it is for a 10 minute study!”


And last but not least, a night scene (with accompanying reference photo):

10-minute painting - night scene (with reference photo) by Ruth Burley
10-minute painting – night scene (with reference photo) by Ruth Burley

Ruth Burley – “I didn’t prep but I needed a break from one of the first portraits I’ve worked on. I’m kind of embarrassed about my messy painting but went VERY loose and took a couple more minutes. It was a very freeing experience to break loose and go with it and not expect perfection.”


I think this was a good experience for most participants. Evidently, producing a 10-minute painting has a number of benefits.


10-minute painting benefits

  • It makes you laser focused when it comes to the actual work
  • Once you’ve done all the thinking, prep, and planning beforehand, you can then paint more intuitively
  • It makes you look really hard to see which is, after all, what being an artist is all about
  • It means you have no excuse not to put pastel to paper during a day
  • It’s a great way to warm up for more substantial and larger work
  • It’s also a good way to use those small scraps of paper around the studio and also, recycle paper (from paintings that didn’t work)
  • It frees you up from expectation of a successful outcome – it becomes more about process and about a mental determination to do the work

With all these benefits, I hope you’ll consider trying a 10-minute painting!


If you’ve done a 10-minute painting, what’s the biggest payoff for you? If you haven’t done a 10-minute painting, what’s holding you back? As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,




PS. Thanks to all the HowToPastellers who allowed me to share their work here. Here’s the list of paintings I’ve included:

Maria Romero, 10 min study Sand Dunes, pastel on La Carte Pastelcard, 16 x 24 cm

Patricia Faulkner Cisek, 10 minute study, pastel over gesso-covered matboard, 4 x 6 in

Wendy Prest, Daisies in Moose Point State Park, pastel on recycled pastelbord, 5 x 7 in

Ruth Mann, 10-minute study, pastel,

Elaine Benevides, 10 minute study, Terry Ludwig pastels on reused UART, 6 x 4 1/2 in

Gisela Llorens, Daisy, pastel on UART, 4 x 4 in

Gareth Jones, Yellow Field, Unison pastels on Sennelier Pastelcard, 7 x 7 in

Iris Devadason, Riding the Storm, pastel on Montmart pastel paper, 11/3/4 x 16 1/2 in

Gailen Lovett, Garry’s (fresh picked) Hot Peppers, Sennelier and Unison pastels on UART 500, 6 x 6 in

Karen Helfeld Israel, Sour Cherries, Sweet Plums, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch,

Celeste Mann, 10 Minute Flower, Blick Artists pastels on Conson Mi-Teintes, 11 x 8 1/2 in

Casey Klahn, 10 Minute San Francisco Guy, pastel, 12 x 8 in

Gina Carstens, 10 Minute Study of a Girl, pastel on ‘recycled’ UART paper, 21 x 14 cm

Lynn Howarth, Auld Davie 3, Unison pastels on recycled brown card, 30 x 30 cm

Ruth Burley, 10 minute study, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 6 x 9 in

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32 thoughts on “A 10-Minute Painting? Yes You Can!”

  1. I really enjoyed this….I might just give this a try, I tend to get caught up in detail and unnecessary stuff….looks like a great exercise! The results were amazing….

    1. Yes yes Curtis. Try it! The best thing to do is plan well – look closely to really see (Look See Do!), create a thumbnail, get your paper ready, preselect at least some pastels (say a couple in each value) then set the timer and go!

  2. Hi Gail, thanks for your step by step photos along with the time. I could feel your tension start after taking two minutes for the charcoal drawing! You picked a tough subject to complete in 10 minutes and brought it to conclusion with good color choices, composition and I’m seriously impressed with the hand!
    Bravo! Excellent challenge and learning experience. Gailen

    1. Thanks Gailen! I thought I’d picked a fairly easy subject what with a soft almost blurry photo but yes, eek, it’s a figure (what was I thinking?) and trying to get positioning right of arm and hand was a bit of a bugger challenge! You got that right about the tension lol! So glad you found it a worthwhile experience. Love your peppers!

    1. Glad you enjoy all the challenges and participate so frequently! Your fruit just glow – amazing in just 10 minutes! And yes, I also was glad I took progress shots – surprising to see what happened in what amount of time and what I had down at various stages.

      1. Hi Gail! First time trying anything like this and it was fun! Checked alarm twice and was not out of time! No white in either box for waves but a great exercise! Glad I took the challenge!

  3. I don’t do these short paintings anywhere near often enough….why…because I expect too much of myself all the time. Tricky bit for me is selecting pastels beforehand, because I tend to choose as I go along, and that probably wastes some time. There is something fascinating about small, quick pieces…they aren’t bogged down in details, they have a kind of fresh energy about them which I guess comes rapidly from the artist’s brain down through the hand. Sometimes they look a bit untidy but that’s part of the charm, I reckon, and can be more attractive than a carefully crafted piece of several hours.
    I am by nature a left-brainer (logic, controlled side); doing more short-time pieces like these would probably be good for me.

    1. Chris I want to reach out and take you by the shoulders, look you in the eye, and say YES! do try this 10-minute painting exercise! I know from what you describe that you will benefit from these. I also know that you will encounter some frustration as the controlling mind begins to judge especially after the 10 minutes are up. I think if you go in with the mindset of, I’m going to make a mess and love it, you’ll be happier at the end. So give yourself permission to mess up or even better say, this exercise IS about messing up. In the process, you will enter fully into art mind zone so do it for the enjoyment of being in that flow state.
      Like you, I rarely pre-select my pastels (except for the first three values for blocking in) but for this exercise, it’s a good idea to choose at least some. You don’t want to spend the time looking for or choosing pastels! You want to be spending that 10 minutes painting!
      Let us know how it goes!

  4. Hi and Thanks Gail.
    You are most encouraging to newbies like me !
    I’ve set out ALL my pastels today to try more….
    Getting ambitious !
    Will share with you soon.

    1. Iris I am soooo glad you are going to try more! Loved your piece. Like I said in FB group – it reminds my of illustrations for Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’ – a bit of fantasy and whimsy to it. Do more!!

  5. Thank you for this wonderful blog – I so look forward to it every time it pops into my inbox! Thank you also for choosing to show my wee ten minute portrait! That was an amazing experience which really opened my eyes to working instinctively and for not letting detail get the better of me! Will definitely use this in future as a great exercise in a ‘less is more’ manner!

    1. Lynn your 10 minute portrait is quite extraordinary!! Shows how the more painting you do, the more experience you have, the more knowledge at your finger tips. I’m happy you found it an eye-opening experience. Interesting how exercises like this can surprise even seasoned painters like yourself. Love it! Look forward to seeing more. And thank you!!

  6. Thank you for the inspiration. I missed the challenge and have just tested out using pastel + water for an underpainting for the first time. This took me more than 10 minutes! Now I quite like it how it is and am hesitating to go further.

    I really like your painting at the penultimate stage where the colours seem more exciting, with that delicious blue showing.

    1. Don’t hesitate Bernice – go paint on that underpainting! Photograph it first so you have a reminder then add pastel. You can always do another. And another. And another. And learn and grow in the doing!!
      And yes, I like that image too. But I also like the teaks of detail in the last image. It’s good to see through progress shots what might be better left untouched. And hopefully learn for next time. It’s always hard to know when to stop! Jen Evenhus wrote a great guest blog about ‘love it and leave it’ that you might enjoy.

    1. Do it do it DO IT Sandi!! It’s really pretty amazing. Even if it doesn’t come out ‘perfectly’ you will learn something about yourself, your mark-making, your colour choices. Then do another! The secret too I think, is in the prep work. Spend time looking to really SEE.

  7. It was quite an interesting challenge! Sometimes I spend more time pushing myself to start painting than I spend painting. That’s the next challenge for me – tell myself to do it and sit down and do it, NOW. I need to practice, practice, practice. Besides, whether it’s ten minutes or twenty, painting is fun!

    1. I know what you mean Maria! It’s crazy how we sometimes circle the work even though we know how much we enjoy the doing of it.Glad you participated in this Challenge!

    1. Yes yes Bonnie – ‘freeing is the word’. It’s quite magical that feeling isn’t it? And now we know – we always have time to do something 😀

  8. Thanks, Gail for this challenge and for including my landscape in this post! With a busy summer schedule due to my boys being on break, I’ve been waiting for that perfect hour or more to work on my pastels…well, that hour has yet to arrive. On seeing your challenge, I told myself that I could commit to 10 minutes. This exercise freed up my painter’s block, shattered the concept that all my pastel attempts have to turn into completed paintings and allowed me to be more expressive. I have to admit the pace had me sweating by the time the timer went off, but what a fun 10 minutes it was!! Will definitely be doing this challenge again!

    1. Whoo hoo!! Such good news Patricia. Look forward to seeing what your next 10-minute challenges look like.
      When life is so busy, painting can often take a back bench waiting for us to give it some attention. Yet it thrives even on 10 mins. So let’s all give painting some loving’!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the challenge Celeste – you did wonders! Happy you like the groupings – that was a challenge in itself! And delighted you are enjoying HowToPastel 🙂

  9. Thank you Gail for your step by step photos and for incluing my “Girl” in your post. The weekly challenges started in November and this was my 28., one of my favorites. I have to admit that I thought that any preparation was forbidden, so my painting was 100% spontaneous. Every Friday morning I am waiting for the next challenge and I am happy to be in this wonderfull group of creative people. Thank you so much Gail, Dankeschön!

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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