Quick draw events are fun, frightening, sometimes furiously fast and often rewarding! Many are an hour or two in length which is not a lot of time to execute a painting but easier compared to the 30 minute events. In a 30 minute event there is no time to ponder. You need to have pondered and made choices in the preparation stage! You need a limited palette and a distinct plan of action when the horn blows to begin your work.
So goes the story of the popular quick draw at the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale sponsored by the WaterWorks Art Museum held every May as part of the world famous Bucking Horse Sale that brings thousands of spectators to the town of Miles City. Only a few (25 or less) artists participate in the Riverside Park QD at the culmination of the annual parade. The QD is sandwiched in between the parade and the Grand Entry of the sale and horse races and once the 30 minute draw is complete, the artists have 10 minutes to get their piece framed and the live auction of art begins. It’s fast and furious and the crowd is filled with art collectors and spectators. The QD is strategically timed to be certain those spectators can get to all the BHS activities and maximize the crowd attendance for the auction that is a benefit to the WaterWorks Museum and Art Center.
This year I lived on the dangerous side…I decided to paint a larger than normal piece, 26×12 vertical pastel. (Most works are less than 16 inches square.) I prepped my paper by gluing it to a foam core board for stability, then selected a very limited palette of pastel sticks. I planned a painting of buffalo from a photo I shot on my way to MT via Yellowstone Park. The day before the event, the preparatory chores were done. (I could have saved a little stress by doing this 3-4 days earlier!). I did numerous pencil sketches arranging my composition, as the photo was a horizontal format and I was painting it as a vertical. In my sketchbook I made lines of quadrants and adjusted the subject to best fit the format of the proposed painting. I “roughed-in” focal points and large shapes to make what I believed to be a good composition. I put all my supplies – selected pastels, 91% alcohol, sponge brush, Workable fixative, wet wipes, paper towels, gloves and framing equipment in my backpack. I had a plan and felt I could make it happen, but knew I would have no time to spare. Before the event started I found a place to paint…in the park’s gazebo where there was some protection from some gusty winds (not helpful when painting is a tall piece!) and a place to sit if one wanted to before and during the event. And I was able to tone my painting with one color – a mix of dry pigment and alcohol before the QD began. Doing an underpainting like this assists one in pastel application by speeding up the process.
The QD begins with the sound of an air horn…now it’s time for autopilot. Your colors are laid out and you instinctively apply them, not second guessing your choice. Large masses are painted carefully noting that the values are where you want them. When someone says “you have 15 minutes left, you want to be at least half way thru your painting.) I am, but there is no option to make changes. I stick to my plan. Once the landscape is satisfactory to my eye, I draw in and paint the buffalo. As I put the final touches in the most distant animal, the horn blows signifying the end of the QD. Hands go up (no more pastel to the paper), I am satisfied, pleased to have finished what I had planned and the framing begins. I had hoped to get my piece in the auction so it would be auctioned somewhere in the middle, but I needed all the time allotted to get the framing accomplished, so the painting was in the last spot on the auction docket. Not my favorite spot to be, but as it turned out the auction was a surprise. One know there is not always a predictable outcome to auctions and this one was not an exception. Early pieces were sold from $200-500. Then one sold for about $800 and another for $1700. I saw a couple of pieces of work of popular artists sell for less than I have seen before. Now I begin to have some anxiety. It’s now the time for my piece to go. I hold the painting up and the auction starts. Bids start immediately and I hand the work to one of the guys on the platform to show. Bids continue to be raised and my anxiety lessens. The auctioneer worked his way to $1500 +. I am relieved and happy to have completed a sought after piece of art and for sharing the sale with the museum.
So, when the opportunity arises to compete in a quick draw, do it. The key is preparation and planning. Then execute the painting in a confident manner, not second guessing palette and composition. If you are an art collector and someone who appreciates the arts and the process…know what happens for these works to come to be!