Racing the Light

98 % of the time I paint in natural daylight, something our beautiful Canadian winter may lack. 

Rather than pine over lost working hours in the short days of winter, I have a little fun with it in the studio. 

It’s an exercise I call, Racing the Light.

You can it adapt to other projects, not just creative ones. And.. its versatile in rules.

 How like an artist to say that. 

Thou it’s great to do often, ( if  you’re really keen) I find it most fruitful in the midst of a painting project with an abundance of the 5 P’s.

1. Preparation ( information gathering etc)

2. Planning ( composition, etc) 

3. Problem solving

4. Pressure ( self induced or other) 

5. Physical labour.

For example, a commission or painting collection due in specific time frame for exhibition. It doesn’t have to be a large canvas, but most times it is.

Race the Light is not pre-planned. To get the most of the exercise it should be completely spontaneous. The thrill and challenge is arriving at appropriate the time of day and deciding to leap in. 

Like canoeing into the middle of the lake and deciding to go for a swim without having brought a bathing suit, extra clothes, or a towel.

Either you dive in, or possibly miss a spectacular swim.

Rules are straightforward. 

  • Preferably with 20-30 mins left of daylight , step away from the large project at hand. Turn it to the wall.  Note: as you improve,  try this exercise in 10 minutes.
  • Move all possible objects from the floor you may trip over in your artistic flurry. 


  • A new smaller canvas from scratch
  • Brand new subject matter ( different from large project) 
  • No squeezing out new paint, or breaking out new brushes, or even clean ones _ limited to what is on existing palette and sticky brushes that are in play with the big project. 

~( old Masters did this with their palettes. Paint is expensive, Many artists today do an ‘end of paint session’ to use up the paint on their palette, if they aren’t saving it for next day.)

  • No fixing mistakes, re-working areas, or changing composition once in play.
  • Finish, or nearly finish the painting before daylight fades. 

~( nearly finishing is just as good, as you now have your ‘ leave something undone’ at the end of day. Robert Genn was a fan of this.)

The benefits of Racing the Light are HUGE.

  1. Thou super challenging, it can be playful at the end of a taxing paint day.
  2. It improves instinctive creative skill.
  3. May relieve neck/ shoulder/ leg kinks, by working on a smaller surface area. Because of the complexity of the big project, you may need to loosen up, and you are now doing so because you are working crazy fast to beat the light. 
  4. You aren’t just shaking off physical kinks, but psychological/ emotional ones too. Sneaky doubts, critic chatter, rejection letters, social media quicksand that bogs one down.
  5. Practically, you discover unique ways to use a sticky brush you would have otherwise trashed. 
  6. It brings a sense of freshness to a palette you may have been working with for days./ weeks/ month.
  7. It brings the present tense into focus, like a zoom lens.
  8. Along with the fading daylight, worries and thoughts fade too, because an exercise like this takes so much focus.
  9. You discover newfound confidence and energy.
  10. In what was supposed to be an exercise .. may…. just may.. .. become magic.

~ Photos above ~ Manitou in Winter~ All Artwork in including new , possibly still in progress “Clouds” 11×24 oil available for purchase.