I have noticed that with some atelier methods, they will spend days on cast studies. This means meticulously mapping out the cast, and then usually spending days to weeks shading. From people I have talked to about this, they say it really forces them to internalize how light hits form. I'd be curious to see how you feel this fits into speed v. doing a really slow study.
Great question! Let me clarify the idea of working fast and cheap, and get into where I believe those more careful studies fit in.
For me, the idea of working fast and cheap is an important part of some serious study, but it is still only one part. When you are tackling a new subject, or an area that you have difficulty with, I think you can gain a lot of experience at a faster rate by doing more studies rather than fewer more elaborate ones. This is all about nailing down some of those basics and fundamentals, focusing on the lesson you need to learn at that moment. I think it is most helpful to focus on a single problem, or a host of simpler problems.
So what about the plaster cast study, or a master copy, or any other more careful examination? Well, to me those are more advanced studies where you are learning a different skill set. Those are about honing observation, looking for the subtle nuance, and developing finer control in your rendering abilities. They are valuable lessons, and they will teach you things the fast and cheap lessons maybe won’t teach you as easily. There will likely come a time in most artists development that these sorts of more intensive studies start taking over the fast and cheap studies, but by that point the artist is focusing on a new set of lessons that are more about that level of refinement.
This is maybe a good time to bring up another concept which I think is very fundamental to art at all stages of development. Working from the general to the specific.
Working from the general to the specific.
This is a core concept that I will touch on repeatedly in these articles. What this means is that it is best to work out larger problems without getting bogged down with too many details, and refine and polish the work at later stages. In the context of the above discussion, working fast and cheap is working the general concepts. In an over all art education it is important to get these early lessons in to provide the basis more detailed and specific study later on, like the plaster cast study.
The concept of the general to the specific comes up over and over again. Many of you who have already started your art lessons have likely already heard about starting a drawing by working with basic shapes. These general forms provide the basic structure to eventually develop and refine into your final image. If you are talking about a whole composition, thumbnails sketches solve the placement of entire components of an image quickly and easily without wasting a lot of time on details that don’t help solve the more immediate problems. I find that 90% of the time, if I get stuck or am having problems, it’s because I didn’t solve a problem well enough at a more general stage.