Twelve contestants were given 20 minutes to paint a masterpiece. Photo: Iain Sellers.
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Art Battle’s time restraints pose unique challenge to artists

On Sept. 18, a dozen painters gathered at the Ottawa Arts Court to face an artistic challenge—making their best artwork in 20 minutes.

Contestants taking part in the third Art Battle of the season used a provided easel, and their own painting supplies, which were not allowed to contain mechanical parts, including pencils, and faced off in the middle of a circling audience of around 60 people.

Ottawa’s Art Battle has been running for 10 years, and has an event every month, except June—when winners from the Ottawa area move on to the national competition.

“Every time that I came to paint … I was becoming more confident, because here you don’t have time to (overthink) everything. You make a mistake, you try to learn, and you try to incorporate it into your work,” explained the Ottawa organizer, and former competitor, Peter Purdy.

The competition was open to artists of all ages, and experiences. To qualify, potential candidates had to submit their artistic resume, and photos of their works to Purdy who hand-selects all artists.

“I’m really trying to find the best of the best. To show the nation the quality of work that we create (in Ottawa),” he explained. “(However,) if I see somebody that … doesn’t have the strongest portfolio, but they have the passion (for their work), and I can tell that this is what they want to do with their life, (I’ll) do everything (I) can to get them in the competition at least twice within a (year).”

Indeed, to have repeat artists trying to hone their craft was not unique to this month’s event. For fourth-year Carleton student, Reem Dawoud, Tuesday night was her second year competing in the event.

“(Before my first event, I had) never speed painted … the fastest painting that I’ve ever had to do (took) two hours. So, to have to paint in 20 minutes, with no pencils, or erasers, was really stressful,” she said. “It was really scary, but it was a really good experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get out of their comfort zone.”

While there were no University of Ottawa students competing at this month’s event, many Gee-Gees have raced against the clock in the past.

Fourth-year U of O fine arts student, Stephen Shugar, is a regular at the event. “I started painting and volunteering for Art Battle … in 2013. I’d say (that) I’ve been participating (in the competition) for about five years,” he told the Fulcrum.

From years of practice at the events, Shugar explained that he was able to overcome many of the challenges that first-time painters face. “(My) first time painting live in 20 minutes was definitely something to get used to. I was nervous, but ready to give it my all. Once you start, you sort of forget there is a crowd,” he said.

Artists painting on the central stage had to maintain focus while the audience would swoon within inches of their painting space to take pictures, and get a closer look.

“For myself, live painting is always fun to watch and is growing as a new form of entertainment. The spectator has the chance to see the artists’ process which is usually hidden away in their studio,” said Shugar.

Despite his enjoyment as a spectator, Shugar told the Fulcrum that he has also enjoyed his time as a painter on the floor of the Art Battle’s stage. “The environment is great, (and) painting live in 20 minutes is a fantastic way to keep my painting techniques on point.”

Check out Shugar and Dawoud’s experience on instagram, or participate in the festival yourself by checking out Art Battle’s website.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper