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How Long Did It Take You to Paint That?

November 22, 2010

“Submerged” – Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches

When a someone looks at your painting (or photograph, or sculpture, or mixed media art,) do you ever get the question “How long did it take you to do that?” People who ask are almost guaranteed not to be artists. It’s an honest question on their part. They are accustomed to equating a product’s value with the time involved to produce it. And, of course, if you say you spent a thousand hours on it, they are usually duly impressed. In the right venue, this might even be a selling point.

My standard short answer is X number of years (my age) plus the actual hours put in. Because every piece of art that I create embodies who I am at that moment and reflects my life experience and lessons I’ve learned along the way. That moment in time distills all of the ways I’ve learned to see and feel. It reflects my own habits of working, developed over years of trial and error, learning what works for me and what doesn’t.

But the longer answer for me is that some things are a complete battle from beginning to end. I may not even know how to begin without a lot of thought and perhaps even some research into some new technique that I want to employ, or what the right medium needs to be. The thing I’m trying to create may just be causing me fits just because it wants to. I may go around in circles for weeks before abandoning the whole idea and starting again — or not. It might just as easily end up in the trash. But there again, lessons learned! There are many paths taken and much back tracking. It all goes into the mix.

Then there are other works that seem to just need a vehicle of expression, a means of entry into the world. All that’s required of me is to enter the dance, make a mark, smear some paint, and when they appear, be able to recognize their worth.  Those rare pieces seem to come about like magic and I’m always amazed.

But that doesn’t mean those pieces happened instantaneously. They are products of a long string of moments.

I have a few questions for you:

1.  Have you ever created something amazing, that made you say “Wow!” and which came together quickly and almost effortlessly?

2.  If so, did you tell anyone?

3.  If you did tell, was that person a casual stranger or was it a trusted friend?

If a piece took you five minutes or five hours to create, it’s really no one’s business but your own. You need a standard answer, a BS answer if you like!

Note:  The process of painting the above canvas went pretty fast as large canvases go. It was completed in a day. If you were to ask me how I painted it, I would honestly tell you “I don’t know.” What brushes I used, how many layers of paint, etc. – unknown. I do know that it’s one of my favorite paintings and it has earned its keep many times over, though I still have the original. Here is a giclee of this painting in an upscale model home. As you can see, it likes being on its side too.


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37 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 11:22 am

    I think you are saying that the size of a work, and the amount of time in making it are not important in the quality of the journey resulting in the most satisfying destination.

  2. November 22, 2010 11:37 am

    There is no such thing as time when you paint, is it?
    To answer your question: Achieving something effortlessly happens rarely because I am a very controlled painter, maybe I should change methods. The best results happen when I use a new medium that I don’t control yet. I only tell my husband.
    I love “submerged”. How the blue green is modified and interrupted. Indeed, it works with both orientations, but I prefer the portrait format.

    • November 22, 2010 3:00 pm

      Oohhh, Eva! I love your first statement/rhetorical question. Actually a good response for the casual observer.

      Interesting that you say you are a very controlled painter but like what happens when you give up a little control. My problem is almost the opposite I think. I am very uncontrolled when working with my chosen mediums, but when I’m working with something unfamiliar I tend to tighten up — especially if realism is involved (ex = my cows!)

      It’s good that you have your husband to share those little secrets with!

      And I’m glad you like the painting.

  3. November 22, 2010 11:41 am

    What you say is so true Martha!
    Sometimes a great painting can be achieved in Five minuets and it is done otheres take hours changing over time with texture and scrapping.
    The other question is I bet you find it relaxing? Ha if only they knew!

    • November 22, 2010 3:01 pm

      LOL Chris! Yes!! I hadn’t remembered that one, but so true. I do get that question sometimes too.

  4. November 22, 2010 1:42 pm

    Hi Martha,
    This question of how long does it take to paint something has long befuddled me. And you’re right, it’s always a non-painter. I usually say it has been a work in progress. Which is true of anything. Quick answer but vauge. I’d be interested to hear what other artists say.
    Barbara in AZ

  5. Nancy permalink
    November 22, 2010 2:41 pm

    ah don’t you love the spontanieity of life that pours out onto the canvas/paper/board!! i wonder if to be vague about how long a painting takes to emerge allows the viewer some responsibility for deciding – short – then its easy; long – perhaps harder… ;o)

    some of the art that i make and like the best just emerge from a place i am not entirely familiar with, though love dearly when i get there…

    • November 22, 2010 3:06 pm

      I do love it, Nancy. I do think the viewer needs to be left to figure out some things for themselves. Good point.

      And yes, your second point is so on target. It is exactly like that for me.

  6. November 22, 2010 2:49 pm

    I’m curious why you assume this: “They are accustomed to equating a product’s value with the time involved to produce it.”

    Maybe they are just curious and not because they are going to assign value but because they wonder what is involved.

    • November 22, 2010 3:13 pm

      Yes, Lisa – you’re right. It could be that sometimes. But one can usually tell the difference depending on the level of interest, don’t you think?

      If I were face to face with one of your beautiful fiber art works, I probably wouldn’t ask you how long it took. But I’d be thinking “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe the detail and work and concentration that went into this.” I might even say it out loud!

      • November 24, 2010 10:56 am

        I think it is human nature to be fascinated by process. Especially processes we don’t understand. I suspect most people (if not nearly all) are not asking because they want to place value.

        I suspect many artists carry a lot of baggage about time/value and so they read a lot into the question that just isn’t there.

        People love to engage the artist and very often haven’t a clue what to say or ask and don’t want to look stupid. “how much time” is a natural question.

        A few weekends ago I did a video interview with a friend and we talked about this. I was commenting about how this question is such a great opener to talk about our process and engage the viewer. Yet so many artists get defensive instead. I view that as a wasted opportunity.

        I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about it ever since, maybe this weekend.

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