A difficult question to answer

Desert Walk 12 x 24” acrylic

Desert Walk 12 x 24” acrylic

Artists often get asked “How long did it take you to paint that?” For me, this is a very difficult question to answer. If I were snarky, i could paraphrase Picasso and say something like “a week and my entire lifetime.” But I don’t believe people ask this question as a way to judge the value of the artwork. I believe people are asking out of genuine curiosity, and interest in the life of an artist, But that doesn’t make the question any easier to answer.

There is some truth in what Picasso said - every single painting is building on something explored in the painting before, a technique learned elsewhere, inspired by a visit to a museum, or a book read. A lifetime of experience, practice and study goes into every single painting. A quick, confident sketch can only happen after many years of practice and honing observational skills.

My photo taken at the Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix - I’ve taken some liberties, and changed things around a bit.

My photo taken at the Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix - I’ve taken some liberties, and changed things around a bit.

The other thing that makes this question difficult to answer, is that the time put into a painting does not consist solely of time spent at the easel. Take for example the painting above. The canvas was prepped and ready to go on January 9th. But is that really when I started this painting? Or was it a year ago, when I first had the desire to go to the desert? I had been reading a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, and I was gripped by an intense desire to go to the desert. Did this painting begin with that desire to travel to the desert? I’ve always found the desert to be a magical place. Where others see dead grass and brown dirt, I see a bounty of beautiful subdued color and textures.

It took a while, but plans were made, and in October, I took a long weekend trip to Phoenix, Sedona and Scottsdale. Did this painting begin when I stepped off the plane into the desert sun, driving directly from the airport to the Desert Botanical Garden which is depicted in this painting?

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Or did I being this painting when I returned home and spent time poring through my photos and sketching ideas? Was it begun when I made small studies to make decisions about composition and color palette?

When I “finish” a painting at the easel, it is not really done. First, I put it on my mantle for a few days, because when i live with a painting for a while, i notice things I didn’t see while it was on the easel. Then I put it out of sight for a few days and look at it again, and make adjustments. I consider this non painting time essential to the work but should I include that in the amount to time spent on the painting?

After any adjustments are made and the painting is signed, I photograph the work, color correct the photo, list the painting in my inventory and on my website. The painting then goes through a 3-4 day varnishing process. When the varnish is set, then my framer steps in to help me choose just the right frame for my work. Only after all of these things are done is the painting available to be submitted to shows and potentially find its way to a collector. Should this time be considered in the amount of time spent on the painting?

But even if we confine the time a painting took to actual time spent at the easel, it is still hard for me to define. I often work on more than one painting at a time, switching the canvas on the easel when each painting needs a little drying time, or if the vision of the work becomes unclear. In those times, I find it is helpful to put the painting out of sight and work on something else for a while. So the amount of time spent directly in front of a single canvas is sometimes hard to define.

So, if I hesitate answering the “How long did that take you?” question, this is why. Its a hard thing for me to define. I appreciate the question though, because it is an honor to share my work and to speak to people about what I do. I love to talk about my process and inspiration. So please keep asking that question, and I will try not to be so long-winded in my answer.