The most frequently asked question when I’m discussing my art is: How Long Did It Take You to Paint That? Well, it seems like an easy one to answer doesn’t it? But the problem is, I don’t know what they’re really asking since no matter what I answer they say, “Oh” in response. Here’s why it’s a confusing question.
I don’t know what that person really wants to know. Do they mean how many hours did it take me to paint it? Or how many days? Or weeks? Or months? I’ve tried asking them what their real question is but people don’t really know why they’re asking it. Is it a form of legitimacy? A value judgment on the quality of the work? Perhaps it is a question about fair pricing for the quantity of time allotted to the work.
I wonder if they’re asking me how many hours a day (a week, a month) do I work? Or is it how many hours a day (a week, a month) do I paint, which is different than how much I work at being an artist? I think the life of an artist is a mystery to most people. I think they’re trying to get a handle on what it takes to actually make a work of art.
If, when I answer, I mention that it takes time for me to search in my garden for inspiration, it doesn’t seem to register that this is part of the time I’m working. Let’s not even mention growing my plants which are the models for most of my work. And does the time count that I take to make the preliminary drawings and sketching on paper or screen that I do to create the composition? How about the time it takes to transfer that sketch to the surface I’ll be painting upon, which lately is the canvas. Not until then does the actual painting begin. Does all that prep time count into “How long did it take you to paint that?”.
So, it seems by people’s reactions that all the preliminary work doesn’t count. What seems to only count is the time I’ve spent putting brush to canvas.
My last painting took me 8 months to complete. This timeframe did not count growing the plant, the photography, sketching the composition and the transfer to canvas. I’m a procedural painter so I actually have a timeline in my notes I keep of each painting. I list the day, the number of hours I worked and a line or so of what I worked on during that session. The notes ended on the day I signed the completed artwork.
But did it really take me 8 months to paint that particular Red Dahlia? I began the work in the dead of winter but was interrupted when spring arrived, and the garden demanded my attention. Generally, I can’t paint after I’ve worked in the garden since the small motor skills required for me to paint are too exhausted by the effort. I would not be able to control my brushstrokes to my satisfaction if I tried to cram too much physical work in a day.
So 8 months is not really an accurate answer is it?
In my notes I can see that I worked on this particular painting in 41 sessions, meaning 41 different days during those 8 months. And not to be outdone with carefully tracking my work, I painted for a total of 151 hours by the time I painted the signature in the lower right corner.
I’m pretty sure that any of those answers, the number of months or the number of painting sessions or hours would receive the same “Oh” reply from the person asking me the question. An artist’s life and work are a great source of mystery to many people. And I respect that. Actually, I kind of like that. Being and working as an artist is often a mystery to me as well. There are many times I look at a painting from my past and think to myself, Gee, I wonder how long it took me to paint that? Sometimes I wish I knew. That’s one of the reasons I now keep notes.
Allotted time doesn’t define the quality of an artwork. Time does not ensure me of a successful outcome. My art takes as long as it takes to satisfy me. That’s really how long it takes for me to make a painting. I have to be satisfied with the artwork to put my signature on the work.