Saturday, June 7, 2014

How long did that take you to paint?

Catching the Light
14 x 11
One of the questions that I get asked often is "how long did that take you to paint".  It always leaves me feeling a bit panicked: do I tell the truth and say I did it in an afternoon, giving the impression of virtuosity, but also, potentially, that the piece is an insignificant trifle, or do I tell the other truth and say that I slaved over it over days and weeks, tweaking and revisiting, scraping and restating? Does that simply make me seem inept? Why are they asking, anyway?  Are they trying to calculate my income per hour or is it the honest curiosity of a fellow painter, trying to figure out every aspect of another painter's method?  I tend to think it's the latter.  We're all curious about how other painters achieve their results and, for non painters, they want to know what our days in the studio look like.  BBC even has a series called "What Do Artists Do All Day?" which is fascinating and addictive.

I walk across the yard to my studio every morning, back across for a 15 minute lunch, and then out again until it's time to make supper (or well past time, as my family will tell you).  The studio is filled with paintings in various stages of completion.  Many look finished to visitors to the studio, but, until they look finished to me, they're not allowed out in public.  That may mean weeks of sitting on a shelf enduring my critical glances before I take the piece up again, make a few marks, and put it back on the shelf again for another spell of waiting and studying.  Many paintings will never leave the studio because I don't stand behind them; I just can't like them. Some of these have been praised and appreciated by others, but that only embarrasses me as I can see their flaws, and my eye is the only one that counts.  Every year I slash and trash many of this group.  

Alex Kanevsky told me that "painting is an inherently wasteful process" and that phrase has been my solace when I discard weeks worth of work and countless dollars worth of paint, linen and worn brushes.  I'm just doing what artists do: following in well-worn footsteps along a slow and tortuous path toward my idea of excellence.  

So the short answer is: it takes as long as that painting needs.  That may be a duration so lengthy that it will sound silly to you when you hear it or, if I'm in the flow, it may fall off my brush in a blessed afternoon. 

The painting above is in the second category and so I look at it with gratitude for the fact that it didn't offer resistance during its creation.  It happened in a smooth and sure dance in which my brush picked up the right colour and value each time I touched the palette.  And, crucially, I knew when to stop and say "done".  Most don't happen this way, but I can forget about those and the toll they exacted in order to be created.  Just don't ask how long it took me to paint them.  

Happy painting!


Roberta Murray said...

Excellent explanation of the subject. I especially like your comment about painting being a wasteful process. I need to remind myself often that it's okay to throw out paint and paintings.

Ingrid Christensen said...

I know what you mean, Roberta. Like me, you're someone who find waste disgusting, and here we both are, working in one of the most wasteful professions, trashing a large percentage of what we labour to create. It's schizophrenic!

Nora MacPhail said...

Your work is amazing. So glad I came across your painting on Facebook. Makes me want to go back to oil (I'm a watercolourist.) Your answer is a good one, but artists and students may stil press you for more info. When asked how long it took me to paint something, I always answer "3 hours and 14 years".

Ingrid Christensen said...

Great reply to the inquisitive, Nora!