There is one question that I get asked more than any other: “How long does it take you to make a painting”. It’s a tricky one to answer and most artists have practiced the standard reply, something like: “I’ve been at some version of this painting for 15 years; I just keep improving it.”
If a painting works out well in just a day, does that mean I haven’t put enough effort into it, or does it mean that the skills I’ve developed over many years and many paintings, after practice and patience – and impatience – have come together in a sweet moment of joy in this painting? Has my intuition and skill merged in perfect synchronicity?
Still some paintings tease me with the challenges. The first touchstone is always my intuitive response, whether I feel the artwork conveying passion. Only when it fails to do so, do I examine the work for issues of balance, tension, light or composition. I question every inch of the canvas seeking to discover the solution to the uneasiness I feel about the work, that sense that something is not quite right. I rely on intuition first, technical or intellectual analysis secondly. I turn it around and around. I live with it. I try brush strokes and colours and glazes, until, eventually – and sometimes in the middle of the night – the image appears and I know what will complete the painting, give me a sense of wonder, a sense that the work is ready for the world to see it.
This much I’ve learned, whether the magic happens in one stroke or hundreds, it won’t flow to the canvas at all if I have blocked it with fear, frustration or intellectualized structure. When I encounter those obstacles to creative flow, I have to step away from the canvas, breathe deeply and ‘Let Go’, so that something new can move into the space and come alive inside me. It’s when I allow that light to shine that I will create an artwork that vibrates with emotional energy. Letting go of the need to control the outcome, allows the beauty of life to spill out in vivid colour and form.
Now ask me how long it’s taken me to learn the lesson that we can’t always control the outcome, nor is it in our own best interests to do so. As it is in life, so it is in Art-making. Wisdom and skill take time to develop. A wise decision can be made in seconds once we’ve learned and lived. A painting may take tiny bit longer, though (smile!).