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How Long Does a Painting Take

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Possibly the most common questions that all artists get; how long does a painting take! I wish I knew the answer. It is impossible to calculate by blocking out a period of time to work on one particular painting, this just isn’t the way I utilise my time in the studio. And prior to even starting to paint there is the stretching of the canvas, and prepping the canvas with a primer or gesso ready for painting.

Once I start applying paint I find that I often have a few pieces on the go at the same time, particularly with my abstract work where I am bringing them all forward with their different stages, moving back and forth between each of them, waiting for them to dry each time, and then building up the layers on each again. Considering and responding to what each piece needs during this process can take me on an exploration of ideas, thoughts and feelings with my abstract work, all of which requires the freedom of time and no judgement during this journey. This cycle of what is referred to as 'call and response', utilised with both my abstract and my realistic artwork, continues throughout the entire creative process until it reaches a point where the piece I am working on feels right, it meets both the principles of design and it also expresses something meaningful, then I know it is complete.

With my detailed realistic pieces there is a lot of time spent researching the subject matter, taking loads of photos and then editing those until I find the right one, that special image that will look amazing blown up in scale on a canvas. It is quite a traditional method when I use when applying the layers of oil paint to build up the depth, being patient in between each layer knowing that it will take different glazes and thin veils of subtle colours to form the shape and realistic properties that I am aiming to achieve. Oil paint gives me an extended window of time for blending, which greatly helps the process, but it can also create some frustration when the paint moves around when you need it to stay put. I like to soften most of the edges of my subject matter, so this fine detailed blending process can be extremely time consuming. Depending on the colours used, as some take longer to dry than others, and what area of the painting I am working on, there can be days of drying between layers with these also. This can be challenging when I have the exact colours mixed on the palette and then I have to wait before I can go back in for another round of building up the subject. Covering the paint on the palette with cling wrap sometimes helps to delay the skin forming with the oils, but sometimes I miss that window too and have to re-establish each specific subtle colour.

It is still not totally complete until I apply the final layers of varnish which often includes waxing and polishing them. Prior to this I might need to touch up anything that needs addressing, attach hanging materials, and/or transport them to the framers. So, as you can see, it is not an easy one to answer. It is not a simple matter of just setting a timer and methodically clocking the input hours, it is SO much more, AND always takes way longer than first thought!

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