The Laws of Nature

Friday, January 29, 2010

How Long Did That Take You??

I was thinking about Egmont's recent comment about the length of time he spends on some of his paintings, and thought it might be a good topic. How many times has someone asked you "How long did it take you to paint that?" I've heard it over and over again, and wonder if people think that more time equals higher value. Personally, I don't believe it.

Some artists, when asked this question, respond: "It's taken all the years of my life to paint this." That's a good point; the amount of time spent applying paint to canvas is minimal compared to the amount of time we spent learning our art and attending to it. And, by extension, everything we've done and learned over time counts toward the amount of time spent on each painting we produce.

Here's a good example. A wonderful artist that I knew before he moved away from this area, works very quickly in watercolor. His name is Bruce Handford and here's an example of his work:

Bruce entered a painting very similar to this in a juried exhibition that I was part of, and told me that it took him only 45 minutes to paint it, AND, he won first prize that evening. On the other hand, my entry (below), which took me over 100 hours to paint in gouache, won only an honorable mention in the same show:

Now, I realize that a judge's opinion is subjective, but the point remains that the amount of time spent on a painting has little to do with its artistic worth or commercial value. It also has little to do with the relative importance of a work. The Impressionists come to mind because many of them painted very rapidly to capture an impression of a scene. Some of that work is important enough to hang in museums or be sold for millions of dollars. This, alone, informs us that the particular vision of an artist and his/her ability to execute it in a masterful way is far more important than the amount of time spent putting paint on canvas.

This leads me to ask another question: How much time is ENOUGH when working on a painting? I guess that would lead us to the previous post about deciding when a work is "finished."

The next time someone asks me how long it took me to "paint that," I'll have to ask them why it matters. And, maybe I'll also add "all my life!"


Unknown said...

Hmmm.... I hate to refer back to my composite sketches but I was known Nationwide for being the fastest at drawing a likeness of a suspect. After 10 years of doing the same technique I got it down to about 45 minutes. The average time is 2-3 hours and some "professionals" take a couple of days to complete one.

My thought was the victim or witness did not want to go through reliving the incident anyway, cut it down to as short as possible. So a few smudges and scribbles to suggest an ear instead of making sure it was anatomically correct worked for me and the detectives.

So like Bruce Handford, he is able to the desired results because of years of experimenting, training and failures. Do you , Katharine think his work should be valued less than your gorgeous labor intensive [with love of course] masterpiece?

RH Carpenter said...

I think people ask "how long did that take to paint" when they see something they know (or think) is very labor intensive and are curious about the hours involved. I could be wrong, but that's the only time I'd ask about time spent on a painting.

Lisa Palombo said...

OGM! I am still looking for a perfect answer to give to my collectors. Actually my collectors don't ask this question. It is usually the "lookers". My work is very impressionistic florals and still lifes. People ask me this all the time. I think i read one famous artist reply , "30years and 5 mins." I can't remeber who, but I LOVE it! I would love to hear other comments!

Mark Sheeky said...

Ooh I'd like to see a video of Sheila's speed portraits.

If someone asks me how long I think "From when..?" For example on a current one, I came up with the idea last August, started modelling in October, the sketch in Nov, primed the canvas in Dec, then changed the composition last week... and I won't start painting until March... but with each stage it's just a few days AND I can trace the seed of the idea back to May 2009... so how long?

I tend to say "Over a year."

Sandy Maudlin said...

My pat answer is 40 years - just because of all the background that goes into a painting. The hard part for some may be pricing art that they 'dashed' off with a serious price. An inspired piece may come together quickly, from conception to completion and be done in less than an hour. It could easily be worth as much as the one that took 30 hours. Art's such a mystery...all angles of it!

Stan Kurth said...

Hi Katharine, nice blog. I stayed up way too late last night reading through some of the posts here. I can see you spend a bit of time doing it. That's nice! I agree with Sandy on this subject. Fritz Scholder, during a PBS interview, was asked this very question and his reply was 44 years (his age at the time). He said that everything in his entire life contributed to what he was currently painting. My paintings are currently taking me 60 years to paint and in believe the 60 year paintings are better than the 40 and 20 year paintings.

Unknown said...

Hi Sheila - Wow! A composite sketch in only 45 minutes is truly remarkable. Your sensitivity toward the victim/witness is wonderful. I'm so impessed. As far as the value of Bruce's work vs. mine, no I don't think his work should be valued at less than my own. I don't think the the amount of time spent has anything to do with the market value. For instance, I probably spent more time on my painting than Van Gogh spent on one of his, and his work sells for millions. Oh... if only!
Thanks for your comments.

Hi Rhonda - I agree that sometimes people are just curious. Makes sense. However, I've run into the "other types" who are associating time spent with market value. It's kind of like those who think a sofa-sized painting is worth more than a miniature (dollars per square inch mentality). Ridiculous! Thanks for your comment.

Hi Lisa - Thanks for joining our discussion. I like it: "30 yrs. and 5 minutes" is a great answer! Thank you.

Hi Mark - I'd like to see a video of Sheila sketching, too! Sheila do one and post it on your blog, pretty please ??? Mark, you spend a great deal of time planning your work and it's impressive. Thanks for commenting.

Hi Sandy - yes, that's the point, isn't it? Time doesn't equal value. Thanks for your comment.

Hi Stan - thanks for joining the discussion, and for providing some interesting info about Scholder. I, too, am closing-in on my 60'th year (shhhh...don't tell anyone!) and am happy to report that my paintings are better than the ones at 40 and 20, but maybe not at 5!
Thanks for your comments.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Youngsters! I agree that number of hours at the easel has little to do with value. Only we know how much time actually went into a painting--sometimes it is a lifetime.

Myrna Wacknov said...

I have used the "my whole life" response and it stops them in their tracks. I think most of those that ask equate time with value. I also have a problem with pricing my paintings by the square inch. Size doesn't equate with quality either. Does anyone have a better formula?

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Dan Kent said...

On one blog (maybe this one) a painter commented that small pieces often sell for much less than large ones even though it may take the artist just as much or more effort to paint. I agree that time does not equate with value. Value, I think, does not necessarily relate to anything the artist does because it is subject to the vagaries of the marketplace. Sometimes an artist who spends too much time has overworked the painting - which again, leads us to your last post.

Four Seasons in a Life said...


I am late to class again!

After reading the post and the comments that followed, I am discarding my original response in favor of another.

Though for me it does not matter how long a painting takes, as long as I feel satisfied I have done my best and I have accomplished what I set out to do, it is finished, only awaiting my signature.

As for having been asked the question 'how long' an artwork toke, I cannot recall having been asked and now that I think about, I better start thinking of an answer, when I do get asked that question.

Since the question 'how long did it take' reminds me of 'how much is it', maybe I should reply 'If you need to ask, you cannot afford it' .

Wishing everyone a joyous and creative weekend,

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - very true! Thanks.

Hi Myrna - I don't know if there is a formula. I just look at comparables in my region, or wherever my art will be shown, and try to assign a similar price. But, if I sell too much, then I feel like my price is too low and if I don't sell at all then it's too high. Wish I knew ....
Thanks for your comments.

Hi Pam - I know what you mean, but I knew this person very well and saw him paint once. He IS that fast (like Sheila!). Thanks.

Hi Dan - good point. The market really determines what price we can get. But, I think that artists have a little bit of influence over the market. Not much, but a little bit. We can raise the profile of our work (advertising, exhibiting, talking to people about it) and help to create demand. It's tough work, though, and most artists don't want to do it. Thanks for your comments.

Hi Egmont - I'd LIKE to say that when someone asks me, but can't afford to lose a potential client. Then again .... maybe I should rethink that. Have you ever decided that you DON'T want to sell to a particular person? I'll bet we can all think of a few ...
Thank you for commenting.

-Don said...

I just thought of a fun, yet flip, answer to this question as I was reading everyone's great responses...

"Why? Doesn't it look finished?" or
"Why? Do you think I should have spent some more time on it?"

To make this work you must come across as very sincere and vexed, like you're really worried you may not have got it right.

Hmmm... I might just try it next time... I'll start practicing now.


-Don said...

BTW, cool clock - although the 7 o'clock paint is in the 6 o'clock location. Of course, that could help me be early for meetings finally... -Don

-Don said...

...or would it make me later than usual?

Unknown said...

Don - leave it to you, my friend, to come up with a flip response!! Good laugh. Maybe we could just tell them that we conceived the idea and our apprentices took weeks to execute it. That should send the price skyward!
The clock is from a manufacturer's website. I can't remember who makes it.
Thanks for giving me a chuckle :)

Celeste Bergin said...

I'm predominantly an outdoor painter. Onlooker's comments are very predictable. You know..they "state the obvious"--they say things like "are you painting a painting?". (uh. yeah.) A "routine" question for the outdoor painter is "how long does a painting take you?" I actually do not mind this question, because it is a more thoughtful question than most of their others! The answer is generally an hour to an hour and 1/2. See..we direct plein air people are lucky that way. Generally No real need to work on them after we're back home. It either worked or it didn't.

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Casey Klahn said...

Not to be too pithy, but I did like this quote from Banksy:
"The holy grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes people to look at it."

I value speed in drawing/painting. But, I also am learning to value rigor. The speed gives an intuitive truth, but the rigor shows a love of the work.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - Sounds like a great way to paint!! I've tried plein air painting and ended up returning to my studio discouraged. In fact, I've tried several times. I guess my brain doesn't work that way. Your work is great - you're a natural! BTW - one day I was walking around Monhegan Island in Maine (an artist's colony where there are plenty of plein air painters lurking about). A woman was painting in next to a road in the village where there's tons of foot traffic. Someone stopped to take a picutre of her and she .... hey! this is another blog topic. I'll pick it up there. Thanks for your comments.

Nicely stated, Casey! I need to think about that for awhile and really let it sink in. Thank you.