3 Moments that Every Artist Needs for a Successful Painting

sunflower inprogress

There is a mystique about art. I think we all love watching an artist at work, and in my watercolour classes and demonstrations people invariably comment on how easy I make watercolor painting look. It's a little secret among artists. You just know we all get together and plot on how to make painting look easy...until the observer tries to do it. It's just our little scheme.

While I derive tremendous joy and satisfaction in painting, it has not come easily. Especially lately as I delight in painting and yet feel such a strong awareness of how much I have to learn. I am fatigued by every painting effort as I challenge myself with  new ideas and techniques, growing and always learning. The actual hours that go into a painting reflect very little of painting's value.

When artists are asked (and we are asked this frequently) "How long did it take you to paint that?" we shudder a little. In an economy where most people are paid by the hour, we are wired to read value into time, and I rarely paint anything that takes more than 4-6 hours of actual painting time. I never want to give an answer that could potentially deprecate what goes into every piece of original art that I create.

Can I propose to you that the actual painting time is only a small part of the time that went into my paintings? Just as in my watercolour classes I am the first one to see promise in an area of a student's painting and tell them to "Stop! Let it dry. Look it over. Leave that as it is," the time in between painting sessions is possibly even more important than the time spent painting.

My paintings are made up of three different types of time:

  1. The time spent painting, usually measured in hours.
  2. The time spent away from the painting, coming back to look with fresh eyes, daydreaming possible outcomes, studying it for weak areas; usually measured in days. (sometimes weeks or years)
  3. The cumulative experience of a lifetime of painting, which never ends and is measured in years. I'm at eighteen years of watercolour experience, and a lifetime of art immersion.

Without any one of these time periods, a successful painting can never happen.