How long should a painting take?

I found myself wondering this question when I looked at some really nice works of other painters on various groups, and sites, blogs and forums, the pandora’s box of the internet. They seem very beautiful and accomplished, each in their own style. Many of the artists would be very prolific and produce a painting almost every day. This made me wonder how long I should be spending on a painting. After posing this question to a forum, I was barraged by a great deal of responses almost immediately. All were helpful and encouraging. Some were borderline berating me for posing such a question, but I think it had more to do with the frustration of them seeing a beginner at painting with too great expectations, and I get it. (Wouldn’t everyone love to be a savant after a few hours? *sigh*) Now that I got some answers, I will share what I learned.

The general consensus was not to focus on the painting time but on the experience and what you want to achieve in the finished product. Is it helping you to elicit a feeling when looking at it? Is it something that you want to accurately portray a subject – have you succeeded? Is it filled with a lot of detail and painted in a ‘tight’ fashion, or is it more loose and suggestive of the subject?

Those are a lot of questions to consider, and they all require different lengths of time to produce. There are several other factors that you may have less control over, like your skill level, your self-criticism, sometimes your materials, perhaps even your own patience.

I think that a lot of what holds me back, and what may also hold other new beginners back, is that depreciation of our own work. We are our harshest criticizers and we are the most sensitive to our own judgements. I get carried away with all the youtube videos, which are a wonderful resource, but allow me to see paintings produced in a half hour that I can’t seem to make happen in an hour and half. I should not expect to be cranking out beautiful paintings right away, I am not even sure how to best paint shadows or clouds yet. So there is no reason for me to be expecting perfection – or what I deem perfection to be – if I don’t even know what my painting is to look like and what my limits are. But having such stark comparisons can be a source of frustration.

To calm myself, I just have to step back and accept that I’m not there – yet.Relating this to everyone: you don’t know your own limits until you practice and improve to the very best that you are able, maybe then you will be approaching the limits of your ability. But you haven’t made it to the end yet.

Ultimately, it makes sense that paintings you want to be detailed will take more time. Sometimes those that are loose and have a lot of wet-into-wet technique will be much faster and take less than an hour. Size is another factor, but doesn’t matter as much as you might think if you also upscale your brush size appropriately to match. It really is down in the details – the more you have, the more intricate they are, the longer they will take. The more glazes you put on your painting, the more interesting they may be, but the more time you will consume in making them and waiting for them to dry between each layer. Also, when you are starting out, you may not know how best to produce that image that you want, so it is better to sit still and consider your options before going in blindly and, more often than not, do something to your painting that you didn’t want to (another source of frustration).

This is something I do for fun, for relaxation, a hobby. I shouldn’t be worrying about making lots of paintings, but on improving my skills and finishing each one to the best ability that I can. That way I, and you, learn during the process, and the next one will have a greater chance at being better than the last. The funny thing about watercolor is that it is not a guarantee, sometimes it is a little hard to predict. However, if you take them in stride, even these ‘mistakes‘ can be taken under wing to become ‘happy accidents‘, as Bob Ross used to say.

I’ll leave you with some final thoughts and impressions I have on this subject of painting time. It is a process, more of a journey, and not the end product. Even an artist who plans to sell paintings often takes some time to produce their work to a degree of excellence they are happy with and believe that accurately represents their skill. Try to create a paintings that elicits the feeling from others that you had while painting it, or while deciding to paint it. Is it calm, anger, confusion, thoughtfulness, peace? And don’t sweat the small stuff, because it will always take up the most time in your work, especially if you start sweating over it.

And if you are feeling a little nostalgic, here’s a throwback to those painting shows that used to be on TV, before Netflix and on-demand became what they are now, here is a link to Bob Ross’ videos on a Youtube channel I found. They are pretty fun, and a lot of the basics of acrylic painting do hold water (haha) when brought into watercolor.


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