People often ask me, "how long did that one take you to paint?" I love this question and have come to respond in a way that folks may often wish they simply hadn't asked me. The truth is that I paint very quickly. Many of my small paintings are completed alla prima--in one sitting. Others, even some of the largest, I may only work on for two or three sessions. Of course it depends on how a work comes together, how the stars align and how hearty and focused I am feeling. Still, my style and approach is a quick one. But for me to say, oh that painting took me three hours, or ten hours is to minimize to entire artistic process. Here is an example of how I now respond in most cases:
Well, three years ago I made a trip to Colorado. While I was there I completed numerous plein aire paintings and took many pictures. When I returned I sorted through several hundred digital images and found what I could use and cropped, manipulated, merged and blended--this I call digital sketching. In my studio I completed several paintings that resemble this one, working with the lighting that I captured in my plein air studies and photographs. This took numerous months, but I never felt fully satisfied with how I had rendered these particular images. I let these sit for about a year, knowing that I would return to these images at some point. A few weeks ago I was revisiting these images and reflecting on new motifs I wanted to focus on. I realized that these images were what I wanted to capture. I realized where I was amiss a year or so ago, so I began making new value sketches and redesigning the composition. I decided that this particular image needed to be big, so I ordered new supplies to satisfy the dimensions. When the supplies arrived I got to work. Once I began painting, I worked for about ten hours over a couple of days.
Of course some patrons and passerbys find this very intriguing. Others, of course, are sorry they asked. Additionally, not all paintings are this demanding but many are. About a year ago I hung some work at my church for one of our annual fundraisers. I overheard a woman exclaim to a friend, "My God, that painting is $800!" Little did she know that I had discounted that very painting for the event. I bring this up now, because, yes, it is difficult to price artwork. But mostly I mention it now because people often only see the finished product. It's hard for them to imagine what it actually takes to generate many of our images. I equate it to a trip to the family doctor. Many times we arrive, he or she looks us over for two minutes and says, "Well, you have a virus; there's really nothing we can do but wait it out." This office visit still costs anywhere from $80-$120, but we're not really paying for the two minutes they spend with us. We're paying for the years they spent in school training. We're paying for the electric bills and tongue depressors. We're paying because they can do things that we can't.
It's up to us artists to help people understand that they are not just purchasing the materials and ten hours it took us to paint that very painting. It's the years of supplies before we ever tried to sell a work. It's the schooling and workshops and time online looking at our colleagues' work. It's the trips we take to find new material, the computer software and cameras and time away from family. And, quite frankly, it's also because in the end we create a product that no one else can create.
It's a lot of time and energy, but you tell me, would you want to spend it any other way?