“How long did it take you?”
Its a very frequently asked question when I show an acrylic painting online or in the real world.
Or you read posts or see time-lapse video of artist painting online naming the paintings “” hour sketch” or, “Lunch break Doodle.” I understand the question, and I can easily hear myself bragging about how quick I painted this and that, but I also seriously hate the question. Or the time measurement all together. Imagine if Michelangelo posted on facebook: “Mural in the Vatican, only 3 years, Bam!”
Perhaps you heard the story about Picasso drawing a single line portrait of a woman and when question about the price, since it took him only a couple of minutes to do, he said “It took all my life, to do it”
How long it takes you to paint something is irrelevant. Unless you are repainting your living room and want to be over quickly. The focus should be on the quality of what you did, the mind and the idea behind it and the choices you took in creating an image. How many hours in a chair to do it is of so little important when it comes to either art or illustration and should never be an accomplishment in itself. But…
I think about all the time. Being a freelance illustrator is constantly about planning out what you can accomplish in a month, how long till deadline, how long have I exceeded the deadline, how long till they call me up and fire me? How many pieces can I do this year if I step up and perhaps go all digital, how many in ten years, or before I die?
You see where I am going? It kills they joy and it has nothing to do with enjoying yourself, your art or your life. What is my primary purpose and focus is process and story. Time and deadline is an unavoidable issue, but never the goal.
My output of paintings is for the most artwork illustrations for Magic the Gathering. The paintings are all done in acrylic, they all have the same measurement and for the most part the same amount of details or obstacles. But they take me everything from 15 hours to 5 full days, sometime s even more. I can never predict how long a piece will take. And it annoys the hell out of me.
The reason is because I care, maybe too much, about telling a good story or capturing a gesture or a showing a difficult angle of a figure. I have a picture in my mind and the picture is fuzzy, and I never know if I have reached it until I reach it. I go about gut feeling and only stops when I get the feeling that this is it. That feeling comes, when I am lucky, the first hour of sketching or the 3rd day, I never know. But there is a pattern I have seen over the years. If I am in a bad mood its more difficult. If I am at ease and open to the process, it runs more smoothly out of my pencil.
Here is a short list of things I have noticed that can make my illustrations better (by that I mean things that helps the process and thus making me spend less time achieving my goal ).
1. Get up early, start the day at the same time every day.
When I am at my studio early my mind is fresh and decluttered from obligations, phone calls and facebook trivia. My mind is open for ideas.
2. Same place every day.
I have a studio space. My 2 tables and all my books and materials. The calm of placing myself in the chair and starting the day immediately sets my mind at work mode. I waste very little time in dealing with other people or impulses. I go to work, and get to work.
3. End the day on a good note.
Starting up in the morning is always easier when you continue on something good from the day before. So If I stop in the afternoon on something successful or close to that, catching up the next day is a lot less difficult. Problem is if the workday is going to end soon and the drawings or painting is all going to hell and I mess up and see no way out of it. I know from experience that it is something I got to muscle trough: I call my wife and plan for her to pick up kids or make plans so I can stay for an extra couple of hours, and I continue till I see something useful or something positive to grab on to the following day.
4. Make sure I am in a good mood.
This is the hardest one, I think. no one is happy all the time. But if I am having a stressful time or if I have too much on my mind, things at the home that is not working well, one of my kids are unhappy or just anything outside of work that is a bit sour, it reflect on how well I dive into the creative part of the process. it reflects on how I see opportunities in a sketch and it often results in me discarding perfectly good compositions or ideas, just because my mood is low. My counter move is to try and resolve the things that is making my stomach ache. I will try to fix things rather than pushing them away and just escaping to my studio. And if it means I loose a workday, so be it. it was a day lost anyway.
5. Change scene.
Some times the process is just not working. the ideas are bad, the drawings look like left-handed work and I just do not feel it. I got 2 options at this point: If I get a hint of a result being close, I stay and try to sketch through it. usually something useful comes up. But I feel lost, I change scene. I go for a walk. take an hour and wander about the cemetery or go to a cafe and drinks some coffee. Or I switch media and put down the pencil and start sketching from scratch on my cintiq. Or I take a ballpoint and go to the sofa and sketch in a book. More often a possibility present itself when I see it all from a new perspective: Or the walk have cleared the mind and I am ready to start all over and try again.
I am sure a lot of you out there feel the same pressure about having to keep up, when you read another artist posting something marvellous they did in 1,5 hour lunch break. I know I do. But I try to reason myself out of it. and say to myself: Take your time, Jesper. enjoy the painting spend time in having fun with it. If you like it, somebody else will too.” And if it takes a day or 2 more than usual it is going to be extra days that I am enjoying myself.