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Why does it take me so long to paint?

It seems like it takes me forever to finish a painting. And most of my paintings are on the small side!
It can take me a week to do a little 12x16" still life. Maybe I should record time better. But I'm a stay at home mom so I do a lot of running around, but generally I get 4 hours each day to paint.

Do you try to manage your time? How do you go about the 'operations' of painting? Do you focus on one portion? Do you have a lot of distractions and if so how do you manage them? 

I'd like to hear what your painting habits are and if you've found things that work and things that don't work. Thanks!


  • I don't think I use my time very well.

    I get about 3 hours a day during the week, and at least an hour is spent cleaning the palette, cleaning a brush I won't use again for a while, staring at a painting and wondering what my next move is, or just staring at four paintings and trying to decide which one to work on.  There might be a half hour here and there where I'm looking at painting blogs, or painting videos.  When painting, there are no distractions.

    There are some evenings where I sit down and do absolutely nothing for a couple of hours, and give up.  I will have cleaned this and that, straightened up something, sharpened a pencil, refilled the paper towel supply or other time filler activities.  I think some of this is caused by having a painting in a problematic state.  I'm pretty good at seeing that I'm getting into trouble and stopping.  This isn't as frustrating as it sounds because I will have been thinking about what should and should not be done next.

    On a weekend I have more time, but spend less of that time painting.  Not sure why, but I'm busy all the time.  Sometimes I'll procrastinate by preparing a panel.  I have too many panels, and this is why.

    A typical session involves making tea, then getting comfortable, uncovering the palette, cleaning the palette areas that should be cleaned, then staring, brush in mouth, trying to figure out what's next.  I think I'm happiest if I can do some block-in here, add details there, mess with a texture over here, fix a value there, and end up spending time just fixing small things.

    I've tried painting in the Rob/Esther manner of one grid square at a time, and I just can't do it.  I much prefer to move from coarse to fine and select any part of a painting that interests me today.

    One thing I find very useful, is at the end of a session, when I'm dipping brushes and wiping paint off myself and various surfaces, is to take stock of what I did in this session.  I think it helps me be realistic about what I can achieve in the next session.

    I've been conscientious about taking a photograph at the end over every session.  I like looking through the pictures and seeing it all come together.  Favorite part of a painting is the last 10%, which is finish work.
  • Paint till your butt falls asleep then raise your easel and paint some more. When you get tired, sit. when you run out of paint, you're done. Why does everybody want to attach a clock to their painting? Organization just takes all the fun out of it.
  • The figuring out portion I can relate to, as an engineer I like to work it out in my head but from my efforts you can see that my head is not my best tool,...
  • I never finish a painting.  I would like to take every single painting I have ever painted in my life and work on it some more or throw it away.  I love the process but never consider a painting perfect and done.  Like @PaulB , I have many in progress.  I just flip around and sometimes, just stare at my wall of  WIPs - I started taping linen sheets to walls because I was running out of room.  I am going to have a huge mess to clean up if we ever move and try to sell this house. I'm a bit frustrated at the moment - I've spent about 10 hours a day for the past 4 days painting my favorite candle - it started off as a quick study and I decided to take it to "completion" - oh my goodness - I loved it at first - now, I realize I am a complete and utter failure and fraud and wonder who the hell I think I am.  I mean, really.  And then, I'll dream about that painting tonight, wake up tomorrow and start over - I ended up scraping 4 days of work tonight.  I may post because I need help.
  • 'a week to do a little 12x16" still life'. That doesn't sound slow to me at all  :) 
  • Ten to twelve hours is a good session.  I use single layer some of the time, overall (from start to finish) it is actually faster to paint following Mark's single layer method than it would if you did a multiple layering method. The end result is about the same.

    When I do layering, I follow the general steps of Composition, Construction, Tone, Reconstruction, Paint, then Finish, each session can take a portion a day; however, each step can take a minimum of seven weeks to dry before I apply the next step or go back and make corrections or re-apply a step. Done properly, It takes easily over a year to do a painting.  Almost all of it is drying time.  Paint ten hours and dry seven weeks. 

  • My high school art teacher used to say, "putzing" around the studio. Today I spent almost two hours scraping and cleaning palettes, cleaning up dried paint, moving a light/chair/laptop...etc. 

  • @Julianna your comments remind me of a book I read years ago "I really should be practicing" written by a classical pianist. He was really good but waa certain that everything he did was trash. Finally, his teacher kicked him out and told him to start performing.  By all accounts, the author, Gary Graffman, has had an amazing International career.  The point is that we are all our own worst critics.
  • @Renoir, you are painting, well done. It’s not a race. I haven’t done an oil in 18 months, life gave me a kick in the teeth. Currently trying to fight my way back into my studio/ painting space that everyone else has turned into a dumping ground.... but I will paint !!!!
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