Why Does It Take So Long to Finish a Painting?

People ask me all the time, “How long does it take you to do a painting?” It depends. I rarely finish a painting the same day I start it. Usually, it takes 2-3 sittings before I experience that definitive moment of “it’s done.” Each sitting is approximately 3 hours. If the painting is small, I may be able to finish within 2 hours. Larger paintings take me longer. But, size isn’t the only factor.

By Anne S. Katzeff

I’m thinking about all of this right now, because I finished a painting this summer that I started 4 years ago. Yup, you read that right. four years. Now THAT is a really long time! Why did it take me so long?

The painting is a landscape of an Olana overlook, the home of Frederic Church. It’s not particularly large (12″ x 9″). The issue was more about the vivid memories of that awesome day and wanting to give myself the right “space” to return there in my mind so that I would give the experience proper justice.

I really liked what I started and didn’t want to screw it up. Something about the painting wasn’t quite right, though, and I couldn’t pinpoint what that was, until this summer.

My nearly-finished painting.

I used Wallis sanded paper, which provides plenty of tooth and allows me to use several layers of colors, resulting in a complex, rich palette. I was happy with the composition. I felt that the colors were interesting, but too subtle. It needed some spark. In its early stage, the painting didn’t accurately convey the light and heat of that day.

So, I changed the foreground from a straw-like beige to a light green. The sky takes up half of the painting, but it was too “quiet”. To make it more dramatic, I added clouds and lightened the blue. Then, I brightened the trees and added fiery orange hues to some of them. Lastly, I added some yellow flowers (pockets of stella d’oro lillies) to the middle-ground.

The overall result is an increased contrast that tells you how intensely bright everything was.
Now, when I look at it, I’m right back at that spot, feeling the sun’s heat, and hearing the birds twittering all around me. I smile too. In my heart, I know “it’s done.”

The finished painting.

There are lots of reasons why it can take a long time to finish a painting. What are some of your reasons?

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