working against the clock

i recently wrote the following as a guest post for fellow artist Nemo following a conversation we were having about different artists' perspective on attachment to their work. it starts with one to two days of mixing the base paint, the background colour which will be maintained through the entire painting. then there’s a day of prep’ing the board, one to two weeks of putting down the layers of alternating wax and oils. longer if i’m leveling the layers as i go. then comes the long haul of anywhere from one to six months of carving and digging the pattern out again. sometimes tedious, sometimes thrilling; like a kid opening up christmas presents, you never know what you’re going to find.

a quick piece takes a month. the average piece can take two or three. during that time, i get to know every gassy spot in the board, every burn mark, each layer of colour, every defect which adds character or gives me a headache. i see pinholes as a sign of sloppy work, and will take hours of cautious fusing to remove them. i’ll uncover gorgeous veins of oil in the wrong place. they must be sacrificed for the overall piece to work, but it takes an act of courage. what if another band like that doesn’t come along? will the viewer even notice if it’s left?

in the month or more this painting is on my table, i become intimately acquainted with it. every nuance, every feature, every defect. i know what was in a way no one else can ever know. i’ve tried to document the carving, but i don’t think anyone can really see what i’m seeing looking so closely.

and there are the psychological stages as well. i love it, i hate it, it’s awful and i think i’ll scrap it, then it’s not so bad, then it’s really bad and i should really go back to work because i’m just sitting here wasting time and i could be actually making real money to support myself. then, it’s done and it’s stunning.

when looking upon what i’ve created which no one else could have done, when it has personal meaning and beauty and significance; separating is like saying goodbye forever to a family member or close friend. i think for most people, when so much time and effort is extended toward the act of creation, it can be difficult to emotionally divest oneself from the piece. i know i’ve had to work hard at it, and feeling all the while those pieces suffer for that emotional distance.

there is something really special experiencing the joy a buyer goes through when picking up or purchasing a new piece. some are reserved and with some there is a lot of crying and hugging. getting the opportunity to share in that other person’s excitement and happiness makes it easier. knowing it’s going to a good home where it will be cherished and knowing it won’t eventually end up in a closet or storage room somewhere, neglected and forgotten.