Fifty Paintings in a Year

A while ago, I noticed I was running out of space in the usual storage nooks where I keep finished paintings in the studio, and so I put a number of nails into the walls and hung fifteen or so of my paintings, mostly in the door alcove.  Doing this made me wonder how many paintings I’ve completed since last fall.  So I counted, skipping over the ones that were never meant as finished pieces—sketches, studies and copies—but including pieces that I did intend as finished works, but that didn’t “turn out.”  I found that I had 49.

My next painting will be Number 50, andhere’s an easel shot of the first layer of underpainting with grays and browns.

Cascade easel

Yes, it’s a big one: 36″ x 24″, equal in size to the largest paintings I’ve ever done.  The giant canvas was a reward for what seemed like a fun milestone to celebrate. Responses from online and offline “acquaintances” have been mixed.  Sure, it’s “a lot of paintings,” but I will freely admit that it’s not “a lot of good paintings,” since I did include the lemons when I counted.  There is, as I have been reminded, no “magic number” of finished pieces that makes a person “an artist.”  Although it does seem that a few dozen works posted on one’s website is considered better than just a handful, even if the handful are spectacular.

Anyway, Artist Mentors Online recently pulled some statistics from an International Art Materials Association (NAMTA) study done in 2009, reporting that the mean number of paintings per year for a “Recreational” artist is 36.  Art students produce 57 on average, and “Professional” artists create about 75.  Again, numbers of limited value.  Even the terminology is hard to pin down.  I’m sure I would be considered a “recreational” artist because at the moment, I’m neither selling my work, nor enrolled in any kind of art classes, but I’m reading, experimenting, and practicing in order to improve my work, with a view to selling some of it, at some point.  If I feel uninspired part of the way through a painting, I often still push myself to complete it rather than waiting until I “feel like it,” so I’d say it means more to me than “recreation.”

But I digress.

50 paintings in a year averages out to slightly less than one a week, even with that August dry spell.  Most of those took 2-5 sessions; some of the smaller ones were finished in one session, although some sessions have been more than 5 hours long, and plein air pieces usually require at least a bit of retouching in the studio, so that’s still 2 sessions.

This means that most weeks, I’m picking up a brush at least twice.  I like to work in larger blocks of time; three hours seems to be optimal and I don’t usually bother if I have less than an hour before I need to do something else.  So, in an average week, I probably spend at least six hours painting.  I’m learning how I like to work: in those optimal three hours, I often prefer audiobooks to music, and in the studio, too cold is better than too warm, and I like to have my painting space neat and organized—unlike my bedroom.  I’m learning about colors’ mixing properties, and which colors I always like to have on hand.  I’ve begun making more accurate guesses at how much paint I’ll need to cover a given area, and mixing the right amount so that less goes to waste, which saves me money.

Not much of the above necessarily makes my art better, but they’re things I’ve learned by painting regularly.  I’ve discovered a rhythm: a pace I can sustain while working part-time, job hunting, taking continuing education courses, and spending time with friends and family now and then.  I’m painting instead of watching Netflix, playing Wii, or shopping for clothes and bath goodies I don’t really need.  I’ve kept it up for about a year.

And yes, I do see some aspects of my style beginning to look more unified.

I think that deserves a trip to the art supply store.

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