This is a frequent question for painters.  And it’s an understandable one.  Particularly when talking about the high-end art market where people want to have some quantifiable rationale for paying a lot of money for a particular piece.

But it really isn’t that simple.

It is literally impossible for me to tell you how long it took for me to paint any particular painting… because said painting wouldn’t be able to exist without my having had thousands of hours of previous life and art experience.  I’m not kidding.  And I’m not being dramatic.

The longer I’ve been an artist, the more experience that I’ve had making art, the more actual art hours went into being able to create that particular painting.  And that isn’t even counting my life experience outside of art and how that makes me the person I am who sees things the way that I see them.  How can I possible calculate that?

I’m working on a small squirrel painting this week—it’s a commission for a client who formed a bond with the same squirrel who came to visit her day after day for years (he was identifiable by a peculiar scar on his face). I will probably spend about 5 hours to complete this painting (from conception to finish).  As I’m working on it I can clearly see the 15 years I owned a mural painting business:  my understanding of color and design, my ability to compose an interesting composition, my ability to make modifications to the squirrel himself so that the overall feel of the painting is more pleasing, my ability to execute that actual brushstrokes… and on and on.  None of those things were learned or mastered in five hours.

It’s sort of like when you go and visit your doctor.  Typically, you might sit in front of her discussing your issue for about 20 minutes.  Then you dutifully pay for your visit and you leave.  Whatever you paid for that visit, you weren’t actually paying her for those 20 minutes.  You were paying her for all the years she spent in medical school, all of her experience since then, all of her talent, all of her instincts, and all of her work ethic/commitment to helping you be well.  The 20 minutes was merely the vehicle through which you had access to all of those far more important things.

And so it is with painting.  I’ve spent years painting that squirrel.  I really hope she loves it.