Most of my art life has been spent making small paintings that take less than 2 hours to paint. Partially because I make so many studies. So the more I use oil paint, the more I appreciate the “long game.”
By long game, I mean the amount of time it takes to paint with oils (not including alla prima).
The majority of my oil paintings take weeks to complete. Typically, 2-4 hour sessions, once or twice a week (sometimes longer between) over multiple weeks. Letting the oil dry is necessary for building up the depth with glazes. Occasionally I paint over an entire area and “start over” in that area.
What this process has taught me is that I am impatient. But I secretly enjoy patience being forced onto me.
While painting, I work furiously fast, getting totally lost in the exploration of color, the idea of light, and the difficulty of manipulating the medium. Oil paint is frustrating at times and because I haven’t used it as much as watercolor or gouache, I often feel “out of practice.”
The paint will not dry in one session. I want to immediately layer it..because that’s what I’m used to. Therefore my impatience grows. I’m forced to stop, just when it was getting good.
A week layer I make a bit more progress. This type of timeframe is conducive to multiple paintings. At any given time there are 3-6 paintings in progress, each one with it’s own mood and story.
Have you ever painted something and looked at it the next day, only to realise that it need just a liiiiiiitle bit more?
This happens all the time in my quick studies, and it’s the result of not enough time to process. Don’t get me wrong, we are capable of understanding what we need to do to paint a scene. But at some point in the painting you become blind…“paint blind.” After so long you become desensitised to the color, the light, and the details.
The only cure is time. Time away. Return to it with fresh eyes. We can usually instantly see what was missing.
The long game makes this all the more clear. Knowing you have to stop painting to let the oil dry for a few days takes the pressure off. You begin to strategise each step differently. Careful thought with lots of breaks between important decisions.
So if you find yourself needing to shake things up, I can recommend this type of process. Play the long game. You might be surprised with the strides you can make when you are forced to slow down.