Wednesday, April 12, 2006

225 Paintings, Give or Take

Blue Roses, 2006, Oil on Panel, 12x12

In 2005 I completed approximately 225 frame worthy, gallery or show quality paintings. This does not include the bad ones, the ones that I sand back down to reuse the panel. And, as I mentioned yesterday, my work is mostly pretty small. But still, it's true, I am quite productive as a painter. When someone seems astonished that I can complete so much work I make a joke about making up for lost time, referring to the fact that I did not paint for a good fifteen years. I feel kind of embarrassed, frankly, that the paintings have so easily flowed out of me for the last few years. Like I am cheating and that I should be struggling and sweating and crying over each one. There have been a few that have made me do those things, but for the most part, many of my paintings seem to paint themselves.

But really, there are a number of reasons that I can get so much done.

1. My energy level. I am a tortoise, a slow and steady kind of girl. I seldom, if ever, get all frenetically busy, I just work constantly, and continually throughout each day. When I was younger, this could easily turn into total slugdom, but after having kids I was forced to redirect my slow energy into actually accomplishing things. Even if it was just laundry, cooking, and changing diapers. Working at a slow pace also seems to prevent me from burning out on most things, with the exception of cleaning the bathrooms.

2. I have discipline (well, most of the time) and work every day. When I began painting, I decided that I would only work during the day, while the kids were at school. That gives me about 8 hours to get things done. If I am preparing for a show I may work on weekends or in the evenings, but that doesn't happen too often. School holidays and vacations throw me off a bit, but as the kids are getting older, I can get in a few hours of work when they are home, if I have properly bribed them. Lately however, the bright and shiny new computer that Doug got me for Christmas has really put a wrench in the works. I often spend many hours each morning on the computer when I should be in my studio. However, that problem has been neutralized by:

3. Getting better at painting. At first I did struggle over each painting and managed to waste a lot of time overworking everything. As I became more confident and my instincts improved I was able to more efficiently get the piece to the right place, without going over, well most of the time anyway. Last summer, I noticed that instead of working for hours at the easel, I'd procrastinate for awhile and then go the easel and immediately crank out a really good piece. Spending less time at the easel, creating better work was good because it gave me more time to have:

4. Organization. I have already covered this incredibly boring topic here.

5. How I paint. The manner in which I handle my imagery and the technical aspect of how I paint really helps me get a lot accomplished. As I work in glazes, I can only work briefly on each piece, each day and then it has to dry overnight, then I work on it the next day, and I do this for a few days, maybe more for the troublesome ones. So I work in batches, anywhere from five to ten pieces (depending on size), in a batch, per week. You see how this can really add up. And by eliminating almost every detail from my imagery, things can go really quickly. I am just realizing this one now, because recently I have been working on cityscapes, which despite being simplified as a scene, still have so much more detail than the landscapes and I am spending much more time on them.

I was surprised at how much work I produced last year. I had deadlines and knew I had to complete x number of paintings at any given time, but I wasn't really paying attention to the big picture. That's also why my productivity can be somewhat embarrassing. I'm just painting, meeting my obligations and deadlines and doing what I can to express myself in my work. Counting it all up takes the fun out of it and makes me seem way cooler than I actually am.

Now, if I could just sell all of those paintings....


Schuivert said...

Hi Tracy!

I wouldn't worry about your productivity if I was in your shoes .. try not to anyway. As long as you are comfortable with what you are doing it must be right so you might as well enjoy it!

Seems like you develop as well, or maybe because of it, was interesting reading about your figure class and your thoughts about it - great volume in the drawing of the lady-who's-head-you decided-to-do-again btw. (talking about titles :-) ).

I might well be that such a flow of productivity produces paintings that wouldn't have been possible if you had a different way of working.

So - I take it!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks Bart. Interesting point about the flow creating the paintings, rather than the painting creating the flow. I hadn't looked at it that way.

Good title for the drawing, I think I'll use it :-)


I have been quite productive in the past as well, I used to paint with acrylics but switched to oil in order to slow my process. Now I am starting to move larger so that I can spend more time on each painting.

Tracy Helgeson said...

That's funny, just as I got your comment, I was in the middle of posting a comment on your blog.

Acrylics definitely have some good qualities but, I too, prefer the slower drying times of oils. Do you have any acrylic pieces on your website?


The stripe painting is mostly acrylic, I haven't done much with it in the last three years. I was cranking out these acrylic stripe paintings, and started a large oil piece, after it was finished I put the acrylics away and never looked back.

If you put all 225 paintings together and made a big square what would you guess the size to be?

Tracy Helgeson said...

Dear Grid Guy, at least as big as our barn floor :-)

Jeffrey Hayes said...

Yup, painting as a 9 to 5 job... just as it should be!

Tracy Helgeson said...

It's funny how everyone has this image of how painters must be toiling away at all hours, and I certainly have done that. But I have been much more productive working on a regular schedule than I ever was with erratic hours. Maybe it's an age thing....