a marathon, not a sprint

Posted on by Wess Foreman

Some paintings are sprints, some are marathons. I've been facing this issue head-on for the past few months now. In the past, the majority of my paintings have been landscapes, with pet portraits coming in at the number two spot. And these type paintings, combined with my painting style -- throwing down paint, haphazardly, and then changingAvery it until it's finished -- usually make for a quick and satisfactory painting process. A sprint. Not much room for second guessing, complaining, complicated emotions, or feelings of utter despair and resentment. You know: quick and clean. That's a sprint.

But commissioned portraits, that's another story for me. Here you have a person asking for a faithful, albeit artful, reproduction of [usually] a loved one -- a son or daughter, a husband or wife -- someone important to the person. That's a lot to consider when addressing the canvas [does one address a canvas?]. These commissioned portraits -- as opposed to portraits I've painted just for the fun and practice of it, which are themselves usually sprints -- more often than not become long drawn-out affairs. What's worse: many times I find myself three-fourths of the way into the painting process staring at a stiff, lifeless figure with a stilted smile and eyes too stern to be looked upon with affection. Disaster. That's about the time I put the painting away for a weekend and work on something else. I tell myself it's a marathon painting. I've seen this before, and I'll see it again. A marathon, not a sprint.

I know I'm not a portrait painter, and that's part of it. I have not devoted all my time to perfecting the human form on canvas; the nuanced facial features and lifelike realism achieved by such artists can be a stunning thing indeed. I'm no slouch, of course: I can and do eventually get to a point of satisfaction in a commissioned portrait -- and some don't actually stretch that far into the realm of marathon. Those that do, however, give me pause; make me take a step back and readjust my perception of the thing. This is a marathon, now. Not a sprint. I guess that's just the way things are [is it just me? I don't know] at any rate, I've learned not to see this as a lack of motivation or creativity on my part [which I have, wrongly, thought in the past] but as a perception issue. Could it be that there is a link between perception and motivation? Could be . . .

Anyway, that's what has been on my mind lately. Do you have anything to add? If so, leave a comment [comments can be quite motivating for me].