How long did this painting take?

Exhibiting my art over the decades, I’m often asked, “How long did this take you?”   

I’ve tried a variety of answers over the years because the answer is complicated and not always straight-forward. Here’s my favorite short answer: “I consider my annual painting output instead of focusing on just one painting. I made X paintings this year.”  

That answer usually satisfies the casual art browser and keeps me from over-sharing. Besides, it’s complicated. When I was an outdoor advertising billboard mural and lettering artist during the late 80s (when that was a thing), I was paid by the hour based on client billing hours. It was straightforwards billing because my job was completely production. The completed “art” (signs, images, etc.) came into the shop from ad agencies. My job was to create the 12' x 24' billboard mural in the amount of time paired to the budget. I poured my creativity into the game of beating the clock for the best product.  

Fine art painting (what I do now), is an entirely different process. For starters, coming up with my idea for a painting is part of my painting process. It often happens as I’m painting. It’s an organic, interwoven mix of creation/production.  Here’s how I started this painting randomly making lines with charcoal sticks until an image began to take shape - a Joshua tree, bighorn sheep and road runner. I started with the emotional sensation I feel when I gaze into the desert. I’m a landscape designer and became a Master Gardener a couple of years ago. I learned how climate change has been affecting the low and high deserts in the Coachella Valley and surrounds. The Joshua trees are moving up in elevation, leaving the lower desert elevations behind as they appear to stride up the nearby foothills towards the cooler mountain elevations.  That was two years ago. Since then, I’ve been struggling off and on with this painting. I was searching to define the timeless versus ephemeral; stated versus implied spaces; and singular figurative parts versus the connected whole. That translated into image making where I used solid/flat versus layered/depth and loose (almost chaotic) versus highly controlled techniques.  

On again, off again, this painting has moved from my easel, into my yoga room, back to the studio. Repeat. I think I’m done. When I put the final glaze on the painting, there is no going back. Then it will be actually done.  Back to the original question - “How long did this painting take?” Like I said, it’s complicated.