How Long Does it Take to Make an Oil Painting?

I returned to oil painting in 2003 after many years working on paper. At that time, I committed to going to my studio every day, and making at least one mark to keep myself going. The first painting I did, a close up of a snowy stoop in my Brooklyn neighborhood, took six weeks to complete. Six weeks! Now when I look at that painting, I wonder what took me so long.

Three Layers

Most of my paintings are done in three layers. In the first, I lay the painting in and find all the colors and shapes as best I can. Since most of my paintings are 4 feet or less, this generally fills a day at the studio.
The second layer comes a day or two later—just enough time for the paint to be semi–dry, but still workable. For this layer. I reconsider what’s there, and strengthen forms, deepen or alter colors, and refine composition. This step also usually fills a day at the studio. By the end of the second layer most paintings are just about done.
The third layer is the finish. Sometimes I use a razor blade to scrape off some of the paint that’s already there, leaving a ‘ghost’ behind.  This ghost provides an armature for a more striking image than I originally envisioned. Other times, I will simply spend time looking at the work, and tweak it here and there until it feels right.

Stopping Before it’s Too Late

For me, it’s important to know when to stop. My tendency is to finish things too much, rather than not enough. The danger is not leaving enough room for the viewer to invent their own story, to be left with where the image took me, rather than to go somewhere with it in their own mind.
I hold open studios once or twice a year to see which works stimulate the greatest response, which ones connect most with my audience.