How long does it take to make a painting?

Materials, talent, size and personality – how do they matter?

Creating art is a time-consuming activity of varying complexity and effort. While it is difficult to pin down the exact amount of time and effort a painting may require, seasoned artists have established routes and best practices to achieve their final purpose in the shortest amount of time, depending on the style and size of the piece required.

While we all know a painting we love when we see one, we usually have the finished product in front of us, physically or virtually. But what happens when you want a made-to-order painting? Or you need many paintings?

Here are some universal factors to have in mind so you can accurately evaluate the necessary preparation time.

The support for the piece – be it wood, canvas, paper, glass, ceramics (or, honestly, what not) can be store-bought or made by the artist himself. Commercially sold materials can drive the final price up, but shorten creation time. Still, even if it is not made from scratch, just about any material would need some sort of preparation: be it gesso for paintings, molding for ceramics, cutting and sanding for woodwork, etc. Inquire into the process applied, so you can get a sound idea of what your piece of art will be going through.

The type of paint used – different paints and artist´s mediums take different time time to dry, which greatly influences the final period of time a painting needs to be finished. It is believed that Leonardo Da Vinci took 4 years to finish the Mona Lisa and yet it is a quite small painting. Although this span of time cannot uniquely be attributed to the drying time of the oil paints, it is an important factor in art creation.

Watercolors dry almost immediately, but they may need a few sessions (or layers) to achieve the desired result, oil paints take weeks , months or even years to be completely dry, while acrylic paint dries in a matter of hours, allowing for rapid subsequent application.

More on how the type of paint used affects the creative process in the following link:

The style of the painting. Realist drawing is generally more time consuming than abstract painting, yet this is a very loose generalization. Painting figures, people, portraits or social situations simply requires much more detail than impressionist abstract art which is generally an explosive expression of the artist´s view of the scene in the moment.

The talent and time of practice dedicated to the craft. I have always thought that anybody with enough and patience can paint: better or worse nowadays is a subject of interpretation, which is the beauty of art. A skilled artist with longer experience will know how to better leverage their knowledge of color, shapes and light for a quicker result.

The size of the painting. In art size does matter. Larger paintings not surprisingly will take longer time and more paint to prepare, especially if unanimity of color or texture is desired. Yet this one is very tightly related to style, sometimes on the reverse – larger real life paintings are easier to paint than smaller ones and larger abstract ones may take loonger than small ones depending on the surface to be covered.

The personality of the artist – impulsive and high-energy artists usually have a lot of momentum, yet they are prone to mistakes and do-overs, if a very specific result is desired. So if you have one of those before you, it is best to let them go wild, without much restriction on the theme or final outcome desired. They are usually extroverts and will be happy to take you through their process for a comprehensive experience, but expect them to stray outside the box.

Introverts can be more meditative and detail oriented, toiling away at details. They tend to be also more perfectionists and may take considerably longer, but are rewardingly meticulous and respectful of specific requirements while working on demand.

Photo by tom balabaud on

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