Speed and Quality.

Speed and Quality. There are surely too many examples to cite which could prove or, indeed, confound the idea that speed = the inspired red-hot-heat of creativity or, conversely, speed = suffused high-minded contemplative reflective craftsmanship. I used to think that the reason I painted too slowly was not the latter of those two equations, but rather that I was stumbling around in the dark seeking excellence without knowing how to get to it directly.

I now think that, at times (not always), I paint too quickly: when an image appears before me as if intuitively. This suggests I know what I'm doing before I start - seldom, if ever, the case. Painting is a microcosm of nature - a germ which evolves slowly. The DNA exists in the germ (of an idea) but it's the inter-relations and complexity of evolution that bring it to fruition, if the environment is sufficiently fertile. As the practitioner, it is I who endeavours to control and nurture that environment. It would help if I knew how.

Maybe thirty years experience of painting and studying fine art and, before that, many years of studying nature and animal behaviour have helped me resolve the issue of time in the equation of bringing a piece of work off. I really don't know but I don't really think of it any more, and perhaps that in itself is a clue: things take the time they take. The danger, as I see it, always, is the trap of slickness that so many artists fall into. You see it all the time, all over the place. Just because you know a way of doing something doesn't mean that you have to go on doing it. If Picasso taught us nothing else, he taught us to fear it like a Guillemot would an oil slick.

Isabella
- 14 September 2017 at 12:43pm

You say you painted 'too slowly' when I think what you mean is that you maybe painted more slowly than some. There will be others who take longer to paint something than you - or who (was it Klee? Hodgkin?) wait for months or years between sessions before working on paintings again.
Quick doesn't mean bad and slow doesn't mean good.
The slick-trap is there for us all at any speed, and as you said, everything takes the time it takes.
I am sure we all hate the question 'How long did that take you?'. Its nonsense. 63 years is my current answer. That shuts them up.
Sally
- 14 September 2017 at 12:43pm

I like the comment made by Isabella.
Children grow up quickly, but it still takes them years. It takes me ages to get to sleep, but that is only minutes.
Speed and time is irrelevant!
Anon
- 14 September 2017 at 12:43pm

I think that measuring the time it takes you to complete a painting is not something you should be measuring. I am impatient and as a result was criticised by a wonderful teacher for deciding that my painting was complete when he considered it not to be. I now agree with him. Most of the artists I admire seem to have struggled to realise and complete their paintings to their satisfaction and many of them have never been satisfied and remained full of self-doubt and even self hatred to the point of destroying what they had created and themselves in some cases. The creative process is painful and fraught with the possibility of failure and misdirection and change. Painting a worthwhile work of art cannot be project managed. There is no time related formula; no plan, no pre-formatted methodology. The beauty of a good piece of art is when it is created out of the struggle, the anguish, the pouring out of the soul, the battle to represent the deepest secrets of our hearts honestly, utterly and sacrificially – and requires reworking and struggle that cannot be measured in time. So please do not feel the necessity to constrain yourself by applying any predetermined schedule. I am of course reminding and lecturing myself here too and realise I’m not where I want to be yet – I am still at the stage of reinventing myself as an artist whereas I know you are there already. Take heart.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:44pm

I see how I have confused the issue. If the hypothesis is that time is important, I think I need to flesh out my otherwise too hasty posting (there we go, the time factor again!)

The gesture of a stroke can be quick or slow – the slower it is the more hesitant and the more uncertain, and the quicker it is, the more dynamic, the more definitive and the more confident. This is apparent when you look closely at any painting where gesture is visible. If you extend this across the breadth of a work, it can infect it with a confidence (or a lack of it) and many other things of course. Casual viewers may not be aware of it but may still subliminally catch the infection which will then affect their judgement of it.

All three correspondents agree that time is a factor, even if only in a negative sense, i.e. that it is not important in the sense of how long it takes to complete a work. That is absolutely true, and I did say that things take the time they take. Maybe the above clarifies a little what I tried to say and explains it a bit better.

Are not many things in life, in art and sport, for example, about timing? The good comedian who has superb timing, the batsman or tennis player who times his or her stroke perfectly, the actor who knows when to deliver his line and the intonation within it, and of course in music time is fundamental. So within the act of painting the ‘attack’ will to some extent influence the end product – for ill or good.

Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to help me understand myself a little better!
Chris (next door)
- 14 September 2017 at 12:44pm

As none artists, your comments made us think about parallels in our lives, the most obvious one being hairdressing. Did Vidal Sassoon have a vision of the end result when he created the famous geometric bob or did it just evolve over a period of time? When first attempting the cut it took 4 hours to complete, but once mastered the same cut took 30 minutes without sacrificing the quality of the style. However that doesn’t mean I have to do the same cut for everyone (the slickness you refer to), but if my clients want that style I will continues to provide it.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:44pm

Thanks Chris, that's an interesting slant on it. Although I have no experience of a geometric bob (you've seen my hair so won't be surprised) you're dead right. Experience develops speed because you know better where you're going and helps avoid the mistakes made previously. My other passion is motor cycle racing, and here above all else - where it is all about speed (obviously) - experience on a circuit always, but always, leads to better lap times simply because you know how to get round that corner more efficiently. That must be where any similarity between painting and racing ends(!) however, for me, one complements the other beautifully. Opposites attract !
Linda
- 14 September 2017 at 12:44pm

Experience makes you fast when you need it and patience when you need it too. Each painting at some point (and that varies too) has a life of its own. Yes, I agree with Isabella - it takes a lifetime to complete each painting. Steve said - it took you six years to learn how to paint that. But then sometimes I guess you take a year of so to unlearn it when you want freshness.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:45pm

Wasn't it Picasso who originally said it took him a lifetime to do his napkin doodle, as a way, like Isabella said, of cutting short irritating questions? You can't argue with it one level. I would still like to hear what people think about rates of applying paint WITHIN a painting - the act of the gesture. Maybe it is something that most painters never think about. Jackson Pollock's working method was dictated by varying his rates (and direction of course) of application which dictated to a large extent the result. An extreme example but instructive perhaps. Thanks very much for your contribution.
Netty
- 14 September 2017 at 12:45pm

i have just seen this post and wonder if this level of inquiry was not brought about by my fairly recent visit?
I myself paint 'briskly' if that is indeed an appropriate adjective
I paint from inside, intuitively, ignoring most external advice, tradition and rules... there is nothing wrong with this.
Leave the analysis to those who like to call themselves art critics (the experts?) .. they need to fill the void with something
As artists we do not.
Mike Allaby
- 14 September 2017 at 12:45pm

I wish I could have visited the exhibition. As for speed, Vole magazine once devoted an entire issue to slowness. Ailsa had an article in it describing how she bought flax seed, sowed it on our allotment, harvested the flax, retted it in a garden pond we dug specially, hackled and scutched it, spun it and wove it into a piece of linen about big enough for a tray cloth. Took about two years. Also I once was chatting to a painter and she, like me, used to get people asking how long it took to do a painting/write a book. She agreed with my answer: 'About six months, plus 20 years learning how to do it.'
Stephanie Young
- 14 September 2017 at 12:45pm

Thank you for this interesting and stimulating post, Richard. I don't know who said 'What is written without pain is read without pleasure' but sometimes, as a playwright, that feels true to me: not always, as every comment above corroborates, but often enough that I usually write mulitple drafts. However, I feel practise only clears the paths that allow inspiration. Inspiration, as we all know, can come from nowhere and make its own path.
Paul
- 14 September 2017 at 12:46pm

Speed and time do not matter,the result is what matters, who says that taking a long time over a painting will produce better results, if the skill is not there in the first place you could take all year and still not achieve the result you want.

At our life drawing classes we start with quick 3 minute warm ups, I see work around the room that amazes me when it has only taken that length of time but I'm equally amazed at the results of the full 40 minute drawings. It is good to do some very quick drawings it focuses the mind on observation a skill that is never a bad thing.

I've recently done some paintings of Barnstaple buildings for my latest college assignment, I did something I don't normally do, I did them in a quick time almost sketch like, I'm very pleased with the results they were refreshing to do and had a virbrancy that would possibly be lacking in a detailed study, they serve their purpose.

Richard, I saw your sketch books last year and there are some quick oil pastel sketches that you would have completed quite quick, they have an exciting feeling of immediacy that a finished painting doesn't always have, I would like both the sketch and your finished piece for different reasons, the time you spent doesn't make that decision for me it is the finished piece. I hope I make sense, sorry to rant.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:46pm

Comments which continue to fascinate and provoke deep thought. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far, and thanks indeed to everyone who has read down this far to here; it's reassuring - that poor old painting can still excite and provoke.
Linda
- 14 September 2017 at 12:46pm

Observation - also about time I guess I was standing looking out over the coast near Lands End just wanting to drink the atmosphere - not the seawater! not sketch as some local artists say you need to do to paint ! and I was aware that even at the most beautiful sight lines of rocks and swell - the walkers were charging ahead - not seeing anything. So yes, it's looking and drawing in the mind - then recreating it - trusting it on the canvas. That's my viewpoint for what it's worth.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:46pm

Just before I left for a preview of Keiron Leach's fantastic intimate landscapes which I helped to hang on Tuesday (please everyone have a look at his work, check out his website via a search engine) at the lovely White Moose Gallery, I half composed some thoughts prompted by Paul's contribution, but had to leave before completing it. I wanted to refer to an article in The Guardian about Leon Kossoff which Linda told me about.

In that excellent piece, Paul, he talks a lot about drawing. It's something that Linda and I have discussed several times. What I love about Kossoff's work is exactly that he ISN'T a skilled clever draftsman but he's developed a modus operandi in which the struggle to resolve a vision and become intimate with a location, works perfectly for him and his objectives. I love the struggle apparent in his drawings (he is 86 and no longer paints), and through that struggle emerges a vibrant plaintive response. His urban work, Paul, you will particularly relate to, because what you say about the drawing at my place is quite correct.

I'm sure Linda, simply because she is observant, sees the difference between amateur sketching (nothing wrong with that) and intense objective drawing. She's right it is all about Observation.

The sketchbooks you mention, Paul, were all filled outside in front of nature, and I had to find for myself a method which worked for me quickly - because nature doesn't wait for you. So I developed a method using oil pastels on shiny paper.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:46pm

What I am really most interested in is speed of stroke within a painting, rather than the time it takes to complete a painting. The two things are not necessarily connected, and I'm not sure this has ever really been looked at. A painter can effect a stroke quickly and deliberately, or in a very considered and perhaps tentative way. Let's call it the 'attack' - and this can give a painting confidence and assuredness or not. There are of course artists like Auerbach, who paint quickly and energetically but repaint again and again and again, so I'm not sure if I'm not simply talking nonsense.
Stella Levy
- 14 September 2017 at 12:47pm

Who has set 'the time' to be quick or slow - is there a clock-in or clock-out when doing a painting or other artform? Who was the first artist who decided he/she was either too quick or too slow producing their art? I am confounded by the question. Whoever has produced a work IN WHATEVER TIME IT MIGHT HAVE TAKEN, that is it done and dusted (unless they decide later to add to or alter as they see fit).
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:47pm

Thanks Stella for responding. The qustion I was trying to pose - as you and others have noticed rather unsuccesfully - was not the length of time it takes to produce a piece of art, that would be a futile exercise, as you point out, but WITHIN the actual act itself - the speed or timing of the stroke, and the effect that has upon the finished work.

I tried to make it analogous to music etc in my response of 11th May (21.45), hence my reference to Jackson Pollock. I'm sorry I did not make this more clear but I did try to in some of my follow-up comments. If we can relate it to a conductor controlling the tempo of a piece of music, sure that affects to some extent the duration of the piece in a merely consequential way.

So I was asking to what extent the speed of attack - the tempo to extend that metaphor - affects the impact of the final painting. I wonder if this is discernible to anyone other than the painter him- or herself and to those who peer closely at works. I feel the attack of the stroke is more critical in abstract work than figurative.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:47pm

Maybe the analogy of time in musical composition is a better example than the conductor's baton. The time signature which affects rhythm, tempo, meter etc. The internal time (in the act of painting) rather than the external or overall length it takes from inception to completion. Is that any clearer?
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