How Long Does it Take to Create Your Art?

September 22, 2011

Here’s what always strikes me at artist’s colonies: You can get to know a person over a period of weeks, eating meals together and becoming friends, and still not know the whole story behind their work.

You can grow close to a novelist without realizing he’s published 20 books and enjoy a painter’s company without knowing you’ll gasp when you finally see her work. You recognize that the people you’re eating dinner with are brilliant, but in the dining hall they just seem like, well, regular people.

And then you visit their studio or listen as they read one of their poems, and the brilliance is out in the open.

That’s what happened when I stopped by the studio of artist Joana Ricou during one of my last days at VCCA. The New Yorker had described her work as based on biology, so I certainly did not expect to see this:

and this:

Amazing, aren’t they? (Yes, she sells her work on her website. She also blogs about her art in progress,)

I bombarded Joana with questions about her process, materials and mindset. And then I asked her, pointing to the painting of the two girls, “How long did it take you to make that?”

“Three hours,” she said in her lovely Portuguese accent.

“Three hours?” I gaped at her, then at the painting. “That’s it?”

“Well, three hours for that painting, but I did four others before it that I didn’t like.” Joana showed me another painting that was just as impressive as the first, one that apparently hadn’t turned out exactly as she’d hoped. “It depends on how you look at it. Three hours, four paintings… or 10 years,” she said, referring to how long she’d been painting.

Of course, I thought. How had I overlooked that? It’d taken her three hours to create this piece of art, but she’d trained for those three hours for a decade.

It’s the same for writers, for leaders, for anyone who takes that Leap I’m always talking about. It might take a year to write a fabulous book, but you’ve been training to create that book ever since you first picked up a No. 2 pencil. It took me a year and a half to get my business where it is now, but I wouldn’t have gotten here without the years of seemingly unrelated work experience beforehand that made me the communicator I am today.

That means even if you feel like you’re starting from scratch as you work toward your goal, you’re actually not. You actually have years of experience doing something that has gotten you where you are now. And that something will help you in one way or another as you move forward.

Whatever you’re creating or working toward, you’ve probably been working on it a lot longer than you give yourself credit for.

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    4 Replies to “How Long Does it Take to Create Your Art?”

    • Jennifer says:

      I am always aware of this on those rare occasions a poem comes out nearly fully formed on the first draft. It seems as if it took twenty minutes to write that poem, but really some quiet part of my mind has been working on it for who knows how long. Plus all the writing exercises and failed drafts of other poems along the way all contribute to finally finding the right word.

    • So true! I sometimes get frustrated when I fill out job applications that ask for “years of experience” because I feel like I have been training to be a writer my whole life! I remember a teacher’s encouraging words in second grade that I had “writing talent,” and another teacher in fifth grade telling me I should start a journal and write down all my thoughts and ideas, and then again freshman year. Not to mention all those papers I wrote in undergrad and graduate school! Yet, these do not count as “work experience” but these and other experiences not deemed worthy of mentioning on an application have contributed to where I am today as a writer. Of course, I am so thankful for everything that has led me to where I am today, but I wish I could make these things more marketable and relevant for what I am striving towards.

    • Bret Juliano says:

      I really like this because I can do a site update in an hour, but it’s taken 6 years to get there. So people ask me why I charge so much for something that takes so little time, but then I have to remind them, you’re getting 6 years of training for the one hour of work.

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