“I truly dislike it when people ask, ‘So, how long did it take you to paint this?’ How should I answer this question? Should I count the time before I even selected the brushes, when I shuffled through hundreds of photographs to find the ideal reference? Should I count the time when I re-read the article about organic and inorganic pigments? Should I count the time when I drove to the art supply store to buy more quinacridone magenta and lost an hour while looking at gel mediums?

What about beginning in good faith and with full enthusiasm but then destroying three paintings in a row and starting over from scratch? Does that time count? What about sitting in front of the painting for 45 minutes while trying to figure out where I went off on the color values? What about allowing a thicker layer to dry overnight? What about rearranging the color swatches or sorting through old paint tubes? Is any of that legitimate “billable” time?

If I told you, this painting took two hours, would you think it was too easy and worthless? And if I told you it took two months, would it seem more complex, more impressive, more valuable? Or maybe the other way around; two months means I am inept and two hours—I am a genius?

Self-actualization books for artists and hyper-thinkers would have me mention all the art classes I have taken, all the art books I have read, and all the art museums I have visited. I would then have to conclude that this painting took the entire lifetime and that all the color choices and textures were the results of all of my previous experiences.

But instead, I will say, the time it took to paint this painting is between me and the painting itself. Only it knows how many layers it demanded of me, how many brushstrokes, how many stirrings in the water jar. Only it knows how often it invaded my thoughts while I walked, ate my meals, or checked my e-mail. Only it knows whether I was fearful or confident, careful or whimsical. Only it knows why it chose me to create it in the first place and how much time it wanted to spend with me.

For me, the creative process is mystical. When I begin a new project, I feel I enter a sacred space. I might have a general idea about what I want to bring into existence but I recognize that I am a conduit of a force that is beyond me. I wait in expectation for the artwork to be birthed through my mind and my hands. I am open to surprises, to changes of direction, to new revelations. I listen to what the artwork needs, to what it wants, what it desires. The process is deeply immersive and all-consuming. I am in a relationship with what I am creating. I have serious expectations, I make demands, I make concessions, I listen and wait, I dictate, I receive, I am thrilled, I am disappointed, I am rewarded, I am betrayed, I am in awe.

How long does it take? I hope it takes forever and never stops. Or I hope it comes to an end soon, before I lose the strength to continue. Should this process be measured in hours, days, weeks, or months? It’s never about the length of time but about the depth and meaning of the experience. It takes as long as it should, as long as it needs to, and as long as I need it to.”

by Dosia McKay