This is a recent email conversation between myself and Helen Opie. I thought it may be of interest to others. I am in bold type. Enjoy
I feel like I am painting better than ever but at the same time I can only paint for short periods of time before I start to fade and get sloppy.
My theory about this is two-fold: 1) You are (and I am) painting better than ever before and it is because of this that we slow down; we see more things to do, we have more experience of things to do so there is a wider range of things to think about (value contrast & push-pull; colour and effects of juxtaposing different colours; edge qualities; and composition in general and our specific quirks of "style"), and we have other responsibilities and cannot stay focus for hours on end. I'm not sure if those who paint ten hours a day, 6 days a week, stay focused on what they do for all that time. Perhaps they get into automatic pilot (probably the case for those whose works tend to look a lot alike) and just make marks without thinking - and also without being in the Zone where automatic painting is more like channeling and the painting falls of our brushes without our consciously directing the paint or the composition. Others simply have the luxury of either selling their work so they don't have to do anything else to support themselves OR don't have other interests in life which probably feed the art of those who do have many other interests. If you became a total hermit and only painted, you'd probably do dull work. If I gave up gardening and playing and swimming when the tide is right, I'd also be a dull painter of boring paintings, because I'd have dulled my senses with this curtailing of myself.
Plus I really have to be in the mood.
I need to be in the mood only to some extent. These are my strategies for getting to work when I don't feel like it: clean my palette; organize my paints, make something more convenient (day before yesterday I built a very nice little shelf on my easel, attached to the ledge my painting sits on, so I can put the colours in use there, and have brushes or other tools right there in front of me). I also make notes of what to do next on paintings, usually setting the painting across the room from me while I'm eating supper, making phone calls, &c. Then when I need to get to work, I can look at those notes and start in doing the easy things. Pretty soon I am engrossed in what I am doing; the mood has come upon me; the muse has accepted my invitation. As Robert Genn says, we have to "Go to your room". And sometimes nothing "works" except to go away and play or deal with that other thing that must be attended to.
I don't think I will ever be one of those artists who go to a studio and work all day as if it is a full time job.
I used to think this was a noble thing to aspire to. I no longer do; I know it wouldn't work for me - although when I am on a roll, I think it would be lovely to have a "wife" to bring me my supper and go out on errands and answer the phone. I know I need the other parts of me to stay alive, too. It may detract from my painting time, but I doubt it does anything but ADD to the quality of my lesser painting time. I've also learnt that when I have some sort of deadline, I paint better. I go up to Holly's to paint because I know that I have 3 hours and want to make driving there worth the time and gas spent. It helps me get to and stay on the task at hand - and usually I have brought only one thing to work on, although I'll take smaller panels for using up the acrylic paint I haven't used in my main painting. I hate waste, and these also give me freer rein as I haven't any preconceived notions of what I'll do. Sometimes they are real winners - and sometimes they are not, but can often be resuscitated.
Posted by Brandt Eisner