BETSY LEVINE - Making Choices

For some artists, creating nine pieces of original art in two months is a breeze.  They work on multiple paintings at once, creating layers on one piece and then switching to another while the first painting dries.  Their hands move fast and intuitively, and after a relatively short amount of time (maybe 3-10 painting sessions? I don't know, I'm making that part up) they have a completed and often gorgeous body of work.  

Honestly, while I absolutely love my own painting process, I'm sometimes jealous of those painters.  They can create more material in less time, and there is less riding on each piece of art both because there are more total pieces and because they work in layers, so they can cover up the parts that don't work for them.  

While I have actually been told that I paint relatively quickly for an oil painter I sometimes feel like I'm plodding along at the pace of a banana slug.   Depending on the level of detail of the particular painting I'm working on, I use brushes ranging from tiny to, um, small-medium.  

I actually feel really blessed to have work commissioned on a time limit, like the pieces for my PDX-CSA collectors, because I am forced to make relatively quick decisions in order to balance QUALITY of work with TIME EFFICIENCY.  Because frankly, I'm getting paid 75% of my asking price per piece (so, each piece was $140, which means I get $105 per piece, which comes out to anywhere between $8 and $20 per hour on these pieces, depending on how much time I spend on any individual piece.  The percentage in this case is actually very generous when working through a third party like PDXCSA....most galleries take 40%-50%) and my goal is to work as quickly as possible with as much artistic integrity as possible so that I can make art that I love AND a living wage at the same time.  Yum, cake.             

Here are a few of the choices I have made so far during this project:

1. THE KALE CHOICE

For my sixth piece I chose, despite a nagging voice at the back of my mind telling me "Beautiful picture but toooooo many details!!! Turn away!", to paint a lovely and intricate piece of red kale on the signature wood grain background that I have been using.  About halfway through painting just the leaf of the kale and realizing that I was about 5 hours in, heading towards, oh, a 12-15 hour painting (so like....$5 an hour?) I made the bold (for me) decision to skip the wood grain in the background of the painting to save time.

This is scary for me, as I spent much of my young artist-hood convinced that I wasn't truly an artist because I couldn't create art straight from my head.  I solved that particular roadblock by realizing that if I took and edited my own photographs and painted from THEM, it still felt like real true art.  But to change a painting deliberately from the photograph is still a bit terrifying to me.  Luckily, I jumped into this pool of fear with my snorkeling mask and a super-hot bathing suit and came out the other side not only unscathed, but with what I think is actually a BETTER and less busy painting than I would have gotten had I included the wood grain.  

Here is the photo and the painting side by side (which I don't normally show you, because it is NOT my tendency to really care at all if the proportions of the painting are anything like the photo and I get a little embarrassed sometimes when a viewer sees them side by side, but....f*ck it, I've survived the pool of fear):

2. THE TOMATO CHOICE:

By far the quickest paintings I have made (two so far) are those of this one absolutely adorable tomato that I got in my CSA share a few weeks ago.  It's a beautifully intriguing shape, vibrant color, and perfect size for painting.  I love the way the paintings have turned out (artistic integrity) AND I love the fact that they are relatively fast to paint (time efficiency).  The only thing that has stopped me from making a third painting of this tomato is that, well, I value variety and it felt for a moment like a cop out to choose to paint it AGAIN.  

However, after going through all of my favorite photos I've taken so far (artistic integrity), they have each made my heart beat wildly with anxiety based on the amount of tiny little details that I would have to paint to create a pieces based on those photos (time efficiency).  Then today, when I finished the Kale painting (finally), a gorgeous voice in my heart/brain reminded me that each of these paintings are going to different people and EACH of them would be so happy to own a painting of that tomato.  So I used my super powers to dissolve the other voice (the one that was saying 'But you said you were going to document your CSA and so far you have painted two pictures of the same strawberry and now THREE of the same tomato?!?!  FRAUD!") and am about to embark on said third painting.  
And you know what?  Three people will benefit from this choice:  
1. The recipient of this third tomato painting, who will be so happy not to have a crappy-but-more-detailed painting in their hands instead,
2. The fetus who lives inside my belly, who will now spend more hours basking in happiness hormones and fewer hours being zapped by my anxiety, and
3. Me.  For the same reasons as the fetus.  

Here are the three original tomato photos that I will be painting.  See all that lovely smoooooooothe baby-butt tomato surface, compared to the gorgeous elderly-hand-like texture of the kale leaf above?  Whew:

3. And finally, THE REJECTS:

Here are a few of the photos that I would oh my goodness love to paint if I had either the powers to stop actual time OR the grandiosity to charge way more for my paintings, therefore making it financially worth it to do so.  Feel free to offer me lots of money to paint you one of these <wink>