How long do you spend on a painting



  • I know this is suuuuper vague and it must vary a lot from artist to artist, from job to job. But I wanted to hear from folks to try to calibrate my expectations of myself. I studied figurative art with a guy who had us spending upwards of 60 hours on a single figure drawing. We learned a lot, and it was a specific "classical" style that we were going for, but I feel like it messed with my expecations of how long things need to take.

    So, how long do you spend on your paintings? Actual client work would be great to hear about, but personal portfolio pieces as well.


  • SVS OG

    This is something I really need to time and figure out. Guessing 20 hours give or take.


  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @robgale When I first started working digital it would take almost 40 something hours to do a painting. I was zooming in and trying to nail every detail when at 100% you wouldn't even see. While I learned new techniques and process, things have speed up. If I am just doing a character with no real environment it takes about 10 hours. If I am adding an environment then prob 20-30 hours. My horror paintings I do take about 8 hours.


  • SVS OG

    @robgale For me it depends on the size and the medium. I'm fairly new to digital painting, but I used to draw in a realistic style in graphite or colored pencil. Colored pencil takes me about twice as long as grapite. Also, do you paint in a full background or not. There's a lot of factors that determine how mucht time I spent on a painting. I would say, anywhere from 7 hours for a small (A5 no background) colored pencil piece (I've not done any of those in graphite) to about 60 hours for an A3 colored pencil piece with full background.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    This is a question I get a lot from students so I thought I would chime in here. In terms of how much time you spend on a painting, I'm assuming from a true starting point with:

    1: research
    2: Thumbnailing/rough sketches
    3: Clean comps
    4: Color Studies
    5: Clean sketch
    6: Final paint

    The problem is when you don't factor all that stuff into a final painting. The more work you do in steps 1-5, the faster step 6 goes. Many people don't realize that skipping the steps that only take a little time will add A LOT of time to your final. So for me the equation works out like this:

    1: research: 4 hours
    2: Thumbnailing/roughs: 6 hours
    3: Clean comps: 1 hour
    4: Color Studies: 1 hour
    5: Clean sketch: 1 hour
    6: Final paint (for a book spread or something): 6 hours
    Total working time: 19 hours

    After teaching literally thousands of students, I have noticed that typically college level students will take twice as long as as a pro on most stages. So if you are learning, I would say spending around 30-40 hours TOTAL time would be a good starting point with between 10-16 hours in the final paint stage depending on your level of complexity


  • Pro SVS OG

    @Lee-White Thank you Lee that really helps!


  • Pro SVS OG

    @Annemieke OMG your graphite is stunning!



  • @Lee-White You forgot to include procrastination time!


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @sigross if i include that, every painting takes around 4000 hours



  • @Lee-White I've got one half done that's been sat in front of me for a month! Tonight is the night.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @sigross you will need to watch my next youtube video. The topic is "how to get a ton of work done and still have a life". That comes out early next week.



  • @Lee-White Sounds like my ideal video. I have started using the Bear Focus Timer to keep me from distractions. That helps a lot.



  • @robgale This is a hard question. I think that for me the idea takes the longest maybe weeks and then scribbling out ideas. The final sketch phrase about 40 mins to 1 hour (with no shading) and then the digital colour about 10 hours or traditional watercolour about 1-2 hours.
    I think if you spend 60 hrs on one piece it will of course look wonderful but you are not going to make a profit when selling. If you work out the price hourly it might be less than minimum wage.



  • @Lee-White this is making me feel a LOT better today!



  • I totally echo what @Lee-White is saying. As i've gotten more experienced at painting, the research and thumbnails take way longer. I feel like paintings used to take 40 hours (and I'm thinking of full color watercolor to digital paintings I do), but I didn't spend as much time on the research and thumbnails, and would often struggle through the painting, and have to problem solve as I went. Now, I spend way more time on research and thumbnails, and not only does the painting happen pretty quickly, but it's much more enjoyable and relaxing. I do all the problem solving before the brushes come out. I do sometimes spend extra time at certain stages of a painting because it's just fun (we all have certain things we love to savor), and I don't feel bad about indulging in that because I didn't waste a bunch of time re-painting a hand over and over or get halfway through and realize the composition is bad.
    That said, my paintings usually take about 16-18 hours (2 full work days is how I like to think of it) from start to finish depending on the complexity--but keep in mind these paintings used to take me about 40 hours.



  • Also! BTW @Lee-White I forget which class or podcast you talk about it in, but thank you for introducing me to the Pomodoro technique! It has helped me so much with figuring out how I use my time and how long it actually takes for me to get something done, as well as keep me on task in this evermore distracting world.
    @robgale If Lee can remind me, (I think it may be the "How to Make Money in Illustration"?) I highly recommend it as well as checking out the Pomodoro technique. It will really give you the realistic number of hours you spend on work. 😃


  • SVS OG

    @lmrush thank you!



  • @Lee-White This is exactly what I was hoping for when I asked this. The proportion of how your spending your time is awesome. I see that you spend at least as much as, if not more time on your research+thumbnailing as on the rest of the process.

    I think this (along with your recent thumbnailing video on youtube) is going to be a game changer for me.

    And thank you everyone for chiming in! It's awesome to hear everyone's input.



  • @Elinore-Eaton I love the pomodoro technique. I use it all the time in my work as a designer and it really helps me pace myself, and I notice that I get more done in less time using it... really focusing is so key.

    I like the way you think about it as 2 full days. That larger chunk of time I think can be really helpful.



  • @DOTTYP Exactly! I want to do a good job, but I also don't want to work for minimum wage! It's all about limits.


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