For every painting I’ve worked on in the past few years, I’ve documented each step of the process with a series of time-lapse photos. This habit developed out of a need to better understand my own process, to analyze what works and what doesn’t, to remind myself of the paths I started to head down and then decided to abandon. It serves as a reminder of the stages that were tied to feelings of serious doubt and frustration – stages that may start to fade away after the painting is completed and I’m relatively satisfied with it – so that I can use these to push through creative blocks in future pieces and not continue repeating the same destructive patterns. If I can look back to the time-lapse photos of a successful piece and find the point at which I felt it’s potential to be revived was absent, it almost always helps to renew my faith in the current piece that I’m struggling with.
In addition to looking at the evolution of an entire piece, I’m also able to study each individual stage after a session and develop my plan of attack for the next day instead of being confronted with this task only upon returning to the studio. This allows me to refocus, similar to standing back from a piece after getting lost in the details, and ensure that I’m not going off course and obscuring whatever it was that I felt would make this painting worthwhile. Am I sacrificing overall emotional impact for capturing likeness? Does honoring the original intent of the work require subtracting from what’s there or adding something new? Do I feel like this stage is “better” or “worse” than the last stage according to my criteria for this particular piece, and what happened during this session that made it this way?
As I assume is true with most painters, I’m always looking for a linear progression. I want each stage to be better than the last as well as each painting to be better than the last, and the toughest thing to accept is that the 5-7 hrs. I just spent in my studio has actually set a painting back a few steps. The most valuable lesson that taking time-lapse photos has taught me is that almost every painting I’ve done is not a straight path, that I start most of them in different ways and move backward and forward a lot. Although I have an ideal of what I want from the piece, I never start out with a clear endpoint in mind and the finished product is usually the result of “mistakes” taking me in different directions, sometimes totally altering the emotional or symbolic content of the piece from what it was initially.