I usually have three to twelve paintings I’m actively working on at any given time.
Sure, sometimes ten get back-burnered for two weeks while I work on the two with the pressing deadline, of course that happens. And sometimes there’s one big one that I really want to focus on 24/7. But usually I’m working on at least two.
I’ve had some friends worry that it’s bad to split your focus that way, but it’s a great way to work. (If you can make the space to store wet paintings — not always an easy feat.)
1.) In terms of practicality, if you’re not an alla prima painter, periodically you need time for layers of paint to dry. Easy! Set #3 aside to draw and start painting on #4.
2.) And in more esoteric fields, one piece feeds off the next. I get excited by doing this or that to this painting (finished the underpainting, laid in the background, really nailed that facial expression, whatever) and I’m charged to do it on another one. I lose a lot of that “blank canvas” intimidation that slows you down as you start up. If you’re working on five paintings together, you only need to feel that once for all five, instead of five separate times. It keeps your momentum up.
3.) And finally, events often align so in the course of a single week, you bring four or five pieces to completion. Which may be a bit of an emotional illusion, but gives you a rush of superhuman speed that is just so damn satisfying.
The pitfalls to watch for with this approach (esp. with the pieces with amorphous deadlines) are twofold:
1.) this becomes a method for fiddling with, rather than finishing paintings.
2.) when you hit a hard patch in one painting, sometimes moving on to the next painting is exactly the wrong thing to do, but you can do it anyway because its soooo much easier than fighting it out. (But sometimes that break away from it working on another piece gives you the clarity of vision to efficiently and decisively fix the problem when you come back to it . . .. [so con #2 is also pro #4]. . .)