“Mitchell worked primarily at night and rarely if ever painted from life. In order to prepare herself for painting, she might read poetry or listen to music. She worked in solitude, except for the company of her dogs. Her paintings were built slowly and carefully; she would stand back and look at a blank canvas or painting in progress for long periods of time, decide where each mark should go, then approach the work to place paint quickly and confidently. The arc of her arm can be seen in the brushstrokes in many of her paintings, especially at the top where she was extending her reach. Indeed, her approach to painting was both physically and mentally rigorous. An accomplished athlete throughout her childhood, Mitchell had a great deal of experience with discipline, practice, balance, and a relaxed and fluid faculty of control. These principles of physical action, combined with careful, precise visual observation of her environment, underscore her life-long approach to painting.
…Mitchell’s process is informed by a range of emotional states, points in time, and positions in landscape, and her work is an affirmation that poeple experience landscapes, emotions and memories in a complex, interconnected way. This is evident in the tension and balance between figure and ground, between paint and surface, and between one or more colors. She said, “What excites me when I’m painting is what one color does to another and what they do to each other in terms of space and interaction.” Often a single bit of a color found nowhere else in a painting seems to anchor and create equilibrium in the whole composition. Her work synthesizes a multitude of contrasting concepts and forms: light and dark, warm and cool, space and density, growth and decay, gravity and lightness. When asked why she painted, Mitchell replied to biographer Marion Cajori, “…because I don’t exist anymore—it’s wonderful. I’ve always said it’s like riding a bike with no hands.””
—the Joan Mitchell Foundation (emphasis mine)