Things I Learned Doing A Painting A Day

Last fall, I challenged myself to start and complete a painting a day for 30 days.  I didn’t quite manage 30 consecutive days (I took a few off for hosting in-town visitors and a couple of really busy days), but I completed the 30 paintings in 35 days.  There were a few days when it felt like a chore, but mostly, it was a really positive experience, and I learned a good deal – both about painting and general life lessons.  I thought I’d share a few of those with you. 1.  There’s (almost) always time to paint (or Make time for the things you love)

One of the key reasons I selected this challenge was to get myself into the studio day in, day out to prove to myself that I really can make time to paint.  I love painting, yet in spite of that fact, I find myself not prioritizing it and instead spending my time on chores or obsessively checking Facebook and my email.  By setting a goal to do a painting a day – and setting the expectation that I’d post them daily on Facebook – I moved painting up on my priority list, and still most of the important things on my list got done.  Sure, I missed some status updates on Facebook, I was slower to respond to email and I read fewer magazines and books.  The house might have been a bit messier.  But I didn’t feel like I was missing anything (except maybe the reading).

Of course, there were a few days when I was scheduled from morning until night, and then I really didn’t have time to paint without cutting into my sleep (and if you know how much I love and need my sleep, you’ll know that’s not really an option).  But those days are very few.  On every other day, even if it’s just for an hour or so, I do have the time – I just have to choose to use it.

2.  You can get a lot done in an hour or two

Before the challenge, there were days when I wouldn’t start painting because I only had an hour or two before I was committed to do something else.  I never thought that small a segment of time would be enough to justify mixing all the paint and then cleaning all the brushes.  But I discovered that even small chunks of time were worth spending, and I was surprised at how much I could get done with a deadline looming.  So I just learned to mix smaller quantities of paint and tried to use fewer brushes to minimize clean-up time.

3.  Loosen up

As most of you have realized, I’m type-A to the max and want everything to be perfect.  That resulted in paintings taking weeks and being very detailed.  I would spend lots of time picking the perfect image to paint, sketching it out, and then painting it in with small brushes and multiple thin layers of paint.  I was happy with my paintings, yet some of them ended up feeling stiffer than I wanted.  I loved the more impressionistic styles of other artists, but couldn’t bring myself to loosen up enough to try them.

Having a self-imposed deadline of a painting a day made it impossible to paint in my usual style.  I had to get everything done – from image selection to final brushstroke – in just a few hours.  I didn’t have time to wait for a layer to dry before painting a contrasting color next to it, or layering a different color on top.  So I started using smaller canvases, bigger brushes, more paint, lots of quick-drying medium and laying it all in at once.  At first, I was kind of a nervous wreck.  But eventually, I started having fun with it.  Because I couldn’t be cautious and detailed, and couldn’t second-guess myself, my paintings finally took on the style I was working so hard to create.

4.  Try something new

The 30-day challenge became a great excuse to try new things.  I could tell myself, "hey, it's only a day - if it's not great, that's ok."  Experimentation became play.  I tried more abstracts, different styles of landscapes, oil, acrylic, pastel.  I painted with brushes, palette knives and fingers.  And I was surprised at how much I liked both the process and the results.

5.  Commit, and don’t second-guess yourself

At the beginning of the challenge, I was looking for “easy” images to paint.  I didn’t want to tackle anything too detailed, for fear I couldn’t get it done in a day.  But as I loosened up my painting style, I discovered that I was being more decisive with each step (what brush to use, what color paint to use, which details of the reference photo to leave in or out).  Knowing I couldn’t wait for the paint to dry to paint over any mistakes, I had to commit to each line, each brush placement, and trust that the result would be good, or that I could fix it on the fly.  I couldn’t dither; I had to commit.  My self-confidence grew, and I started selecting more complicated compositions, and realizing I could accomplish them.  I shocked my art teacher by starting to paint the Golden Gate Bridge, with all of its cables, free-hand and without first tracing or sketching it –after 20+ days of daily painting, I wasn’t afraid to try.

*** Now that the 30 days are over, I’m going to focus on the lessons learned and try to apply them to the rest of my life.  Plus, I’m looking forward to doing more daily paintings (including some plein air painting), and applying the techniques I learned to my larger, longer-term paintings.