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Daily Painting: Reflecting on 31 Days


mixed media artist Kelly Anne Powers Portland Oregon

Image notes: Least favorite dog of the set, but I love that background, and I learned a technique I will use again.

Thirty-one days sort of. First some math, if I count today's, I did 24 paintings in the last month. Which if we're counting is 22 more paintings than I posted in February. I’m pretty sure I painted more than I posted, but how will we ever know?

The painting a day is a fascinating exercise. It was challenging and rewarding in totally unexpected ways.

The Pros

1. There is space in my life for painting.

It can feel like there is no time for anything. No time for exercise. No time for cooking or grocery shopping. No time for sleeping, and definitely no time for painting. But here's the thing: There is. There is time for painting. And in fact there is a lot of time for painting. Not an abundance of time but enough time. Enough time that if I put my mind to it, I could find time to paint. Sure it meant that I didn't do quite my fair share of the chore, but nothing terrible happened with eating out once or twice more. It did make me hyper aware of time as I always had to be planning, "When is painting time today?" But hey, that's kind of how I'd like to be.

Lesson learned: There is enough time to paint. (Also it’s amazing how much painting you can do in a focused hour.)

Next steps: Find efficiencies in other areas of my life (cooking, cleaning, exercising) so that I can paint those same number of hours AND hold up my fair share of the household and health chores.

2. Builds studio stamina.

There is a reason why the Couch to 5K training program exists. It acknowledges that someone who is unfit (hey look, it's me!) can't just get up one day and run 5 kilometers. It takes building running stamina through daily practice. Art is no different. Painting every day was exhausting. I was surprisingly tired during March, and it wasn't because I was sleeping less. It's because I was forcing myself to concentrate in a way that previously I hadn't. But a daily painting taught me that I could paint for sometimes up to 5 hours in a day. That's really good to know as I move ahead and create a studio practice

Lesson learned: I have a reasonable level of studio stamina.

Next steps: Build more stamina. Also, figure out when I work best in my studio. Should I be doing those hours in the morning? Afternoon? Night? Late at night? Try some times and assess how it feels.

3. Keeps me motivated

Fun fact: Sometimes painting is boring. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it can avalanche into self hatred and inner turmoil. All of those are reasons to put down the brush and find a jar of Nutella. But if you have to do a painting a day, well, you can’t stop. You have a goal.

Lesson learned: I need motivation.

Next steps: Until I’m a long distance art maker, create goals to help keep me motivated.

4. Pursuing Ideas

Art is a long string of ideas that you take in one direction or another. You generate a lot of ideas by spending three hours in the studio. You get excited by them. You get curious. By coming back to the studio each and every day, I followed those ideas more than I have in the past. Maybe it was a color combination I was excited about (Alizarin crimson). Maybe it was a subject matter (dogs!). Those threads wove into each other in a way that allowed them to build on one another as oppose to fray into nothing.

Lesson learned: Daily painting bridges ideas and makes connections otherwise lost. Those paths lead to finding your style.

Next steps: Pursue finishing ideas by carrying paintings out to an end.

5. Makes me post what I paint every day. (Also see con.)

Sometimes I paint pieces but am too lazy to photograph, color balance, and post them. But with a painting a day, it doesn’t count until it’s posted.

The Cons

1. Makes me post something every day.

A huge part of art isn’t just the doing, it’s curating what you show the world. Novelists go through draft after draft and trash whole manuscripts. Singers write hundreds of songs that never make the album. Being a good artist isn’t about creating an amazing piece every time brush hits canvas. It’s about knowing which of your pieces are the pieces you show the world.

Challenge: How often should I post pieces? Do I want to post unfinished pieces?

2. No time to really think.

We learn by doing. But it’s not the doing alone that teaches us what we need to know. We also need reflection. When we filmed John Salminen’s DVD workshop, “Urban Landscape in Watercolor,” a huge part of his time at our studio was sitting in a rocking chair 10 feet back from his painting just staring at his unfinished work. He made it clear in a way I had up to that point not truly understood. Art is problem solving, and you don’t do your best problem solving fully lodged in your right brain rocking out between indie pop music and titan buff flying everywhere.

Challenge: Add thinking time back into my process.

All in all, this was an amazing way to spend a month, and I would heartily recommend any beginning or intermediate artist try this approach. It jump starts you in a way that many of us find difficult. It will force you to spend time with not only your materials but also your demons. Both we need to work through. It will also begin to teach you how you work and what you need to work on next. Final advice: Don’t beat yourself up. I was committed to posting what I had created whether or not I liked it. It’s ridiculous to write it out but so many of us feel it: A bad painting (heck, 20 bad paintings) does not mean you are a bad artist. It just means you aren’t yet where you want to be, but 20 total bad paintings puts you a whole hell of a lot closer than you’d be if you had zero total paintings.

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