I just finished a challenge online called the “100 Day Project” sponsored by The Great Discontent and inspired by professional artist, Elle Luna who had tested out this project on herself couple years ago. She had heard of the project that was originally conceived by Michael Beirut, who for years led his graphic design students at Yale University in a workshop he called “The 100 Day Project.” Each student had to chose one action to repeat every day for 100 days (which ended up being a semester). In 2014, Elle Luna and her friends banded together to start the project online through Instagram and since then it has had incredible feedback! The dates for 2015 started this past April 6th and just ended July 14th.
From the start, I decided that I had to make my intention extremely simple otherwise it wouldn’t happen and I wouldn’t be consistent through the 3+ months to finish the exercise within the demands of my busy life/work schedule. I have taken a hiatus from painting for the past 2 years to have my son and wanted something that was structured but with almost no pressure, and this was the perfect project to get back into the practice of painting.
My intention was direct and simple: to paint 100 paintings (1 per day), each one under 20 minutes. I set my timer on my phone and would paint and then literally finish when the beeping went off.
As I reflect on the past couple months, the simplest strategy of painting within a 20-minute period, brought up all it’s own set of limitation and restrictions to work through. I had to work extremely fast, relying on instinctual decision-making process and not brood over past decisions or plan almost anything. I didn’t have time to even slow down to draw or cut paper! It was liberating in that I had to literally turn off my “left-brain” because I had no time to ponder over whether those were good decisions or not. My entire purpose for each painting became “Is this working?”
The process was absolutely in line with my natural process of creating a regular painting. I do not have an end-goal or know ahead of time what the painting will look like. I certainly have some ideas or methods or materials which I would like to experiment with. But overall, the process is reacting to what is coming out on the canvas or surface. I work in many different styles and tend to work in “series,” completing several paintings at once tend to lend to similar ideas working out within that series and then moving on to a whole new idea. I switch back and forth between media.
Sometimes I prefer collage-work to loosen up the brain, and other times working with other dryer mediums since my painting process tends to be very “wet.” The reaction between the dry and wet mediums in this 100 day project was quite refreshing. It created a new tactile spontaneity that is part of the essence of my work.
I knew that the 100 Day Project series would allow me to just practice, practice, practice and get back into the rhythm of painting again. What I didn’t realize was the direct correlation between sitting down to practice with paint is almost exactly like a musician picking up her guitar to play and sing in an improv session. I barely had enough time to grab my water and brushes, rush downstairs into my basement, start and then finish. I could not take my time to cut out shapes or paint small detail. There’s virtually no time for technique. But it was just so freeing to be able to pick up the brush, like a musician that starts playing or singing, and for 20 minutes get lost in the action of painting and then it was over.
In order to make some sense of the layers, I had to quickly dry with a dryer which sometimes took more time then the actually painting process. But again my work tends to be heavily wet (watercolor influence). But this also created an interesting dynamic in that I would make decisions whether to leave areas or dab areas dry simply because I didn’t have enough time to let it dry on its own. I would also make more decisions to play “within” the water, having it act more as an agent facilitating it’s own reactions to the dryer mediums like pencil and pastel that I was working with. That experimentation creating a new look and feel that was exciting to watch.
The push against the time took some getting used to, at the beginning I had to keep looking at how much time I had left to make quicker decisions to pull the piece together at the end. A few times, I went over couple minutes because to leave the painting as it was would’ve been horrendous. But as the weeks went by I eventually didn’t even use the timer since I had a natural feel of the overall timing and would almost always finish well under the 20 minute time limit.
Looking back over my series I can see that I experimented with many different styles and with different mediums, which is parallel to my larger work. When I got a little bored, I would transition to collages were great to mix it up, reacting to predetermined elements, shapes, and even played with scotch tape and wasabi tape for fun. But painting on pre-patterned paper is interesting because you are deconstructing (taking out) what you don’t want instead of adding in what you do want. And also going back and forth from paper, canvas, linen and color paper.
From the start I had found a new painting medium, chalk paint that is found in higher-end decorative art stores by Annie Sloan. She invented this nontoxic paint to redo any type of surface, furniture, walls, ceilings, floors, metal, wood, plastic, etc. The paint is wonderfully versatile to work with, chalky, thicker and easily thinned down. And I love the muted, pastel color palette (which is also consistent with the way I work which I have little patience for mixing colors).
In the middle of the project I went to visit my sister in Colorado and knew that those would also naturally have restrictions that travel demands. I decided to take only watercolors and some pencils because watercolors are extremely easy to work with, clean up and have no fear of making a huge mess. They are also very small and light to travel with! Grabbed 12 sheets of watercolor paper (pad) and off I went. What was fun with that series was visiting her in Salida, the town is nestled right up in the mountains with the Colorado River running through it. As I sat down to paint I was drawn to the landscape vista feeling as well as the rocks and running water. Even though I wanted to maintain an abstract look to the work, I was inspired intuitively by those references. Watercolor also brings its own color palette and also drys much faster so lends itself to lot more layers. But I also got way behind (understandably) because it was just not possible or practical to paint everyday. So I ended up also doing 2-4 at a time which was also fun because each one came out different but they all still have that overall references to to the landscape.
As I finish on this last day I have to admit it wasn’t that hard. If you set a task for yourself that you love and is something more than a hobby, you will do it. And you will do it if and only if it’s totally simple, straight-forward and not too taxing. I am convinced even if I switched it to 30 minutes or 45 or even painting for 1 hour I would never have completed this project. My schedule with a full-time job and caring for a 1.5 year old simply doesn’t allow it like it could’ve couple years ago. And you do have to know and understand yourself. I work fast anyway. This was a new objective to complete a painting within 20 minutes but as I work on several paintings at once and leave them for a while and then come back, each layer process and decision is about 20 minutes anywhere when I actually paint. Sometimes it’s a bit slower but most of the time I like to paint fast and then let things dry to see what happens cause things look different when they’ve dried.
So to RECAP what I’ve learned:
• You have to set yourself an objective that is almost too simple that you balk immediately thinking “that’s it?” Remember the secret is that you have to REPEAT this action for 100 day straight. if it’s too complicated and/or ambitious you will not do it!
• Within that simplicity, complications and restrictions come up naturally. Like for example, my materials limited, my size of the work limited, my mediums limited (it would’ve been a challenge to work in oil for example), etc.
• You will get bored so deal with it! In about Week 30 I started to get really bored with patterned background stuff and I have a lot of that kind of paper lying around. So I did go out an buy cheap square canvas boards to use instead. Just switching to hard canvas and then also switching to square verses portrait or landscape just kept my interest enough to get me to the next series.
• You find simple solutions to your limitations and that naturally creates a “shift” in the look or how you paint for that series. Like for instance I started to experiment with dry mediums like pastel and colored pencils because they are quick and easy. And then to mix water into pastel created cool and interesting textures.
• The more you paint, the more you try, you will find that some days are just easy and other days are like “have I ever done this before?” Again it’s just the way it is.
• You have to learn to TRUST THE PROCESS. It is so simple but so profound. If I had done this when I was much younger, perhaps it would’ve been much more painful but also really would’ve challenged me to just keep trying and trying different things without any fear that it might be graded or if it looked good. For some reason when we are young we are so fearful of what other think, self-conscious and wanting it to be perfect. Growing up means you realize either through struggle or joy that the process is gold, not the product. The journey is what is worth it, not the end goal.
• Like I mentioned before, my entire goal for each sketch became “is this working?” or “is this not working?” it’s always “can this be better” not . . . “is this pretty or dumb or ugly?” Doesn’t matter one bit about that!
• And it’s directly a kin to a musician practicing their piano every day or singing with their guitar. No one knows, no one even cares! And no one knows the process you’ve gone or going through to get from one sketch to the next (one day to the next). Unlike a musician, their improvising and practicing is not “recorded” where a painter’s is visually. But that’s the other real difference I see. Like a musician, if you mess up, you do it again, paint over it or start a new. It certainly takes the stress out of making a good painting. If you don’t like them throw them away.
• This entire process is also to gain confidence in your painting vocabulary. Just like a musician must learn the basic notes, scales and keys to play songs, the more they practice the more they can improvise and work within that system. A painter is no different. And out of this 100 Day Project, it’s long enough to start to see your own style naturally emerge.
What a brilliant project to participate in! who know if “something” will come out of it - that doesn’t matter one bit. I am proud of myself for finishing the damn thing! So much has happened since I started in my personal life (which I will write about later) that in only 3 months, whoa, think how much you can get accomplished with only 20 minutes a day. It has been extremely encouraging. And I do not naturally like doing small things to “chip” away at a project, I much prefer gathering my resources and plunging in for few weeks to work through it and then complete it. But this exercise is much more parallel to real life. And it has re-taught me to respect this process and cherish it. You learn it when you are younger going through school but I have been so frustrated last few months/last 2 years not being able to do what I want to do creatively “full-time” that that kind of mentality has completely overwhelmed me to not do anything. That motivation will never get you where you want to go. This small exercise has made a deeper impact on myself, maybe even a more profound one, although I will not recognize I think for a while. I am so grateful! And I would love to repeat it again one of these days.