My Journey : Thoughts on the 100 Day Project

If you, like me, are even the slightest bit involved in the creative community on instagram chances are you’ve heard of the 100 Day Project. Started by user @ellaluna, it’s a challenge that individuals take on and pursue a certain creative goal for a straight 100 days. Whether painting one’s dreams, creating unexpected patterns, or making art out of the security side of envelopes {all projects I have watched while other’s were pursuing them}, it’s about establishing new habits and pushing past creative blocks. 

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And I truly know it works for some people. In fact, I have seen amazing work from people who have taken this challenge and subsequently worked their asses off for 100 days.  

That being the case, it’s always intimidated me. It was only during a conversation with a fellow creative recently that the “why” was solidified.  

I shared that it taken me 40 minutes to draw the outline of a kale leaf. She commented that she thought it was beautiful and that she felt the crunch of needing to work faster all the time.  

 I said, “Well I’m glad I shared then. I think there’s a misconception that if you love something or are good at something you should be fast at it. I LOVE all the 100 day projects or “make art everyday” projects but I think it’s lead to the thought that an entire piece can be cranked out in a sliver of time. And I don’t think that’s real life for most of us. At least, that’s not real life for me.” I went on to say, “I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with ‘being slow’. It just means I care about getting it right.” 

Some people {because of style or medium or personal preference} work fast and are able to finish 100 projects in 100 days. And they’re still are able to eat /sleep / shower / feed themselves or their dependents {insert whatever you most struggle with : I personally choose E •all of the above.•

I can’t do that.  

That doesn’t make me a failure of a person or a bad artist or any less of of an artist.  

And, if this is something that you can’t make happen, it doesn’t make you any of these things either. 

My current goal is to be an artist with a strong eye toward being realistic. {I’m so wonderfully Pisces that realism isn’t my strong suit... this is a legitimate struggle for me.} For me being realistic means that some days I won’t have any extra energy to give to my art because of some toddler meltdown and some days laundry won’t get done because it took me half an hour to decide what angle I wanted to draw of the above mentioned kale leaf. It means not degrading myself when things don’t go as I hoped and taking into account unexpected creative side roads and counting them as wins. 

Most of all, I’m working on being kind to myself and constantly choosing to continue becoming the person I want to be.  

And the main way I will do that is keep drawing 40 minutes, and one single leaf, at a time. 

My Journey : Color and Courage

When I started painting with watercolor I tagged my pieces online with “Color and Happy”. Two years later and that description isn’t a good fit any more.

The “happy” used to fit.

It was about me getting an instant shot of happiness anytime I picked up a paintbrush.

It was about, even when I didn’t love what I had painted that day, being happy about the fact that I had the chance to paint.

It was about the happiness that comes with pursing something that I had put off for so long.

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But lately it seems to imply constant happiness. And that just isn’t the case.

Though I’m at a really good place with the art that I’m making, making it doesn’t always make me happy. In fact, often it stirs up deeper emotions like self-doubt, insecurity, and fear. That, combined with political and societal turmoil along with personal issues {the hard / important work of marriage and parenting and self-care} make the word “happy” a hard thing to shout to the word.

“Just be happy!” seems to be the advice of the person who’s eyes are closed to reality.

So, after talking this out with my friend Sarah,  I decided to change the “happy” to “courage”. Because, though “happy” is great, it’s not the thing that will get you through another mass murder in the news and a panic attack in the kitchen. Courage is the thing that will help you get through. {Along with doctor prescribed medication if you’re into that.}

Courage is the thing that I cling to when my art stirs up those feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.

Courage is the thing that I call upon when my fears of “what they may say” flare up.

Courage is the thing that any creator needs when they decide to breathe their own life into the art supplies they’re holding.

Color and courage.

Amen.

The Journey : Lessons learned from color pencils

I mentioned on Instagram recently that colored pencils and botanical art are really stretching my brain in ways that are uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, I’m learning, is awkward and occasionally slightly painful and also, generally, hopefully, a sign of growth.

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Here are some of the things I’m learning as I grow.

1. “Ugly middle” is part of the process; it’s not the end result .

The ugly middle is a thing that starts really early in a color pencils drawing. I very rarely sketch an entire piece because I am really bad at perspective.

Instead, I jump into toning {making shadows and such} from the beginning, hoping that eventually my lines will meet somewhere in the actual middle.

There’s rarely, if ever, a point where I think “oh. This is going to work out.” Does that make me a terribly negative artist? Most likely. But the piece always turns out okay regardless of that negativity, as long {and this is the most important part} as I keep working on them.

2. Keep working.

I have one initial sketch languishing in my sketchbook right now. It’s a section of a periwinkle wildflower that has been wowing me as I pass them on the road leading to our new home. And it’s... janky. The proportions are all wrong (see above regarding proportions) and the bloom doesn’t even attached to the stem.

But I’m learning that it doesn’t get any better by just sitting there. I need to A. Keep working on it. Or B. Stop. Erase it. And start over.

Which leads me to:

3. The magic of the eraser.

Here’s the thing: growing up poor gave me a scarcity mindset. The thought that resources are not just finite but actually scarce. And most likely expensive.

Working with watercolors as I did when I initially starting painting this was extremely limiting. my inner critic screamed, “what if I mess up?” and “if that brush has too much paint on it you will absolutely ruin an hour’s worth of work!” I was hesitant and constrained. Looking back at my work, I realize that the pieces I liked most are the ones where I stopped putting so much effort on myself and just let the paint do it’s thing.

How, you ask, does this call me into play with a much more detail oriented botanical drawing? The eraser. It allows me the freedom to mess up.

Shadow way too dark? Erase it.

Leaf looks unrealistic? Erase it.

The color unlike anything actually found in nature? Erase it.

The eraser is the breathing room I’ve been looking for in my art practice and I’m wonderfully excited about it.

4. I’m not making art as much as I’m learning to see.

If that sounds hippy dippy, I need you to move your reference back a few hundred years. From the 1960’s back to the Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci.

It was actually reading his biography (and the description of his extremely lifelike botanical art) that gave me “permission” to work like this. The author explains that Leonardo honed his skill of seeing. He saw the whirls of water in an eddy and how they resemble the locks of curly hair on a child and the twirl of a vine. He saw a lack of hard lines around objects; realizing that we are more like ghosts and less like cartoon characters. He saw areas of shadow and how they are hardly ever black but instead colored with that same colors that surround the shadows.

In the same way, I’m learning to do similar things. And it’s hard. I find myself saying “don’t draw a flower petal. Draw the thing  you see in front of you.” Because even if the thing in front of me IS a flower petal it often doesn’t look like the traditional daisy flower petal I’ve drawn my entire life. It looks like an oblong pink rhombus with a crinkle on one side. Or it looks like a yellow square with a crease down the center. And the one next to it looks totally different than that.

I’m learning to see. And that’s much more intense and maybe more important than simply learning how to draw.

My Journey : Denial, Suppresion, and Pleasing Others - A tragic combination.

Setting: A crowded flea market in my hometown

Her: (a lady my mom’s age I’ve known my entire life)  I’ve seen your art on social media! I didn’t realize you were so artistic.

Me: I didn’t either.


This was a benign lie.

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One of those lies that you tell people that you know but you don’t know well. A person to whom to backstory might be interesting might be interesting but isn’t exactly important since her husband is standing looking at his watch seven feet away and strangers are bustling by your elbows.

I have always “been artistic”. The smell of cheap acrylic paint instantly transports me back three decades. But for a large portion of that same time I’ve also actively suppressed that artistic side.

I won a coloring contest in elementary school. I was awarded some prize for decorating a cardboard egg that put my large teeth + large glasses on the front page of the localpaper. In middle school I drew a still life that my grandparents had framed.

And then nothing.

I looked longingly at the creations of fellow students at my slightly larger public high school a couple years later but never actively searched for a spot for an art class in my schedule.

Instead I took agriculture and shop classes where I could moon over the boys who I was too shy to flirt with. I failed my first semester of home ec which included the care of a newborn. {Luckily, they don’t ask for those grades as you’re leaving the hospital with your actual newborn.}  I took a semester of theatre. My Nana and her best friend Nancy cane to see the performance and I remember my grandmother telling me that Nancy had said, “Her eyes are shined. She comes alive on the stage.”

 

But no visual art.

 

Because what would a girl who plans to live her life in Southern Arkansas do with making art? Would she paint one of the 2000 chickens she and her yet to be determined but statistically likely future chicken farmer husband grow? Would she paint the baby calf in the spring? Or perhaps the steak dinner come autumn?

No. There was no place for visual art in a my foreseeable life. So, in the manner of pleasing those around me (and pursuing the things that I thought would lead me to a happy life, ie. married to a chicken farmer), I suppressed my desire to make art. I denied a huge piece of myself so that I could best fit the expectations of those around me.

So when I was asked what I was going to major in as a college freshman ten years after the decorated egg that made me small town famous, my shoulder shrug wasn’t apathy. It was the product of years and years of effort of covering up my own desires.

That shoulder shrug lasted a full decade. Ten years wasted. Ten years that it took me to learn that life was much bigger than than possibility of being the wife of a prominent chicken farmer*.


*A very important tangent:

If you, dear reader, are the wife of a chicken farmer I mean you no harm.

My late Nana, who I adored and who I’ve praised as my creative muse and whom I’ve written about extensively (link) was the wife of a cattle farmer.

No. This isn’t my looking down on the wives of farmers or ranchers or agriculture as a whole. It’s a profession that is hard and worthy.

My problem was that I saw “being the wife of...” as my entire goal. My goal was to be married. My teenage love story obsessed  tunnel vision didn’t allow me to see outside of that singular focus. THAT was my problem.


Learning that life is bigger than a single goal. Not denying my creative urges. Pursuing the things set my eyes ablaze despite the fact that they may not be sensible. I’m still learning to do that things which are the opposite of the shoulder shrug. And I’m so glad of it.