14 March 2008

241 days, and not counting

a talented painter and friend of mine wondered, when he launched his own blog several weeks ago, why a painter would ever want to maintain a "painting a day" output.

but he also expressed admiration that i kept up the pace for so long, especially as i made up the days missed to sickness, travel or other responsibilities.

well, after 241 days of continuous postings, today is the day that i stand down and change the subtitle of this blog. but as i do, i want to answer my friend's question for those painters who might consider a similar commitment.

THE GOOD POINTS. why attempt "a painting a day"? because it fundamentally sharpens and strengthens your painting abilities. among the benefits:

• deadline discipline - i do not paint for bread and board, and i don't take commissions i am not interested in, so i otherwise would not feel the external discipline to start new work and keep it moving.

• mood doesn't matter - you get over the idea that you should only paint on the cheerful frisky days; there is work to be done, and you show up to do it.

• becoming a closer - one of the first luxuries you relinquish is the idea that a painting can linger on forever; you learn to keep a painting on track and guide it toward its ending; the work doesn't dawdle or drift.

• streamlining work - work habits get polished down to the most efficient and most productive; fussing, perfectionism and daydreaming get pushed aside; clutter gets sorted out and put away; painting technique sharpens.

• painting in series - you start to appreciate the value of working on several similar paintings at the same time, utilizing the same palette, paint mixtures and working procedures; rather than work on three different paintings that you finish each in a day, you work for three days on three similar paintings; you look for a cluster of sibling paintings (images) that you can develop at the same time.

• backlog clearance - in the crunch, a half finished painting is much more attractive than a blank sheet of paper; to keep up the pace, you eventually dig out every half completed work and either discard it or finish it.

• productivity - obviously, productivity goes way up. you have, after 100 days, 100 paintings (if not more!) to show for it.

• play and improvisation - i found the pace of the work forced me out of the routine in ways that encouraged experimentation with new techniques; and the need to keep motivation going led me to choose paintings that were fun or exciting to do, rather than familiar. cruising is not as much fun as flying.

• stamina - perhaps the most important benefit is that all the mental and physical painting muscles get a good workout, every day, or (as with any exercise) on makeup days, so your stamina greatly improves. last fall i carefully traced from photographs a series of six matching, 14" x 10" paintings, the stefanie figure paintings, but quit after completing only the first one: the effort required to do all six was just too much for me. well, after six months of "a painting a day," i dug out those five outlined papers, spread them out on my work table (right), knocked out finished paintings in four days, and didn't break a sweat. it was like sprinting up stairs that used to leave me winded.

THE BAD POINTS. not everything about the "painting a day" process is positive, however. among the drawbacks:

• quality ceiling - paintings often ask you to slow down or take a break, and there is a tendency to push against the work, sometimes too hard for the sake of quality; the best paintings may require more time than you have to spend.

• format shrinkage - if you really are doing a painting a day, without recycling paintings you posted months ago, then you have to work smaller; i ended up gravitating to the 10" x 14" format, but many "painting a day" artists (for example, the talented molly brose) work in smaller formats than that.

• filler works - inevitably, the work stream gets cluttered with inconsequential or knockdown "filler works" that find their way onto the blog because, well, something has to go up today!

• make up strain - unfortunately, i did not adopt the humane policy of excusing myself for vacations and holidays, and since starting this blog my rolling stone of a wife has carried me off on about 6 weeks worth of holiday or recreational travel ... and that meant 6 weeks where i had to produce at least *two* paintings a day just to catch up ... which inevitably made the work a burden.

• reactance - add all that up, and reactance -- the contrarian human tendency to do what is forbidden, and to avoid doing what is required -- sets in, the painting becomes just a chronic labor, the fun goes out of it, and fear and loathing set in. of all the drawbacks, that is the most disheartening and unacceptable.

THE UGLY POINT. on balance, this has been a fabulous ride, and i would gladly repeat it all again knowing what i know now. but the final reason to break off my daily postings has been the palpable and aggravating deterioration in the blogger service -- for example:

Safari can’t open the page “http://www.blogger.com/whatever.g” because the server unexpectedly dropped the connection, which sometimes occurs when the server is busy. You might be able to open the page later.

maybe blogger can't be bothered to handle threads spawned through a dialup connect; maybe blogger has decided safari and firefox aren't worth dealing with; maybe blogger management wants to handle rising user demand by raising the time-to-execute "price" (cost) of its service. whatever: i've had enough of hoping today is my lucky day.

p.s. nick ... the cypress painting is back in the queue.

10 comments:

RHCarpenter said...

Well, I know just what you are going through with this exercise of a painting a day. Although I don't start and finish one a day, I feel I MUST put something on the blog each day to keep my dear audience content. It gets old and I spend more time on the computer than painting - it becomes a time waster. I'll miss your daily work but being more kind to yourself seems to be the way to go now.

Anonymous said...

Bruce - I have learned most of the products and technique that I use from your main site and this blog. thanking you here for all this seems not enough but important to acknowledge now. Enjoy some private renewal time.

Jeanette said...

Daily production is a blessing and a curse. I agree with all your pros and cons for production.

However, if it causes angst, I don't believe in pursuing it, unless, of course, someone is waving dollar bills at me as the carrot. :)

Adam Cope said...

tally hoo bruce :)

it's been a pleasure sticking my head around the door & watching your progress... great images with your usual lucid intelligent & funny prose.

some real gems in here, lovely portraits.

best wishes & watercolour washes
adam

Nick said...

Maybe Safari can't open the page because maybe, just maybe, Macs don't "just work"! (see Maddox)

Glad you wrote this post so I don't have to. You came up with some points (on both sides) I hadn't thought of. My overall feeling is that doing it for the sake of doing it and that joy-is-in-the-journey crap can turn one into a bloody sausage factory. The APAD oilists all seem to do the same little still lifes and plein airs ad nauseum, and 99% of the watercolorists.....do we even need to go there? At any rate, you got a lot of great work done, so there is clearly something to it for the more systematic and disciplined types.

I'm curious re the significance of 241...into Proth primes, the Battle of Samhain, or staring too long at that sign over the bar during happy hour?

Nick said...

Oh before I forget, don't you dare touch the cypress! That one has earned a special provenance, and I'd never get used to a bare spot on the NE wall.

David Burge said...

Just a thought on the concept of "A painting a day"....now you've abandoned this harsh discipline it may seem a little late to make this comment so just see it as my nod of acknowledgement. Undoubtably a painting a day is a worthwhile thing to do to sharpen ones technical skills. The points you list as the benifits are true enough.
However the act of making art, I don't believe in most cases, can be achieved by setting any rigid boundary. The chances of an artistic event occuring can be increased by maintaining a volume of output but the relationships established between yesterdays work and that which may be todays effort sets you up to keep producing work on a purely conscious level and limits the opportunities for something completely new to strike from a deeper level. That is restricting rather than liberating I believe.
There is nothing unusual in an artist attending his studio workplace to sit and read, think, listen to music, smoke weed or whatever humans do without touching a brush.
Well done with this PAD thing, I've enjoyed it and will continue to do so I'm sure.
I think your work has authenticity and that is something to be highly valued.

W. K. Moore said...

I'd rather paint every day than turn out a mediocre painting every day. That's what I'd come up with if I stuck to that kind of regimen. You did well however and now it is chalked-up in the done column.

Sharon said...

Very interesting points, I couldn't agree more. But I have just started and only see the benefits. I have discovered that I CAN finish a painting at one sitting and I CAN paint smaller. Just the thought of posting a work each day spurs me on, even though no one knows about me yet! I've never worked so hard.
Having just discovered you, I was disappointed that you have decided to stop,your work and commnts are inspiring, but I wish you well, and shall certainly watch for work you do post.
Very best regards Sharon

kookatsoon said...

Thank you for posting even 261???paintings in a row...I think you are burnout...take a break...you have done the community a great benifit by doing this endeavour....thanks to you and your intensive colour theory at handspring...all the best...Janis from the Yukon, Canada