31 lessons from 31 days of painting

31 lessons from 31 days of painting

I spent May immersed in the 31 days of painting project. This wasn’t about creating 31 paintings {I’m crazy, just not that crazy!}; rather, it was about spending 31 days painting a single canvas. It also wasn’t about how much or how little you painted on a particular day; rather, the only rule, per se, was that you had to alter the canvas in some way. That could be the addition of a ton of paint or the making of a few simple marks.

The entire process is a meditation on painting, and life. About releasing attachment and being open to the process. Of enquiry and allowing instead of forcing and imposing your will. And as expected, a process like this one, can teach you a lot - about painting and about life.

So without further ado, here are my lessons from 31 days of painting.

31 lessons from 31 days of painting

Experiment and have fun: You learn so much about what you like and don’t, and about how different art materials react with one another.

Don’t get attached to the canvas: 31 days is a long time! Play, experiment, and don’t get attached to an idea you see on Day 4 of the process, or on Day 10!

Mistakes lead to depth: Oopsies on the canvas can easily be covered up with more layers of paint. And the more marks there are, the more layered the canvas, and the more interesting the final painting. Just like life! All the mistakes we make, only make us stronger, more layered individuals.

Spiral in and spiral out: Just like in life, where we need to focus in on certain areas and keep an eye on the bigger picture, similarly, when working on the canvas, don’t think about the entire canvas all at once. Instead, focus on the small space in front of you and move from there.

Follow your wonder: That’s another way of saying, follow your inspiration. What are you curious about? What colours and shapes feel delightful? Follow that! It makes the process fun and the outcome so much more meaningful.

Texture adds interest: Especially when you’re painting intuitively! It can show up in unexpected places and add an element of drama and interest.

Beginners mind helps: “What if” is an excellent question to ask and try to answer on the canvas, and off it too! And it helps to build layers. Win-win!

Do what feels good: Let your feelings lead you when you’re selecting paint colours, tools, and making marks! There was a point in the process when more than 70% of my canvas was orange, because that’s what felt wonderful right then!

Seek inspiration: When you feel stuck, look for inspiration! It can come from books, by looking at other artists’ paintings, or watching technique videos. You never know what will inform your next move.

Experiment with tools: Especially in the initial layers. You’ll find new ways to make marks on the canvas and the most unexpected tool - like a wooden chopstick - can become your favourite supply.

Finger painting is fun: And you end a painting session with colourful fingers!

When in doubt, add drips: They are so damn cool! Not only is it fun to watch paint dripping on a canvas, it’s an excellent way to tie different colours together on the canvas.

You can make heavy body acrylics drip: There’s a technique to it, which works most times. I just need to remember what I did and make a note of it. 😉

Lose preconceived notions: You may step up to the canvas with a particular idea, but if you’re doing this right, that idea may just not materialize no matter how hard you try.

Fear only holds your art back: There were so many points in the process when I was afraid of ruining the canvas. And yet, by pushing ahead, I ended up with a painting that I simply adore. And one that I could never, ever, in a million years, have planned!

Movement on the canvas comes from moving your body: Seriously! Every damn time I was stuck, I just closed my eyes, moved to the drumming, and then let my fingers dance across the canvas. Movement is also an excellent way to move through emotions. So the next time you’re angry or sad or just meh, try putting on some music and dancing it out!

Changing your perspective leads to new discoveries: When you’re stuck, turn the canvas! Or step back and look for the areas that delight you. Then do more of what delights you. This is also an excellent life hack. You’re welcome.

Make the bold move: Seriously! You can always paint over it later. But you won’t know if something will work unless you try!

Pre-planning rarely works: I lost count of how many times I tried to pre-plan what I would paint or how I would progress with this painting. But when I lost myself to the drumming and let my intuition take over, something completely unexpected showed up on the canvas!

Get out of your own way: Ties in to the above. Get out of your head. Get out of analysing and judging and planning. Just go with the flow!

Gesso is your friend: Don’t like something? Gesso over it and start again!

Gesso can also be your enemy: Resist! Do not paint over your entire canvas with gesso, no matter how much you think you hate it!

Accountability keeps you going: Build in some accountability to your project to keep the momentum going. Adding each day’s painting progress to Instagram stories kept me going. I’ve heard this works well for other goals too, like fitness. Ahem!

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Allow time off for grace: Also, life happens. It may be a 31-day painting, but taking a few days off isn’t going to ruin anything or make the project “incomplete”! {Can you tell I’m a rebel?}

When in doubt, ask: When you feel stuck, asking for help can give you some interesting perspectives and ideas.

The answer may surprise you: Following from the previous point, the consensus answer may not be your answer, and that is perfectly fine! When I was stuck in the first week, I asked if I should gesso over the canvas and start again or add collage. The consensus answer was gesso, which made me realize I really didn’t want to gesso over the canvas. I also didn’t want to add collage. So, I added some texture instead! Asking questions always gives you an answer, though it may not be the answer you expected!

Let it go and bring it back: Add a motif, paint over all or part of it, add it again somewhere else. That’s how layers are built!

There’s no such thing as too much chaos: Seriously! Once you start to bring the painting together, all of that chaos just adds so to the interest!

Embrace the mess: Hot messes lead to luscious layers and unexpected areas of pure joy on the canvas!

It’s over when you say it’s over: A painting is done when you say it is done! Just like a listicle is done when you say it’s done, so what if you’re one short of your stated number!

And there you have it - lessons in painting, and life.  Did any of these spark little a-has for you? Tell me in the comments!

I’ll also be sharing a video of the evolution of the canvas {and the completed canvas} in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that!

Posted in Art Journaling, On My Art Table and tagged , , , .

24 Comments

  1. I am not a very artistic person, but I really enjoyed reading this post. The principles and learnings can be applied to so many other things in life. Thanks for sharing them with us. 🙂

  2. I really love the play of colors… You mix and match so beautifully, giving your work a distinct character. These are wonderful learnings. I haven’t tried the drip technique. Will look it up 😀

  3. I feel serene simply reading your post, even though I’m hardly an artist. And I love what you have created. The best bit it a lot of your observations are useful for any kind of creative work.

  4. You have no idea how inspired I am with this art! 32 layers and you have made it so bold and beautiful! I would love to work on something like this. I need to do something like this soon.

    Thank you for being the inspiration 🙂

  5. These are great lessons for any artist! You know I have followed your 31 days of painting journey with such delight! You are truly an inspiration. Every time I saw your work I felt like picking up the paintbrush too.

  6. Oh my goodness your work is incredible! I can picture something like this hanging in my wall one day. Keep it up, I loved your tips too!

  7. A beautiful post that can apply to anything actually Not just art. Be it blogging, the creative process writing or doing something you enjoy the immersive part of it is what gives us joy. Such lovely lessons and ones we can all do with remembering over and over. Your art speaks Shinjini. As do your words. 🙂

  8. A lot of those can be applied to any kind of creative work. And that’s what I liked about it (apart from the pop of those colours).
    The joy of doing something you love always shines through, be it writing or painting. And if we can add these lessons to the mix, just fantastic. Lessons from art 🙂

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