Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – 2/3 done – what have I learned?

This seems like a good time to ponder on what I’m getting out of Leslie’s challenge.   Before I get into the grumbling and the griping I would really like to thank Leslie for doing this – it’s great to have so many people painting away and sharing what they’re doing.  For that alone it’s worth it and I hope she continues running this for years to come.

However it hasn’t been all rainbows and ponies.

30 paintings in 30 days was always going to be a reach.   I think most of us who aren’t dyed in the wool daily painters are currently producing in a month close to what we’d usually do in a year.     This has had several effects – some predictable and some not.

On hearing about this one of the first things to pop into my head was ‘Wow!  I get to paint every day for a month.  That’s fantastic! It’s what I’ve always wanted to do’ .     This was closely followed by the thought ‘Oh my God! I get to paint every day for a month.  It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.  What if I don’t like it?’  I’m obviously not alone in the dream of giving up the day job and living the artistic lifestyle.   I too envision gliding about the studio,  brushes in hand and masterpieces effortlessly falling from the easel.   It makes those Tuesday afternoon budget meetings more tolerable.     I also know from reading the blogs of proper painters that the dream does not live up to reality.  Painting can also turn into a drudgery similar to grinding through excel spreadsheets.

So did this come to pass?   Absolutely not and I now have a little ritual every day to get me in the mood.  First I remove yesterday’s painting from the easel and place in the custom storage solution (aka floor of the spare room).   I then tape up the next sheet on the board ready for painting,  give the paints a good spray and let them loosen up a bit while I dig out the day’s subject photo.  I then paint and when I’m done I take the end result photo,  clean up and put fresh water out in the dish ready to start over again tomorrow.   It’s nice.  I like it.   It has a rhythm to it.

Because I have to do this every day I can’t procrastinate about the actual painting.   I have to produce one so I just  knuckle down and do it.   Sometimes it comes out fine, sometimes not.  Mostly I enjoy it but sometimes I can’t wait for it to finish.   But because I know I have to go through the whole thing again tomorrow caring about the end result and whether it’s good or bad loses importance.  If I’m pleased then all is well.  If it’s terrible then I only have 24 hours to wait to try again.   Happily I’ve been pleased more than not.

The next worry before I actually started was – what the hell shall I paint?   Inspiration can take a while and if you’ve only got an hour before dinner you can’t be umming and ahhing.   In an uncharacteristic moment of organization I pre-planned all subjects and reference photos (no time for on location sketching this month) ahead of time.  This reduced the number of decisions that had to be made on each day.   I say reduced because I’ve strayed from the script a number of times when I just didn’t fancy what was on the list.  This is fine – as long as painting gets done then it’s all good.    Other people have had a strategy of having a theme and painting around that.     Themes range from fruit to dogs, cats,  birds,  still life in general to full blown landscapes, portraits and more complicated scenes.    In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t do that as I think I would be bored.  It’s especially refreshing if you have a bad day and can start anew on something completely different the next day.   You have a bad day with owls?  Never fear – tomorrow is boats!   Of course this may well be my rookie status on a 30 day challenge.    Ask me again when I’m a couple more years into it and I may say different.

What else has happened?     The compression effect has been revealing about strengths and weaknesses.    It’s become obvious that composition is really not my strong point.    I have a nasty tendency to try and jam in the kitchen sink to a landscape or street scene when I should have trimmed everything down and just had a few elements.    It’s a common mistake but I’ve been made painfully aware of it several times in 2 weeks rather than spread over several months.  On the plus side my drawing skills have held up pretty well and daily drawing has sharpened them further.  No problems there.  Ditto for my still life painting  – these have been some of the most successful days.

And there have been pleasant surprises.     It’s been especially nice to visit and discover other people’s blogs and see a whole series of paintings and also to have people visit and leave nice comments on your own.    Feels like a community.     I almost didn’t post that as it seems a bit sappy but a bit of fellow feeling goes a long way.   Especially as putting splodges of color on a background is a pretty isolated, pointless activity and hard to justify beyond ‘I enjoy it’.

Other pleasant surprises have been the paintings that turned out well beyond anything I expected.    A couple of days have produced things I just wouldn’t have been able to do without this intensive burst (if you can call 1 hour a day intensive).     In particular  I’ve been surprised by
the mill

boats take 1

 and the

 which almost seemed to come from someone else’s brush.   They’re all landscapes which probably isn’t a coincidence.

The compression effect has also emphasized a typical painting session and its ups and downs.  To begin with everything is wonderful – I have my picture,  I’ve done the drawing and life is good.    I start in with the first washes and am pretty happy.   Next in go the mid tones and/or the darks and everything goes wrong.   Nothing’s coming out how it should – I can’t get the values right, the foreground is patchy, the sky goes blotchy,  I make things too dark, too light,  too wishy-washy.  Generally crap.

Mid way through is the low point.   I’m grumpy, I’ve got bored with the subject,  I just want it to finish, I’m planning on throwing it away as it’s ruined.  Why did I think I could do this?   Stupid painting.   Peak exasperation is reached.   I then have a little tantrum and throw caution to the wind and think,  well it’s ruined anyway,  I can’t *possibly* make it any worse.   Paint gets sloshed around,  the bigger brushes are brought out,  I get bolder with the color and mainly paint on instinct.  Sometimes this works – the

 painting is a good example.  This was looking *terrible* half way through (partly due to a crappy reference photo but that’s not the whole story) and I slapped some paint on out of desperation.   It’s not the best thing I’ve ever done but it was certainly rescued.  And all this in an hour – it’s exhausting.

Failures.   There have been some definitely.  

 didn’t turn out great and
Memorial Hall

 fell at the last hurdle when I screwed up the people.   My second

painting didn’t live up to the first (I actually redid that one I hated it so much) and the most recent
St Aldates street scene

 really didn’t work either.   But I’m not downhearted – at least I know what to work on in the 11 months before the next 30 day challenge.

One thought on “Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – 2/3 done – what have I learned?

  1. Oh, Michele, such wonderful words!! I'm so happy you're getting this much out of the 30 in 30, and that you've persevered. You describe very accurately how this feels, just add some tension for those of us who didn't have everything planned before we started. And what you describe as the life of a panting session is what happens to me pretty much every time I paint. The drawing is great fun and feels easy, and it's downhill from there. Every painting is a set of problems to be solved, most of which we create for ourselves! But the key part of this challenge is, that we're finishing each of them, for better or for worse, and that's where we learn something. Bravo to you!

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