A little over a month ago I began a challenge to make something — either a drawing or a painting — every day. And just for extra accountability I try to post my work daily to social media. This was a pretty big challenge for me because even working as a graphic designer, I have never been in the habit of producing art daily for myself. It was really only something I did when I had time (i.e. never). Now I am making time for it and I am really happy with the results. About halfway through the month I also began a writing journal (an idea I stole from Marsha Riti). I will talk more about that later.
Looking back on the last month, I created more personal projects than I have over the last decade. And I have learned SO much in the process. I've heard daily art-making described as "putting yourself through bootcamp." If you are not already in the habit of creating daily, just do it. If you want to improve your art, you won't regret taking the time to work on it each day.
Back in June we went to spend a week with my parents in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Manitou Springs is a little tourist town that sits near the bottom of Pike's Peak just outside of Colorado Springs. It is home to the Manitou Incline, one of the most popular and challenging hikes in the area. The Incline is basically a mile of precariously spaced stairs that climb 2,000 feet in altitude. It is so steep that hikers are discouraged from walking back down them — there is an alternate trail that will take you back to the bottom.
The hike to the top can be done in about 30 minutes if you're, say, an Olympic athlete (several of them were passing us on the way up). And maybe it's possible to do it in under an hour if you've properly hydrated or if you didn't come from zero altitude the day before (oops). I agreed to do the Incline it without doing any research, which is extremely unusual for me, and as we sat on a bus to the bottom of the trail, I looked up to the top of the Incline and said, "Oh, shit. This is not going to go well." From the bottom it looks like an impossible distance, but like anything else, it can be done if you take it one step at a time. Even Luke, who is only 7 years old, eventually made it to the top, because after every break he took, he climbed a few more steps and he never quit. When we got to the top we turned around to see how far we had come. Luke told me that the view was beautiful. He had a hard time believing he had been able to climb so high simply by moving one foot at a time. One step at a time.
Daily art is a lot like climbing a mountain. You do a little every day and over periods of time, you can look back and see that you've come a really long way. And even if you can only do a little each day or you miss a day, you are still making forward progress if you never give up.
Here are some takeaways and observations from a month of daily art making:
1. Your drawing skills will improve. I can look back on the things I drew before this and see real improvement. My hand moves more confidently. I work faster. Every day I have solved new problems with color, line, value, perspective and composition. Without a doubt, I have gotten better at each of these things — I'm far from perfect, but if I got noticeably better after one month, how much better could I get after 2? 3? a year? There is no substitute for daily practice.
2. It will get easier to sit down and start. I have a tendency to spend lots of time THINKING about making art, but not actually making any. I will sit down and stare at a blank page, frozen and unable to start because I can't decide what to draw. I'll watch a video of someone else drawing, which makes me feel like I could do it, but then I don't. Or I will plan or research beyond the point of usefulness (read: procrastinate real work) because I am afraid of messing up and I want it to be perfect the first time. Forcing myself to sit down and make something every day means that there isn't time for any of that. I just have to sit down and start. And I found that each time I sat down and started, I built a little forward momentum that made it easier to start the next time.
3. Some days you will make ugly art. Just like anything else there will be days where everything is a struggle and nothing turns out right and you hate everything you do. I have been posting my daily work to social media even on the days when I felt like I my work is crappy or I have nothing to show. That's hard on the ego, but Marsha told me in one of our phone conversations, "You have to get the bad paintings out to get to the good ones."
4. Some days you won't make any art. There will be days when life gets in the way and you won't make anything. Many of us have kids and jobs and other things going on and sometimes you just won't get a moment to yourself. There were some days this past month when Tobias didn't take a nap, therefore I didn't accomplish much. Or sometimes I had to spend his nap time doing something else. There might also be days that you just need to take a break. There is nothing wrong with taking a day off as long as you tell yourself that you will wake up in the morning and begin again. Jake Parker has mentioned before that he takes an intentional break from art one day a week and doesn't look at any art or even think about it. I think whatever works for you is great as long as you are consistent. Consistency is what will keep you in habit mode.
5. You might make a lot of things that don't serve a purpose. Here is where you might need to adjust your goals if you find that you are sitting down to finish a painting every day and you are creating a lot of work that doesn't lead you anywhere. If you make a goal of finishing a painting every day, sometimes it will be tempting just to just make something that you can post online, but doesn't actually serve any purpose. And by that I mean that it doesn't challenge you or move you forward in any way and it is not part of a larger project. While they might be pretty to look at, those pieces are not going to end up in your portfolio.
I think it's cool to sometimes just make things because you enjoy making them, even if they don't serve a purpose, because sometimes, serendipitously, a random drawing or painting of a bear on a white background might spark an idea for something else, like a book about that bear. Also, the act of creating for enjoyment is something we don't do enough and doing this more probably could go a long way toward preventing burnout. BUT, it would be nice if some of your daily paintings or drawings were pieces of a larger project that could perhaps be a portfolio piece or a book dummy or something that you really put your heart into. So rather than holding myself to the rule of posting a finished piece every day I am starting to practice more what Dani Jones refers to as "purposeful progress." That means that you do something every day to move your art forward. One day it might be a series of thumbnail sketches. Then the next day, a drawing from one of those sketches, the next day a painting from that drawing. Maybe you'll do character sketches and the next day write a story about one of those characters. You can do as much or as little as you want, as your schedule permits as long as you do something every day to move you forward. Dani says she keeps a folder on her desktop and every day adds something to it with a date as part of the file name. I think this is a really good tip and is something I hope to implement into my own daily work in some way.
How has daily art helped you? What have you learned? What are your tips for staying in the habit of creating daily? Let me know in the comments! You can check out my daily art by following me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.