On September 1, 2014, I embarked on a journey of 100 days of painting. The goal was to make one oil painting a day for 100 days. I considered this task to be an easy one. My canvases were 4”x4”. How difficult could it be to paint a canvas of these dimensions in one sitting? I was soon to find out, it was a little more challenging than I had imagined.
First, there was the daily quest of finding a subject to paint. At first, my compositions were familiar landscapes in my neighborhood. My sketchbook was my handy iPhone, used for expediency to capture images that intrigued me. As the days unfolded, the challenge was to find subjects that were fresh and unfamiliar--something of interest for myself to paint as well as to be of interest to my followers. Variables such as natural light, water, atmosphere, and the textures of the terrain guided me.
This exercise of "looking" for compositions taught me to "see."
There is a difference between the two activities.
Looking vs. Seeing
"Looking" is an external activity, when one directs their gaze toward someone or something or in a specified direction.
"Seeing" is an internal activity, where we perceive with the eyes, to discern or deduce mentally after reflection or from information; to understand.
As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, my eye was being trained to "see" intriguing compositions in the world around me as a daily habit.
Eventually, I began to "see" the compositions in my minds eye before translating them to canvas using oil paint.
24 Hours to Make a Painting
At the beginning of the series, my aim was to finish the painting before midnight. This arbitrary deadline turned out to be a difficult one to meet.
On many days of this 100-day journey, the deadline to get the work completed in time got perilous. Sometimes, I did not post the painting until 3 am the following morning. On some occasions, I was literally sweating it out, thinking “how am I going to get this done?” and "what did I get myself into?!"
More than once, I found myself wiping a canvas completely clean after several hours of unsuccessful attempts. The encroaching wee hours of the night ensured I would get little sleep. These random nights were agonizing with no end in sight. Add to this the fact that I had a day job with professional expectations of me. The solution on some days was to work until midnight and get up early the next morning to finish the painting before heading off to my day job.
On other days, I found the easiest paintings for me to make (easy = quick, but still compelling, complex, and full of taking chances), were the ones that I had a very good idea in my mind in advance about what I wanted to paint. Seeing the composition first in my mind reduced the effort, the time involved, and maximized the efficiency to create the painting. These were good days!
Also, "seeing" the composition in my mind in advance was one of my first "aha" moments of the project….the power of good composition to facilitate making a painting.
Words of Encouragement
On those challenging days, it would have been so easy to let the fatigue that sometimes overwhelmed me to the point of exhaustion and say, “I can’t do this anymore, I don’t have the energy.” It would have been so easy to say, “I don’t know what to paint. I am out of ideas.”
Yet, I knew I had an audience that was keeping me accountable.
Many people on my mailing list told me that they looked forward to my daily paintings:
“I open my email eagerly each morning to find your artistic treasure.”
"I’m happy to be following your series – it adds a little excitement to the beginning of the day, a bit like the old radio call in prize packages."
"Thanks for the daily paintings. They are so much fun to see everyday!"
And I had cheerleaders:
“Keep going. I love watching your progress in this series!”
“Mary, Your paintings are a burst of beauty every day. A reminder to stop and look around at all this dang gorgeousness we live in. The spirit and energy you capture is electric. Thank you. Thank you.”
Many people were inspired by the daily practice of making a painting a day, considering for themselves what might they do with a daily practice of their own.
In some cases, the daily paintings rekindled memories of yesteryear…a wistful affection for the past, memories of sharing a sense of place with family, with dear friends….
In other cases, the paintings served as a bridge reconnecting people who once called Seattle home, yet have since relocated, back to the region through happy personal associations.
The Art of the Deal
I priced my paintings starting at $1. The paintings went up a dollar each day commensurate with the day in the series, e.g. Day 1 = $1, Day 25 = $25, Day 100 = $100. Clearly, the paintings are worth more than the prices I charged. Yet, I learned quickly that this project was invaluable to building a solid foundation of supporters by making my work accessible, both in terms of price and frequency of engaging others. Of the 100 paintings, I sold 87 (at the time of this blog post) to 40 different people. These are 40 new patrons of my artwork! Priceless!
The most important and valuable part of the transaction was for people to tell me why they liked the paintings. The stories from my followers about what the paintings evoked for them are gems in themselves. Here are a few:
Four things that kept this project going.
From my followers: Appreciation. Wonder. Inspiration.
It was also my determination to succeed that kept me committed to this project. The limits on bodily endurance, creativity, and mental awareness certainly got tested in the 100 days. Yet, quitting was not an option. The consistent rewards of this daily practice were much greater than the occasional challenges that showed up from time to time.
During the final days of my 100-day journey of painting, my energy was in top form as I was excited to be closing in on the end of this major endurance test. As I got closer and closer to Day 100, the thoughts crossed my mind:
"Will the fumes of adrenaline that I have been running on evaporate just as I am about to complete this epic project?"
"Will I somehow, after coming all this way, sabotage finishing the final painting?"
"Will the last painting be a dud?"
I discounted those thoughts as remnants of the last mental hurdles to jump over as I cruised towards the finish.
Crossing the Finish Line
On the morning of December 24, 2014 on Christmas Eve, I posted the painting for Day 100, a view of the gorgeous Seattle waterfront as seen from a water taxi as it approached Pier 50.
A journey of 100 days began with people lounging in the late summer sun in the parks, swimming in Lakes Union and Washington. It ended in the dark of winter during the season of lights where the sun fades before 5 pm and the nights are illuminated by multi-colored bulbs that adorn foliage and architecture. The days in between took me into landscapes physical and internal that opened up my perception and appreciation of the world around me.
Rewards From the Journey
- I gained a deep sense of personal accomplishment-having set an ambitious goal and stayed with it all the way to the end.
- I gained an enhanced sense of professionalism as I put myself out there on a limb day after day, building credibility as an artist with each daily painting.
- I grew skills as a painter that only could happen through this sustained effort.
- I developed a portfolio of 100 pieces of new work in three months – never have I painted so much in my life.
- I built a base of support for my work as many people—friends, family, colleagues--came on this journey with me, encouraged me, and shared the journey with their friends.
- I developed confidence in my artwork to take on greater artistic challenges.
Growing as an Artist
- The practice taught me to take chances with my compositions. Because I didn’t have a lot of time to over think the process and to be a perfectionist, I learned to create work with confidence that stretched my imagination and skills.
- The practice taught me to be efficient with my time. I soon learned tricks and techniques in my painting that helped me to get to a desired result more quickly.
- The practice taught me to accept my best efforts within the parameters of time. The tight timeframe helped me to be spontaneous in my paintings evoking a sense of freshness and liveliness.
The Takeaway-"Showing Up"
The bottom line take away for me from this daily practice is about "showing up." No matter what the destination or the goal, none of what I experienced in the 100 days of painting would have happened unless I made the choice to show up, consciously and with intention.
Every. Single. Day.
As involved as the project was, the success of the project hinged on the very basic act of "showing up." Indeed, such is true about the best things in life if you think about it...they can be ours if we choose to show up to life and to say "YES! This is important to me and I will do whatever it takes to see this through."
Now, after a little rest, I am ready for the next great adventure!
And on we go!
Mary Lamery is a lifelong resident and native of the Pacific Northwest. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics/Math from Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA. She studied at Parsons School of Design in New York City concentrating on Fine Arts-Painting.
Lamery paints regional landscape in a manner that leans towards 19th century French Impressionism. Her landscapes invite the viewer to add to the backstory of the composition through personal identification with the paintings and story telling of the experience.
In July 2015, Lamery will be showing new work, landscape of Eastern Washington, as a featured Emerging Artist at Seattle Art Musuem's SAM Gallery.
The gallery of 100 Days 100 Paintings can be viewed at www.mlamery.com