"By starting out the same way each day, you reinforce the idea that your daily practice matters. "
Eric Maisel, The Power of Daily Practice (pg. 34)
I have never thought much about the way I start my daily painting practice. I usually get started doing whatever painting exercise is due for the next class and get to work. But today I realized that having a ceremony for starting any practice is essential because you are acknowledging this gift of time that you are giving to yourself. You recognize that your time, your energy is important and that choosing to spend your time in this practice means that you matter.
One of my biggest challenges to painting is giving myself permission to do something fun that I enjoy, instead of spending time taking care of others. Growing up I learned that a good person is someone who sacrifices themselves and serving others is how you show love and respect. Now I see that spending too much time on others can turn into bitterness and resentment when you expect that others fail to serve you with that same level of devotion. Having a ceremony for starting my painting practice reminds me that I am essentially a good person and taking care of myself is how I sustain my ability to care for others.
Starting a Daily Practice
During the challenge, I'm going to start my daily practice with reading a chapter from The Power of Daily Practice. I'll take notes on the reading and write in my book journal some notes about the chapter.
I like to play music on a podcast in the background while I work and I turn on the heater in my office to keep me warm while I work.
How I Start a Painting
I just finished taking an online class with Catherine Kehoe and one of the things we did to start our family photo paintings is create thumbnail sketches of the photos. For this 20 For 20 Art Challenge, I'm making a page of two-value thumbnail sketches for the next 20 days. These small sketches makes it easy to see at glance what an abstract design will look like within the rectangular format. They are fast and easy to do and the process encourages me to look at the entire photo instead of zeroing into the details of the faces or the background too soon.
My plan is to do one page of thumbnail sketches from my family photos every day. I'm going to try different formats and different photos, but I'll keep them simple in black and white. I might try different papers and tools, such as Sharpie pens, drawing pens, Tombow brushes and paint brushes. I'm looking for materials and process that feels good while I'm working.
Other Ways to Start a Painting
Another way I learned to start painting is from Jennifer Mercede: Make a blind contour drawing of my subject on the painting surface and then play with different drawing mediums to add texture, shapes, and lines before I start adding paint to refine the image. Take periodic breaks to add more drawing and play into the surface before going back to paint.
I also heard about a way to start a painting without an initial drawing from Eve Mansdorf. Instead of filling abstract shapes with color, you can apply the paint in blocks of color roughly into the appropriate location on the canvas until you fill the entire canvas surface. Then over a series of passes, slowly refine the shape and color relationships to make hard and soft edges to refine the image.
And of course, one way to start a painting is to paint over an older painting. There is something cathartic and liberating about covering up or scraping back a previous painting. You can also unexpectedly create some really interesting textures and marks that add to the new painting.
When I think of the word initiation, I think about making a choice to begin. In math, the biggest distance is the distance from zero to one. Choosing to go from a state of not making art to making art is the biggest challenge for me. To everyone outside of me, it is only 20 minutes. But to me, I am saying that I matter and my art matters.
As part of #20For20ArtChallenge2022, I am reading from The Power of Daily Practice: How Creative and Performing Artists (and Everyone Else) Can Finally Meet Their Goals by Eric Maisel, PhD. Part I of the book covers 20 Elements of Practice. In this blog post series 20For20, I write about one Element every day and reflect on how to incorporate the Element into my daily painting practice.