This blog article is for any beginner artists, or intermediate artists who are on the brink of committing themselves to a life of hard won abilities at the helm of an easel/Wacom. IF you are thinking about challenging yourself to be better than you were, then you should read this before you embark on your journey. I have noticed a definite increase in my abilities and confidence levels as a result of doing this challenge, I also have a diverse hard drive full of potential portfolio pieces to draw from and a better insight into who I am as an artist and person. If you are thinking about doing something like this, it is definitely worth it.
To see the full challenge paintings: https://www.instagram.com/keeganblazey/
Below are my thoughts, roughly cut and ordered into categories. These are my personal insights on trying to complete a painting a day for a year. Within the context of illustration and concept art with a bit of a fine art twist. This is from the point of view of someone who has completed the challenge, without missing a day while completing commissions for the gaming industry, children’s book illustrations and other illustration projects as a freelancer.
I’m by no means a big name or even that great at art to be honest, but I can say that I’ve put a lot of time into this and I’ve been working professionally for about 2-3 years now. My hopes is that by reading about my folly, you may avoid some of your own folly. All artworks in this blog are from my 365 day challenge and they are unedited, they appear here in exactly the way I completed them during the challenge.
I’ve summarized what I learned below so you can read it quickly if you are in a hurry.
SUMMARIZED VERSION: Encase you die of old age while reading
Getting good at anything is hard. In my opinion it requires discipline and grit to take you through the hard times. It also requires a sense of joy or fun. If you have one of these things, then you can be good at art. If you are lucky, you will discover joy AND discipline through doing this challenge. It will teach you to overcome the fear of starting a painting, of finishing a painting and posting it to the wider world.
To be an artist in this kind of field you have to be fast, effective and a really good story teller. If you want to get better at these things then challenge yourself to do them everyday and to finish a painting everyday. It is immensely daunting to try and do something for a full year. And it certainly separates people who are serious about it from people who are not so committed.
If you want to find out who you are, try to do anything once a day for an entire year, without fail. It doesn’t matter in my opinion how good your attempts are. Of course you should aim to put your best in every time. What matters is that you do it everyday, and post it online. A whole painting a day. Give it a try, you will learn more about yourself than you will about art. Below is what I learned during the past year:
1. Give it Due Diligence, learn how to fail better each time. Don’t give up on yourself, aim to complete the challenge.
2. Don’t chase likes on Instagram, do what inspires you, don’t compare yourself to others.
3. Don’t split your focus. Do the challenge only.
4. Be careful of burn out. taking a break is more efficient, don’t sacrifice health and exercise.
5. Don’t let family and friends dissuade you from your challenge.
6. Combat your Laziness, GET FEEDBACK: Put the same amount of effort everyday or more. Work on your weaknesses. Ask professional artists for feedback.
7. Give yourself a theme to anchor your creativity and create healthy creative restrictions
8. Notice your Resistance and push through anyway. Procrastination creates more stress
9. Let go of perfection, everything is a draft, develop speed instead.
10. Have Fun! The better you get the more fun it is. This is about delayed gratification.
1. DUE DILIGENCE, DISCIPLINE, FAILURE,: Don’t give up on yourself
|Day 136: Show up Everyday and build something|
I have been prostrating at the alter of art everyday for more than a year. But this past year was different. I now have 365 paintings to mark the procession of the sun and I didn’t miss a single day. Not everyday was a good painting. In fact some days were positively horrible. But that’s okay, this was never about masterpieces. In fact I am learning more and more that it wasn’t even about art. My over all feeling is that I have failed miserably to achieve what I wanted to achieve. But I have accomplished something for sure. It’s not important to succeed in my opinion, it’s important to fail more and more spectacularly each time. Incremental failure.
The point of this challenge is to set yourself a goal or intention and then follow through with it. Not just once, but 365 times. It will help you get over the fear of starting a painting, finishing a painting and posting it on social media. Yes you will be embarrassed to post things that are not ‘finished’. That aren’t ‘Up to your usual standard’. The point is that over time, a 1 hour piece of work from you will be better and better. Incremental failure.
As long as you don’t give up, as long as you complete the challenge, you can guarantee you will learn something. If you need to quit the challenge half way through, make sure it is for something more important than art. In that case, don’t give up on yourself. If you fail to try because of laziness or because of lack of attention. Then you are giving up on yourself. And that is hard, it results in a spiralling self confidence which is very hard to come back from. Don’t fail to try and don't give up on yourself. You can do it. The ship is only sunk when the Capitan stops thinking of ways out of trouble, not when the ship is at the bottom of the sea. Sometimes the best thing for a Capitan is to have the ship sunk. So sink your ships! Then dredge them back up and try again.
2. COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS, CHASING LIKES: Do what inspires you, however obscure
I originally started this challenge because I thought it would bring me more clients, more skill and ultimately success. I thought that if I just did this I would be as good as those other artists who did the challenge. Well I’m not, it didn’t bring more clients(at least not directly) and I didn’t get much likes throughout the process. The artists that I compared myself to are simply magnificent and they applied themselves in a way which was (in my opinion) superior to me. They received much more attention and really pushed and polished their artistic practice. Good work speaks for itself and this is undoubtedly why they have such a large following. I gave up trying all the social media tricks and instead started focusing on being a better artist.
When I look at their work, I see that they have a much more conventional theme and a simple approach. Perhaps they got out of their own way, which I have declined to do. My point here is, my reasons for doing the challenge were folly from the beginning. And what I learned at the end was that I am not like everyone else. None of us are. It might take me another six challenges to understand what the other artists understood in a week(technically).
And perhaps they will never draw the lessons I have drawn from this. I have learned through this challenge where my tastes lie. And now that it is in perspective, I know quite clearly which direction and theme to take my work in. If you want to know what you like and what you don’t like, then do 365 paintings and find out. My approach now is to know what I like and follow it. Be good at doing what you like to do. If likes become a bi-product of that, then well done! I'm not going to change my theme and taste so that people will hit the like button. In fact, it is a symptom of not accepting yourself. if you are willing to put on a mask for the masses then the truth will always be obscure to you. I say take the mask off and let others see that shiny turd that is your personality. Polish it diligently and don't be ashamed, we all have a precious turd to polish.
3. SPLITTING YOUR FOCUS: Abandoning other Projects
I tend to scatter myself quite a bit because I have many interests. This is as much a curse as it is a blessing. I learn a lot from multiple fields and I see parallels that can be applied. This challenge was an attempt to focus myself a little and it was very hard to do so because it goes against my nature. I had to give up doing other projects. Towards the end, this was all I was doing, my only ambition besides my part time job and all the commissions that I’m working on. It’s enough to have one sideline project other than your day jobs. Having a few more is asking for trouble.
During the second month of the challenge I embarked on another difficult project(partly but not completely art related) which further split my focus. Eventually I couldn’t cope with all the stress and I ended up sacrificing the other project I was working on and stuck to the art. It was tremendously heart wrenching as it involved moving houses and breaking off working relationships and I still bare the emotional scars today. The art was a personal challenge, a personal promise and I don’t give up on myself. So I held to my word, I held to my promise to myself and I gave up the other thing. It was hard. It felt like sacrificing a child at the alter. It may have been a catastrophic mistake, but hey, collateral damage…. focusing yourself requires sacrificing distractions to the art gods. Don't wait at the gate of potential, commit yourself or forever be divided into oblivion. Having said that, it was a very unique situation and you will need to apply personal judgement with regards to your own life, don't quit other things just because I say so.
4. BURN OUT: Take a break, you’re not a robot.
|Day 141: The painting mocked by my brother(and rightly so). Dead Animal card for my boardgame|
Do not sacrifice exercise, healthy food and at least some leisure time with friends. It is important for your health. Do sacrifice any sideline projects which take your focus away from what you’re doing. If they are art related then use the challenge to complete part of that project.
During the first three months of the challenge while I was splitting myself into many directions, I actually produced some really amazing work. But it wasn’t sustainable. I eventually collapsed and burnt out. I used to have all nighters and push myself right to the edges of awareness, but now I prefer to stop when I am tired and take a break. Do something else, go climbing, go for a walk, chat with friends and have a beer. When you get back to the work the next day you are refreshed and the problems are solved much quicker.
I remember getting really upset when my brother told me that he wasn't going to like one of my paintings because it was below my usual standard. The reason it was below my standard is because I had to travel for two days to visit him and spend time with him, which meant that I couldn't spend too much time on the painting. I was on the verge of a break down mentally and emotionally from trying to fit too much in. After that moment I decided that people and family and relaxation time was more important than having a masterpiece every time and I suddenly stopped caring about the results as much as I did before. I might be wrong here, but it is something I learned about myself. I'm not going to sacrifice family and friends for this. And I'm not going to put myself through the wringer every time I do a terrible painting. Look at the mistakes, learn from them and move on. Don't beat yourself up about it.
The old trope of choosing art above social time, leisure time, health in my opinion is a mistake. I agree that you have to have your priorities straight, and of course you won’t be the best at it if you don’t sacrifice some of these things. But what are we trying to be here? Art Robots? Or creatively dynamic human beings? Let's be honest though, it was a pretty terrible painting.
5. DO NOT LET THEM DISSUADE YOU: Believe in yourself and stick to your decision
|Day 37: Keep going despite what they say|
So many times throughout this year I was burnt out and frustrated and nearly at the brink of collapse but I knew that I would never give up, for some reason I am stubborn that way, once I make up my mind to do something I cannot put it down. It’s borderline obsession and I don’t think it’s healthy.
Anyway the point is that my friends and family all gently(some not so gently) tried to discourage me from doing this challenge. It was mostly in the beginning when I was on day 10, day 50, day 80. They stopped telling me to stop after day 160. People stopped caring or even noticing after day 240. It has become a way of life for me now and sitting here writing this I feel a bit odd because I haven’t planned something for the day. People think it is a fools errand when you start out, but slowly but surely the days tick by and when you are past the half way point they start to believe that you can do it and the cautions turn into encouragements. The trick is to believe you can do it from day one. Don’t bother about the number you are on, or when you are going to finish it. It’s the process that counts.
I don’t know if doing this challenge has been the catalyst to destroy my life or not. I am still unsure of whether it was right to sacrifice those other things. What I can say is that if you want to do anything that is remotely challenging, you will face difficulty. And if you have people who love you, they will try to spare you that suffering and tell you to stop. Don’t listen to them. Suffering is good for you. You are going to have to sacrifice a few things. Don’t let them stop you. Eat bitter, as my Kung Fu Shifu used to say, and probably still does.
6. COMBATING LAZINESS, working on Weaknesses, Turning off Distractions, Getting Feedback:
It is extremely hard to put consistent effort into something on a daily basis, as life goes through it’s peaks and troughs. I am quite lazy by nature and the challenge turned into a task that I had to do before I could relax for the day. When I was tired, hungover or wanting a break, it would inevitably be low hanging fruit that I could get done quickly. On these days I did terrible meaningless work.
The most frustrating times were when I wanted to just get it done. This is the wrong attitude to have for anything in life that you are trying to improve on. In fact I think it’s why I didn’t improve as much as I could have. I simply didn’t push the edges enough because I was just trying to get it done so I could relax. As the 365th day rolled around I suddenly realized how much time I have squandered. It’s like coming to the end of your life and realizing that you spent most of it in front of the T.V or playing meaningless games.
Think of each moment you are practising as precious. Then you will start to see improvement quicker. Don’t get complacent. Don’t make the mistake I made repeatedly. Turn off everything else. Stephen King says in his amazing book on writing, 'Close the door to the world'. Close your studio door, turn off the phone, turn off the internet. Spend the 1 hour or 2 hours a day on mastering your craft. You don't need a challenge to do this, but it certainly helps to get into the habit.
On the other hand don’t measure the results so intensely. Sometimes it’s better to let pieces go even if they are bad. The important part is to practice each day. If I did the challenge again I would spend more time searching out and focusing on my weaknesses. This would guarantee some learning. Doing studies for a year is a great way of improving. I spent some time expressing myself too by doing random doodles which is also fun and cathartic and it trains a different part of artistic practice.
Now I would focus more on values and simplification and perspective. I would also try and get this painting started everyday in the morning before I start my commission work. That way there isn’t a rush at the end of the day to get it done. There is also time then during the day to come back to it with fresh eyes which will avoid a bit of embarrassment after posting. So many times I posted a portrait or something, only to see later that the nose or eye is completely out of proportion or perspective or whatever.
So if you attempt this challenge, do it in the morning! Come back to it for 30 minutes in the evening, then post it with a clear conscience. And don’t be lazy! Put as much effort in at the end as you did in the beginning. Lastly but very importantly, try to become part of a community which gives artistic feedback. Ideally they should be professionals, but anybody will do. It's vital to get an outside perspective during the process of your challenge. I had feedback from time to time, but I would ask for more if I did this again.
I contacted a few of my artistic heroes and I was surprised to actually get a response from a few of them. Artists have all been through this learning curve, some are more willing than others to help you out.
7. GIVE YOURSELF A THEME:
There was a period during the challenge where I was working on a board game. This was good because it gave me a theme and a kind of cohesion to my work. I think a theme is very important because it anchors your creativity to something that can give inspiration and allow you to solve problems within a self inflicted restriction. It also shows that you are capable of keeping to a style and of solving visual problems within a story framework. I've been given this advice over and over and I constantly ignore it because I am frankly an idiot.
If you choose a theme, make sure it is a theme that you love! And MAKE A STORY. This kind of artwork is story driven. For gods sake tell a story. If you’re not going to tell a story then make it clear that you are studying something technical. I think I might do a story challenge next. And a theme challenge. Because these are things that I neglect which are vitally important. I eventually stopped doing the bored game because I was overloaded with clients and I got a few commissions from clients which were more professional than usual, so I needed my full focus on my professional work. Now I think I will pick this up again and try to finish it.
8. PUSHING THROUGH RESISTANCE:
Some days I really didn’t want to do it, I would wake up in the morning with a kind of rebellious attitude underlying everything I was doing. I would procrastinate and desire strongly to do other things. Often on these days, I would push myself through that unwillingness and just start doing the basic things that need to be done to start the painting. Like opening up photoshop, creating a new canvas and then doodling a few lines. Eventually you will get sucked into what you’re doing and the resistance will fall away. Then when you are finished you will find that the things you desired to do so badly(like playing games, going to the beach or whatever) aren’t actually that enjoyable anyway and they were just some figment of desire. On those days, when I pushed passed the rebelliousness. I created my best work. You will begin to recognize these days even before you’ve fully woken up. Sometimes being a little hard on yourself isn't so bad. But don't be a slave driver.
9. LETTING GO OF PERFECTION, Developing Speed:
It is quite terrifying to have a daily deadline hanging over you all the time. My days for the past year have been planned so that I can get my drawing or painting in and posted on Instagram. When I had to travel, I would often do two or three paintings in one day and then post them over the next few days. If I didn’t do this then I would be rushing the work and in a terrible state at the end of a long days travel. OR after suffering with a difficult commission all day, obsessed with some problem I was trying to solve, then having to pull myself away to do a daily painting was often very painful.
There have been times when I have gone through serious emotional pain with the constant feeling of ‘work’ hanging over me. I managed to get through that feeling, as well as the feeling of pressure on myself to always produce ‘good’ art. ‘Good art’ is a myth that should be aspired to but if it is a pressure that holds you back and puts a restriction on each brush stroke, then I feel it is pointless. This daily commitment in some cases has freed me to try new things, to really play with what I want to do. When I have been overloaded with commissions and stress it has been hard to put enough effort into each experiment and in those times I did studies that would help to alleviate the stress of the insurmountable commissions. The challenge became an ancillary to my work.
This daily commitment has broken the ice of starting new pieces and allowed a flow of work with less fear and anxiety of not being able to achieve what my clients are after.
To start a painting and finish a painting everyday is quite freeing. Both horrifying and freeing at the same time. It has downplayed the importance of each painting and rather put a focus on a continuous process. Which I believe is more important as an artist. Nothing is ever finished and in my opinion it’s better to move on and work on something else to enhance the learning process, to speed it up. Quantity over quality. What I can achieve in an hour now is drastically different to what I could achieve in an hour 1 year ago.
Now that the challenge is over, I will take some of the best pieces from last year and finish them off for my portfolio.
10. HAVE FUN!: Above all, Have Fun!
|Day 116: Do not mow the salad.|
Enjoy the process of painting and mastering a skill. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to paint whatever the hell you want. As you get better and better, there will be no restricted areas for you. If you want to paint something, it’s only a matter of getting started. This is delayed gratification, don’t expect results straight away. If you don't know how to paint something, Google is your friend.
11. IN THE LAST THROWS OF THE FINAL PIECE:
|Day 365, Self Portrait To see the full challenge work: https://www.instagram.com/keeganblazey/|
While completing the last piece which was a self portrait, I gained some insight into myself which I feel was invaluable. It took 365 days of persistence to reach a single realization which I knew from the start anyway. But it was revealed to me in a way which really hit it home. I am constantly at war with myself, and now, that war needs to come to an end. There needs to be peace in the valley of my mind. So much needless strife and thrashing. Self acceptance is key to taking risks and putting yourself out there. Be willing to fail, if you accept yourself as you are, flawed and human, it's much easier to sally forth into the unknown and perhaps make yourself better. If you hide away from your own potential and try to cover it up with skill and comfort zones you will remain the despicable self that you believe yourself to be..... forever. The only way is to crash through and blunder into failure after failure without mutineering against your own intentions.
There is something that seeps beneath my consciousness, something that glows and ebbs and wants to come out, art is a way of making it alive, and above all, that’s why I keep painting. If I stop, it will continue to thrash around until both of us are dead.
I highly recommend setting yourself a challenge like this and trying to complete it. You will learn more about yourself than you will about art. In fact it doesn’t have to be art, it could be anything. The point is to challenge yourself and do it everyday without fail. Setting yourself on a heroic journey, giving yourself meaning is something that is lacking in this world. And it supplies the strength to push on through the pervasive suffering of life. I can guarantee that you will be a better person at the end. I can’t guarantee you will be a better artist though. I hope that my folly has been educational for you and I hope you enjoy creating your own folly in the future!
If you want to see more of my work or contact me for commissions/questions or whatever:
Personal Website: www.Keeganblazeyart.com
Follow me on Instagram: @keeganblazey
for commissions/questions: email@example.com