Back in March I completed my first personal painting project (My Winter Distraction) where I committed to 3 drawings or paintings per week centered around a weekly theme. In July wanted to try a daily challenge, so I committed to one painting every day. More recently I’ve been doing a black and white drawing in my sketchbook every day, which is now so ingrained in my daily routine that I can't imagine stopping. I've really enjoyed these projects for a variety of reasons. They weren't always easy, that’s for sure, but I proved to myself that I could do it and I ended up making work that I wouldn't have made otherwise.
Most importantly, I’ve found that these projects are the best way for me to commit to trying new things. Through consistent routine and habit, they push me and force me to work, even when I may not want to. Even when it was hard, even when I wasn’t particularly pleased with the outcome, I was still happy I did it, and it always made my day better.
I also continue to be inspired by other people’s daily projects (I talked about that a bit here when I was still thinking about how to do one myself), and now I think the time is right for me to start another one. So without further ado, here are the details of my next daily project: The 6x6 Project.
Size: All paintings will be 6 x 6 inches — I like adding in the constraint of a consistent size. And as a bonus, it's small, so I won't be overwhelmed each day by a big, empty canvas or sheet of paper.
Medium: I will be using watercolor or acrylics — I’ve been taking Mati Rose’s Daring Adventures in Paint class and I am completely inspired. Watercolor is still my primary medium, but I want to continue to explore with acrylics and push myself and my style. Speaking of which…
Style: These 6x6 paintings will largely be abstract or pattern-based. My primary illustration style is very controlled and detailed, so I want to use this as an opportunity to loosen up a bit, and do more abstract, painterly work. I've found that I need this balance. Undoubtedly I'll still incorporate some more structured work and lines, but I want to also soften the edges from time to time.
Where: I'll be posting daily over on Instagram and you can follow along there (I'll be using the #sixbysixproject hashtag) but I'll be posting some here as well.
When: I'm starting today, but I'm not putting an end date on this one, which may or may not come back to bite me.. In July I was able to look ahead to the finish line and sometimes that helped me push through... Hopefully the daily momentum will be enough to carry me along this time.
Earlier this week I was a bit out of sorts. My to-do list was long, I was thinking/worried about a few important people in my life, I wanted more time to just paint, etc., etc. So I went to bed on Tuesday night determined to wake up early and get some quick sketchbook painting in. Before checking emails, before checking my blog feed, before anything. I decided to paint in my sketchbook so nothing would feel overly precious or precise. So I would just paint.
I painted quickly. I didn't think too hard. I just got something on the page.
And everything totally shifted.
It's really amazing what a quick bit of painting (or insert any creative endeavor) can do when you are doing it just for its own sake - for the process, not the outcome.
It's likely not a coincidence that end result -- the flower painting above -- turned out to be one of my favorite recent paintings.
But most importantly, it was exactly what I needed. Perhaps I need to start off more days this way. :)
Last weekend brought some typical, late August weather. Humidity, thunderstorms, heat. Perfect conditions to not feel guilty about spending time in my studio during one of the last weekends of the summer. I decided to finally finish one of the paintings I started back in July during my painting a day project. This canoe illustration was still sitting on one of my Arches watercolor blocks and I needed to finish the third and final canoe before I could tear off the sheet and scan the painting.
The photographs above are of the original painting when it was still on the block. I don't have much natural light in my studio, so I went up to the third floor of the building to borrow the nice, big windows. The pictures below are of the open-edition, archival print, which is now available in my shop (you can find the print here). I'm happy to have this one done, but I might be even more happy to have my watercolor block back!
I love pencils. Not mechanical pencils -- for some reason they are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me -- but good old-fashioned, yellow, No. 2 pencils. And I have them everywhere: on the coffee table, scattered around my desk, hiding at the bottom of every bag, in my car... They are classic.
These pencils also remind me of the anticipation and preparation that went into starting a new school year. School clothes shopping, book bags, new supplies, volleyball practice. And a fresh start. I still miss that feeling and it has me thinking that maybe I should sign up for a class this fall. If I do, you can bet my No. 2 pencils will definitely go with me.
It would be a good excuse to get some new school clothes too...
I painted this coffee pot illustration way back in the beginning of July and it ended up being one of my favorite paintings from the month. I just added an 8 x 10 inch print to my Etsy shop, and you can find it here.
And on that note, it's time to go get some more coffee. Have a great day!
Sometimes people ask me if I own all the items in my illustrations. While some of them are based on items from my vintage collections or items that belonged to my grandma, I mostly paint from reference photographs that I’ve taken with my iPhone at flea markets, antique shops, and homes of friends and family. Right now I can scroll through my photos and find several things that recently caught my eye: table linens, coffee cups, typewriters, kitchen utensils, a tiled wall. Last weekend I was at a small town festival and there were a few vintage sellers mingled among the mini-donut stands and cheese curd trucks. Even though I wasn’t shopping for anything, I still looked through the tables and quickly snapped pictures of an old record player, sewing machines, casserole dishes, kids toys, tools, old dishes, and more. While not all of them will make their way into an illustration, I’m guessing at least a few of them will directly or indirectly inspire something.
While flea markets are obvious sources of inspiration, sometimes I also stumble upon something in an unlikely place. For example, I spotted the egg beater above in a restaurant in Utah, just outside of Zion National Park. We randomly stopped at the charming restaurant after a long day of hiking and photographing the giant rock formations in the park. The long road trip had been full of sweeping vistas, mountain views, and glorious national parks, yet many of my favorite photographs from that trip were taken of the details in this tiny restaurant.
I'll admit that there is nothing special or extraordinary about an egg beater -- and I didn't take any artistic liberties when I painted it because I loved the colors and the worn paint on the handle just as they were -- but this is still one of my favorite illustrations. I like the lines and the color and how it reminds me of a similar one that sits in my mom’s kitchen. But mostly I like it because it triggers memories of that road trip and that cozy restaurant, and it reminds me to always be looking. You never know what you might find.
I’m a sports nut. I don’t talk about that aspect of my life much here, but sports were pretty all-consuming for me while growing up and throughout college. Some of my earliest memories are of watching baseball and football games on television with my dad and older brother. Then in middle school I decided I wanted to play volleyball at a Division I school and I proceeded to live and breathe volleyball until I achieved that goal through a lot of hard work and a bit of good fortune (some of which did not feel lucky or good at the time, including a torn ACL and long hours in hot, humid, unconditioned gyms). But I loved playing volleyball, and even though it wasn’t always fun or easy, now, years later, I still miss it. I play golf or tennis occasionally, I do yoga and stay active, but most of the effort and resources I put into sports now goes towards other things. However, I still pull from my athletic experiences and I often find myself looking to the sports world for motivation and inspiration.
The other night I was going back through my blog feed and pulled up an article about Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. While football isn’t a sport I have any overwhelming interest in, I was immediately intrigued by Carroll’s leadership philosophy: try hard, do your best, preparation, practice. Those are things that I try to incorporate into my life every day. But the thing that stood out to me the most was his optimism, particularly because that’s an area where I admittedly do not always excel. Carroll said that his mom told him to always believe that something good is about to happen, and that anecdote immediately went into my notebook. Because why not? Why not believe that something good is about to happen? Sometimes I try to temper my expectations thinking that it will somehow save me from disappointment. But I think Carroll’s outlook is clearly better, and I decided to try harder to embrace this philosophy in my own life.
Then yesterday morning, in one of my favorite recent coincidences, I woke up to find an email in my inbox from Janine Vangool at UPPERCASE magazine. She emailed to say that she was including my photograph and short watercolor essay in her weekly newsletter. Needless to say, I was honored and thrilled.
Here is the short essay:
"Sometimes I wonder how I managed to fall in love with watercolours because they often feel untameable. Unmanageable. I have always been fairly risk-averse, yet it is a risk every time I drop a brush full of colour down into water. Each wash of colour can bring failure or success or a million variations in between. As the colours slowly – or far too quickly – creep and spread across the paper, I learn again and again, painting by painting, that I can't control everything. Overworking and meddling will bring nothing but dull, muddled washes and disappointment. But the combination of water, paper, and clear, bright colour can also lead to unexpected and, if I’m lucky, magical things. Yes, failure is possible. Risk is inherent. But I am learning that it is all worth it. Painting with watercolour brings no guarantees, but as Samuel Beckett famously wrote: No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
And so, I continue to try again."
So... I went to bed on Monday night believing that something good was about to happen, and then... something did. Coincidence? Ok, sure. But embracing a bit of optimism certainly isn't going to hurt anything. And as I stated in the essay, if not, I'll just try again.
Most of my paintings and illustrations are of vintage items. There are antique kitchen utensils, vintage cameras, fishing poles, old cars, skeleton keys, and sewing items. While it might seem as though this was part of a plan, it was simply because I painted what I liked, and more often than not, the thing that I liked was old. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I consider what is currently inspiring me and as I look ahead to what I want to be painting next. Over the past few months I’ve painted a lot of flowers, my sketchbook is full of abstract paintings, and I plan to explore some new subject matter going forward. But I also continue to be pulled back to vintage objects. I am drawn to their classic design, uniqueness, color, and shape, but most importantly, I am drawn to the embedded history and memories within these old and well-used items. Put simply, I am drawn to their stories.
Vintage decorating is currently a very large and prominent trend in home decor, but I think that decorating and living with vintage items is actually deeper and more permanent than merely being a trend. Decorating with antiques is nothing new, and at least part of its current resurgence could be a reaction against the all trends and fads and constantly changing cycles within the fashion and home decor industries. I think many of us like vintage things because they offer a timeless connection to the things that matter most: our families, our past, and where we came from. Vintage items can be reminders of family recipes and traditions, and they can offer a collective sense of history and story. Not every memory is pleasant and the past isn’t better or more worthy than the present, but in a world where nothing stays the same, vintage items can remind us of things and people we don’t want to forget. Family recipes, holiday traditions, childhood memories, grandparents, and loved ones no longer with us.
I look around my own home and I see a mixture of both old and new: antique store and flea market finds, IKEA furniture, handmade items, things that belonged to my grandma, and a small but growing collection of original art. Within these objects, I don’t just see chairs and artwork and and books and pillows. I see my own history, travels, likes, and memories. I see my story. Nothing is permanent, but as things continue to change around us faster and faster, these tangible objects connect me to my family, my past, and this place — the midwest — where my ancestors chose to settle and where I still live.
I see my story as I look around my home, but I also see my story — and my mom’s story and my grandma’s story and her grandmother’s story — in my illustrations. I choose to paint these things for a reason, and going forward I hope to share some of the stories behind my illustrations, including memories, family stories, or personal notes regarding the inspiration behind the illustration. And if you have a story to share along the way, I'd love to hear it.