Leslie McCrea, artist
"The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are." ~unknown
It’s September. The summer is nearly over, but for most this marks the beginning of a new season, so I want to talk about a New Year’s resolution. Yes, you read that right. It’s a the one I made last January to paint daily. That commitment has been a life saver this year. When all the routines we had planned for 2020 were scrapped and sanitized right out of our lives as the pandemic hit, I had to find a new way to keep going, and that one little habit turned into the one accomplishment of otherwise extraordinarily dull days.
Daily painting has also been the door to a world inside me that I didn’t know was there. Just making showing up you can discover your preferences in so many things, from materials to movements. I now know which tools I like, which marks I prefer, what music I want to paint to, and which color suits my mood that day. And I found joy in the process. I’m not focused results, just the moment.
So here are some tips I've picked up for making daily painting a part of your life:
Prepare your space
I’m much more likely to start painting if I don’t have to clean before I begin. So to be sure I’m ready, each night I lay out a piece I want to work on, a clean sheet or board, or just my “play board. “ (A play board is a panel I use to wipe off my palette or brushes, or to try new marks.) I’ll lay out a brush I want use, or a new tool to try, or even the new tube of paint I just bought. It isn’t much, but it will call to me when I see it the next day.
Make a mark
Using any tool you choose, show up to the painting surface of your choice and make a mark. If it is a blank page, any mark will get you started. If you're a watercolorist, lay down a loose wash in a color that pleases you. If you have a piece you’ve been working on, just make the next mark, whatever mark the piece is telling you it needs next. Many days that next mark turned into half an hour of painting.
Leave something to fix
I remember hearing from some painter, I can’t recall whom, that leaving something that has to be fixed will always give you a place to start the next day. I thought that was an interesting idea, so I’m including it here for you. Since it isn’t always obvious what needs to be fixed, you might make a note in your art journal as a reminder.
Install a habit tracker
I’m a sucker for badges. I love that I get badges on Audible for the number of hours I listen to a book. I get “Way to go!” messages on my watch when I reach my step count. Those little encouragements and rewards speak to me. So to help with my daily painting, I installed a habit tracking app on my phone and set a goal. When I reach it, I get a nice message and stats on how well I did. When I show up to paint, I get to check it off. If I meet my goal for the week, I get my badge. I’m so easy to please.
Be gentle with yourself
Before I get too proud of myself, it is important to confess that I didn’t paint daily. I deliberately took off weekends, and there were other days that I didn’t overcome my resistance. As Steven Pressfield has warned us in his book,The War of Art, Resistance is always there and always pushing against us. Some days the house was too crowded with people and animals, some days I was busy sanitizing or too tired, some days I just didn’t feel like it and felt I deserved the day off. Oh yes, I’m great at justifying my resistance! But, I did find my way back and have persisted, however imperfectly. It doesn’t take much time. A five minute minimum can easily turn into an hour or two once you start.
Daily painting isn’t magic. You won’t instantly create fantastic masterpieces. It is merely, but importantly, a step closer to that 10000 hour investment that is necessary to master our art. It may not make me a Rembrandt, but it will bring me one moment of joy that holds off the chaos. That’s a good thing.