• Painting

    Sam Learns to Paint: Introduction

    Watercolor swingset

    Painting is something I’ve always wanted to be better at, but it’s also something with a relatively steep learning curve, especially because in order to paint… one must draw. And drawing is something I’ve always been challenged by. In 2018, I decided it was time to learn to draw, and the only way to learn was through repetitive practice. I chose “draw and play” as my challenge for The 100 Day Project, and recorded my progress on Instagram with the hashtag #100daysofdrawandplay.

    Throughout the project, I was amazed at how hard it was to just start. I was entirely convinced that I couldn’t draw, and possibly would never be able to draw. But every day for 80-something days (yes… I fell off the wagon before I made it to day 100…), I sat down and tried. It was so hard. My brain was constantly nagging me, saying, “you’re not any good at this,” and every few seconds as I drew I’d have to think back, “shut up brain, this is something new, I’m learning and trying.”

    There were a lot of drawings that I just hated. I could see in my head what I wanted the drawing to look like, but it just didn’t make it to the paper. It was – and is – so frustrating.

    But – and this principle is the heart of The 100 Day Project – it’s very hard, maybe impossible, to do something for 100 days in a row without improving. I prefer the German phrase that aligns to “practice makes perfect”: Übung macht den Meister. Literally, practice makes the master. Let’s ignore perfection and focus on the fact that practice begets improvement, and continued practice is the only true path to mastery.

    My 85 paintings taught me many things, especially just how much there was to learn. I learned new ways to squint my eyes, new ways to hold my brushes. The amount of water my paper could handle; the amount of water each brush could hold. I learned that painting realistically is all about finding the light and the shadows and forgetting, entirely, what an object is shaped like and merely focusing on how the light is touching the object at that moment.

    Here is another assortment of paintings. If the first grid was the highlights… this grid must be the “lowlights”. I made these during the same 3-month period, all part of the same project. So there was credence to my brain’s arguments: some of my drawings were terrible! Some days I didn’t have the patience to really dive into a painting; some days I tried to paint something that was beyond my skill level; some days I thought I was on the right track, only to finish a painting and think, “ugh.” I like to think that even on these days where I made “art” that I cringe to look at, I was still learning something. And above all else, I was building the habit of trying.

    85 days of concerted effort were enough to convince my brain that maybe I can draw. Most importantly, the project convinced me that the time spent drawing wasn’t a waste, because the practice led to real improvement.

    I’m sharing all this now because I want to keep trying. I still want to get better at drawing and painting, and it’s still really hard to take the time to practice and to find the strength to push through the creative walls in my brain that say, “this painting is terrible, stop painting and scroll Instagram instead” (and then, while scrolling, say “look how much better everyone else can paint”). Writing this is a reminder to myself that learning new things is hard, scary, and worth it. So I’m going to keep painting. Because what do I have to lose?

  • Painting

    A Christmas Painting for the Newlyweds

    watercolor wedding painting - a Christmas gift for newlyweds

    My little brother (okay, little by just 18 months) got married in June and it was just so great. I finally have a sister (in law) and it was so exciting to be a part of their special day and the months leading up to it. I wanted to do something special for them for Christmas, and decided to test my painting skills.

    They did a sparkler sendoff and the photographer captured this completely magical photo of them kissing at the end of the night, surrounded by light and love. It was already such an artsy, interesting photo, that I thought it would be fantastic rendered in watercolor.

    Of course, the hardest part about painting (for me) is setting up the drawing… so I cheated. I downloaded the photo, posterized it in Photoshop, then laid it against the window and traced the major outlines. Then I flipped it over and rubbed the image to transfer my pencil lines to the paper.

    This was far more technical and less creative than drawing the image by eye… but it also meant they were still shaped like real people. So I am really glad I did it this way.

    watercolor wedding painting - a Christmas gift for newlyweds

    Then I got to fill in with watercolor, starting with major shadows. The blending and the shading on such a dynamic image was really fun.

    The thing I was most worried about was mixing a realistic skin tone. That, and shadowing/defining the hands… I feel like those are two things that can so easily turn out completely wrong. But I think I managed okay, and didn’t accidentally turn them too orange or too pink, or peach colored crayola crayon like back in kindergarten. Basically, I was scared they’d end up looking scary, and that didn’t happen!

    wedding watercolor painting - sparkler sendoff

    I stylized the sparklers and removed the bystanders in the name of art. I tried to make it feel magical, like shooting stars wishing them well on their new life together.

    Finally, a black frame and a clean white mat elevated it and added that extra bit of contrast.

    It was such a fun project and a joy to give.