A Watercolor Car Portrait for David
In 2018, I decided to teach myself to draw and paint. I practiced drawing every day as part of the 100 day project and shared the posts on Instagram as #100daysofdrawandplay. One of my proudest paintings came toward the end of the project (of course), when I felt that I was ready to tackle something big: a portrait of my first car (whose name was Car).
I framed my car painting, and it’s currently on the wall of our entryway, next to where we keep our keys. I love having it there. It’s in a simple, square white frame, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to expand the collection. I had the idea to paint David’s car for him ages ago, but it wasn’t until his birthday month arrived that I decided to finally go for it.
Meet Scoot. Formally known as a Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Scoot is David’s Miami-mobile. When we finalized our plans to move to the land of palm trees and sunshine, David decided that his Florida lifestyle couldn’t be confined by things like “roofs”. A few years without winter mean this is the ideal time to own a convertible, and David loves this car. He drives with the roof down every trip, settling for coverage only during hurricane downpours or traffic jams in summer sun. So I knew he’d love an homage to Scoot.
When I made my first car portrait, I learned that painting a car is challenging in many ways. The body lines, shadows, highlights, reflections – cars are such an inorganic object and so purposefully designed that tiny flaws in the drawing or painting are extremely noticeable. The slightest difference in angle can make the car look wonky, and something just looks “off”. My 2018 drawing of Car took HOURS, but that was all part of the exercise – I was training my brain to draw and, more importantly, to see. I’m really proud of that drawing because I remember how challenging it was. But this time, I was just making a painting, not giving my brain a workout.
So I cheated. I printed a photo of the car, and transferred the outlines of the image by covering the back of the printout with graphite, then tracing the car on the front side. This saved me a lot of time and a lot of error, but honestly? It wasn’t cheating at all. There was still so much “artistic work” involved to make this painting, especially fine tuning all the various shadows and subtle color shifts, and I know that tracing made me no less of an artist. I started this habit with the wedding watercolor for my brother and sister-in-law, and it’s a trick I expect I’ll continue to use.
The painting took many focused hours, stretched over about a week. It’s hard to hide a watercolor because you don’t want to disturb it while it’s wet! But I managed to keep the secret safe.
I put the painting in a white, square frame to match my original painting of Car, and gave it to David for his birthday. It was actually David’s idea to add the black mat and it is the perfect artistic touch.
I was not the only one who thought to give David a car-related present… it was fun that both his parents and his (new!) in-laws gifted him car themed items as well!
I added a matching mat to my existing portrait, and now they make a lovely pair that will soon be hanging together in the entryway. It’s also fun for me to see how my skills have developed. I still love my first car painting, but it’s clear that I’ve become a better painter and artist in the three years since then. It’s hard to remember, but so much of this skill is just about practice.
Sam Learns to Paint: Introduction
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?
A Christmas Painting for the 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.
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!
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.