A painting a day: begin (#1, The People’s Republic of Gourd)

I was telling Erik last night how difficult it is to get motivated and build good habits, even when in theory I really want to work on something. It all feels so futile. He pointed out that because I work on so many things, it’s hard for me to see improvement, and maybe that’s why my confidence hasn’t increased alongside my skills. I said that’s true, and realized it’s also true that it’s just hard for me to see my new work, period — especially while traveling, because everything is tucked into sketchbooks or saved on the computer. It’s harder to feel a sense of satisfaction when at the end of the day, everything looks just the same as it did when I started. Erik suggested that as I’m a sharing kind of person, I could do a simple painting-a-day project to share on the blog. I agreed, and decided moreover to do the paintings on a big sheet of paper, so I’ll have something sizable to show at the end.

We had this conversation at dinner* and then I spent the rest of the evening painting one of the gourds I bought in Chatham. I felt replete with well-being. It is a strange phenomenon that difficult tasks are so much more fun to do than easy ones (as long as the difficulty level is still within capability) — but of course, they’re so much harder to make ourselves start in the first place.

Here’s the finished gourd painting, looking a little pinker than it does in real life — the actual background color is so red that I’ve dubbed the picture The People’s Republic of Gourd. (My camera is not at its best with reds and I’m not a good enough photo editor to know how to repair.) It took an hour and fifty minutes.


For size reference, here’s the entire paper, in a photo I took today while working on painting #2.


I’ve made a special category just for these daily paintings, and have added it to the short list of categories on the right. If you use a feed reader (like Feedly), it turns out you can subscribe to category feeds by themselves, so if you’re not a regular reader but would like to keep updated with my daily paintings, just add this feed to your reader.

I always paint to music. While making this picture I listened to quirky music without words (or in languages I don’t speak). Selections from the playlist:

  • Bjarke Mogensen’s lovely album, Winter Sketches. Mogensen is a young (four years younger than I am!) Danish accordionist we heard in Reykjavík last year. If you think accordion has to sound kitschy and cumbersome, give Mogensen a listen (you might try track 9, “Kalina Krasnaya”).
  • Ensemble Polaris’s wide-ranging album, Uncharted Waters. This is another group we discovered on our travels. Try track 18, “Ganglat fran Klockarberg.” I love its weird, old-timey feel — it’s like ancient music from a country in a fantasy novel, but played by a local bluegrass band (or something like that).
  • Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, “Krakow.” A somber, pensive mood inspired by the landscape of Iceland.


*Full disclosure: I’ve been so desperate about my lack of productivity that this dinner conversation began with me asking Erik, “Do you think it’s ethical to bribe myself to work? Like… with books or scarves or other treats?”


23 responses to “A painting a day: begin (#1, The People’s Republic of Gourd)

    • Thanks, Alejna! Me too — I’ve been wanting to paint something big in ages. I went and bought this big sheet (three of them, actually) shortly after we arrived in Boston but haven’t managed to get myself to use it until now. YAY.

  1. Very nice! And I think that making yourself paint something new each day is a very good thing to do. I’ve tried to force myself to write something new on at least a weekly basis. Unfortunately, if I’m not feeling that creative urge, I just can’t motivate myself to do it 😦

    • Thanks, Jason! You know what, I find it a lot easier to just sit down and paint or draw, as opposed to writing, and I think it’s because writing doesn’t feel as tangibly like making something. I feel like I could write twenty pages and it would just be twenty pages, unless it became something like a story, and even then it would just look like words unless it was nicely typeset and bound up prettily. On the other hand, I can draw for a couple of hours and end up with several pages of sketches that I could then (if I wanted to) hang on my wall and stare at for the rest of the week — with satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but still, they’d feel incontrovertibly like I made something. I don’t know why I feel that way with pictures and not words, but there’s a definite difference. So yeah… the daily painting should help, I hope, with making more visual art, but I still don’t know what to do about writing. ;b

      • caramel apple from Sprinkles!! they only have them in October each year (seasonal Halloween theme) but i’ve decided they’re my favorite flavor. so i bought a bunch and froze them (they keep well that way) to enjoy for a little while longer 😉

          • the frosting is caramel-flavored and the cake part has apple bits in it. and possibly cinnamon? or something else that goes with “apple” 😛 whatever it is, it is DELICIOUS. Sprinkles makes my favorite frosting (normally not a frosting person), and the apple bits in the cake are just the best.

            • I happened upon a cupcake shop today and thought of you when I saw a caramel apple one. 🙂 Didn’t buy any though. Wasn’t in a cupcake mood. I stopped at a different bakery and got carrot cake and sour cream coffee cake instead. 😉

  2. I loved the perspective photo because I was instantly taken back to school days and art class and I could smell those paints. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with rewarding ourselves for creativity. Depending. I used to tell myself that if I got all the chores done I’d reward myself with ‘selfish’ writing time. And then would end too tired to write. I’ve had to change the ‘reward’ mentality to ‘I deserve this’, and that is hard to do. It’s interesting that you don’t see improvement because of working on so many things. I wonder if it’s that, or if it’s simply because we never see our art in an ‘uncritical’ way because of being the creator. We always see the flaws. Personally, I’ve seen huge changes in your artwork over the time we have been sharing through your blog. Just some food for thought.

    • Oh thank you so much, Lisa. I know intellectually that I’ve improved, but it’s still hard for me to see it. This daily painting project has helped enormously with that, though, just in the few days I’ve been doing it!

      I do think I need to train myself to think “I deserve this,” because I’ve noticed I have a habit of deferring to Erik’s work because it’s paid (i.e., “we’re both busy, but I’d better make dinner because he’s making the money”). That’s equitable in some sense, but on the other hand, if I ever want to get much done, I can’t keep thinking like that.

      • It’s the old adage of balance in all things, I think. I don’t find the balance very well between what I feel I should do and what I want to do. The wants end up buried under the should’s. A friend once told me to pay attention to how the conversations would go if we eliminated ‘should’. Or as she said, ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’.

        • We get so many “shoulds” from so many directions, it really is good sometimes to just stop listening to that word. 🙂 Even when it’s a useful “should” it still can feel too much like a burden.

  3. Pingback: A painting a day, begin phase 2: #13, Valley of the Gourd | satsumabug.com·

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