Written by Visiting Lecturer Lisa Daria Kennedy
I’ve been making one small painting every single day for the last 1900 days.
After five years, I’ve no intention of stopping. Having cancer as a young adult, I discovered living is not just surviving. At age 29, I was a lead artist in the giftware industry when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After six rounds of chemotherapy, one month of radiation, and now, years of monitoring to make sure I’m still cancer free, my perspective has changed. Young and faced with an existential crisis, I questioned, who am I? What does it all mean? Psychologically, existentially, transcendentally – what can a life amount to? I was acutely aware of all the time I’d wasted and the things I put off – like painting. But, like a lot of artists, I had trouble working up momentum. After all I had been through, the idea of starting an artistic project and failing was terrifying. I had a moment of clarity and pared the creative process down to this one idea – show up for the job. I treat creativity like a disembodied spirit and that I simply must be present daily to receive it.1 I started showing up for my new job in 2009 and without excuse I wake up every day at five and I paint.
During recovery from my illness, I happened upon artists whose work reflected a daily ritual as their central theme. One such artist, John Evans, creates one small collage a day from pieces of trash he finds on his walk to work. After 35 years, his cumulative day-to-day process results in a link to cultural, temporal and natural time. The product of this ritualistic behavior not only results in a personal chronicling of days, but also in a complex web of connectedness to the human condition – giving context to his individual existence compared to the vastness of the overall human experience.
The choice to use painting as my medium was influenced by a surge of online activity known as Daily Painting. For the first time, a connection and community was present through blogging, a convenience not available even just ten years ago. What was most memorable about these blogs was tracking another artist’s progression and ultimately improvement. By going back a year or two in their entries, I could see their individual style and personal voice unfold, day-by-day. Continuous painting is by far the most effective way to improve creativity and image making skills.
The benefit of creating one small painting a day stems from the act of routine as practice. Painting every day is not a new idea. I quickly found a lineage of painters I had already admired, like Charles Hawthorne and Edwin Dickinson who created ‘premier coup’ or ‘at first crack’ paintings – small observational works created in one sitting.2
Daily Paintings, Three Views, One Subject, Acrylic, 18″ x 6″
When I paint my pieces, I too, work primarily from direct observation. My technique is to make a mark and leave it – no fussing. I restrict myself to a limited color palette, six primaries consisting of three cools, three warms, plus pink and white. I use only two brushes and paint on the same type of surface each day – unprimed, masonite. Each painting takes between one to three hours to complete. At the end of the day, I scan the painting, number and title it. Each title reflects something that happened during the day, like a journal entry. Finally, I post the piece to a blog and disperse it through social media to over 2000 followers, worldwide. For those who follow my blog, the paintings chronicle events in my life yet the subject matter itself staves off the worry.
Daily Painting Grid, 96 Consecutive Days, Acrylic, 72″ x 48″
I find that routines are simultaneously freeing and grounding. Through daily practice comes inspiration, growth and confidence because this type of project is about process and not the finished product.
In short, my philosophy is that you cannot have the good without the bad. This daily practice allows a natural progression of skill and self analysis while removing the anxiety of a final piece. The cumulative process is the end product. If painting number eleven doesn’t work out as expected, there is always number twelve (or number 1901).
For myself and other artists, the act of creating in a meditative daily (or almost daily) gesture reflects an intense focus and patience and lends itself to heightened perception. Each artist described here adheres to a predetermined practice and ritualistic strategy…
Julian Merrow-Smith – Postcard from Provence – A painted daily diary of artist’s Merrow-Smith’s life in France
Carol Marine – Painting a Day (or almost) – Since 2006 Marine regularly produces one small oil painting
Karin Jurick – A Painting Today – Working from photographs, Jurick produces small oil paintings. Jurick’s palette consists of about 26 oil colors and she uses a pizza pan for her palette. Also check out Jurick’s mugshot series – Bust-ed
Other Daily Projects
Walking 9-5 Amsterdam, Artist Danica Phelps draws her daily meetings, financial transactions and other points of interests accumulated during a 13 day walking tour of Amsterdam.
Wordless News – Illustrator Maria Fabrizio responds to a news headline by creating one editorial illustration – every day.
Daily Drop Cap – Designer and Illustrator, Jessica Hische regularly posts an original initial cap.
Eat 22 – Artist Ellie Harrison recorded everything she ate for one year and one day – the project includes over 1600 photos.
What Will Become of Me – Artist Adrian Piper collects her hair, skin and nails in honey jars. This project began in 1985 and is on-going until the artist’s death.
1 Elizabeth Gilbert, “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” Ted.com video, 19:09, February, 2009, http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.
2 Grace Glueck, “Haunting Moods of Edwin Dickinson,” The New York Times, Noevember 11, 1983, accessed August 1, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/11/arts/art-haunting-moods-of-edwin-dickinson.html.