This time last year, I was exactly where I am now– on my couch with my computer, sipping a cappuccino. But last year the document was titled “2018 goals” and three pages later, I was still going strong. I can’t quite bring myself to revisit that document though I am certain there are at least a couple successes– running a half marathon, paying off a debt– the kind of things I probably would have done with or without my three pages of bullet points.

The real successes of last year were less concrete, more complicated than a few words I could put a checkmark next to. For starters, I learned how to say no. It’s an art– one I’ll probably spend a lifetime figuring out. In “no” I found immense freedom. When my time became my own, I found I was giving it in more meaningful ways. The old model of juggling every request and constantly running on empty was no longer working. When I first started saying no, I’d shrink as though waiting for the impact of the world crumbling and crashing all around me. I opened my eyes to a perfectly intact planet, undisturbed by my declining this event or that outing. So I did it some more.

So now I find myself at the starting point of something that usually throws me into a panic — another 31 paintings in 31 days to start the new year. Only this time, I’m approaching it with less haste, more patience, a dash of “no.” My studio desperately needs a good de-clutter. So I’ve taken to my desk (in another room altogether) for some watercolors this month. I’m sitting down while I paint. I’m not worried if they are finished or not. I’m experimenting with the utterly unfamiliar.

Unlike previous challenges, I won’t be posting any of the paintings to my site until the very end. I’m giving myself the freedom to keep working on them throughout the month should I feel the need. I’m releasing myself from the pressure of every painting having to be “done” and up for sale in my shop. It’s a gentler approach.

Watercolor feels appropriate for such introspection. My oils seem so deliberate, gaudy even. I’m sure I will be unable to stay away from them for the entire month, but for now I’m content. For today’s painting, I took a cue from my friend Rob who has a running tradition of New Year’s self portrait. I looked in the mirror, though I somehow managed to create a face that is both younger and older than mine. But likeness aside, I’m happy with the face’s intensity– her quieter, gentler, ambition.