I started Artists who Art about a month ago mostly because many of my former art students seemed interested in continuing to make art but weren’t quite sure how to start since they are now adults and no longer have to answer to any teachers or professors.

Each Monday I give an assignment. One I fully intend to complete myself. Which means it’s Sunday afternoon, and I just finished mine. I’ve got a host of excuses about why it took me so long– the frontrunner is that I already paint every single day, and that the assignments are designed for those who don’t. It’s a pretty good excuse except that the assignments are exercises meant to stretch you, make you grown no matter what stage you are in your art. 

The assignment this week was to draw or paint a simple object and count how many strokes you used. Then, you were to do it again, attempting to use half as many strokes. See full assignment details here. My thought was this: economizing the strokes would help the artist focus on what was really important in the painting or drawing and simplify the rest.

On Artists who Art, I encourage participants to break the rules and customize the assignment to their needs. The point is to make art and the assignments should be taken lightly in their content and seriously in their call to action: Do them however you want, just do them.

My intention was to follow my own assignment EXACTLY, but I didn’t. Instead of painting an object, I painted, you guessed it, a pelican.

The first attempt was on an old canvas that already had a lot of texture. It was tough painting over something already so bumpy. I tried, I really tried to count my strokes but stopped somewhere around 250. I kept getting distracted.

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Round one. 10×10, oil on canvas. I used the palette knife over an already textured painting. Interesting process.

If this were a science experiment I would have gotten an F. I changed a lot of variables for my second go at it. I used a much bigger canvas (16×20) and it was brand new– nice and clean and smooth. I told myself I could have 100 strokes for the pelican but that I wouldn’t count any of my background strokes– those were lagniappe.

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Round two. 16×20, oil on canvas.

What’s interesting is that I think the first one actually looks like fewer strokes than the second, and I think I know why. I think the first round “practice” made the second round much easier. I knew where things were going. When I was counting in the first one, I realized how many wasted strokes I had– ones that were me just moving my hand while I thought of what I wanted to do next– marks I eventually covered up with more intentional marks. By the second time around, almost all my strokes were intentional.

Perhaps this is why artists do studies and sketches before big projects. Hmmm. Now there’s a thought. I’d like to say I’ll start doing that, and maybe I will. But I know me and good intentions.

I’m going to let these two paintings be for a night and revisit them tomorrow; see what they need. But so far, even though I butchered the requirements of the assignment, I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve learned.

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