September Top 5. What I Learned Painting Every Day

5 WaysWhen I decided to treat artist as a viable and practical (what is more practical than doing the very thing you have the ability and means to do?) career option, I did a painting a day for thirty days. Much like childbirth, I promptly forgot how difficult it was and (foolishly? wisely?) decided to do it again last month. But I can’t ever be satisfied repeating the same (however successful) task– I always seem compelled to up the ante. So for September, I attempted to do a painting every day based on a story someone had sent to me. I asked people to describe a “pivotal moment” and, while I didn’t get thirty stories, I got far more than I probably should have given my “please be vulnerable with me on the internet” pitch.

As though the painting a day weren’t enough, I also participated in two festivals– set up shop and paraded my wares outdoors in the Louisiana heat somehow not yet diluted by September’s quiet promise of fall. I also turned thirty-three in September which officially makes me the same age as Jesus.

On October 1st, I put down my brushes, and, had you asked me then what’d I learned, I probably would have said something like I bite off more than I can chew.

But now, approaching mid October, I feel like I can speak to September more clearly. We needed some distance.

So this list is an attempt to process both my month and my decision to be my own boss, paint my own paintings, and however trepidatiously and hesitantly, enter the marketplace I once thought would ruin the overwhelming “purity” of my work rather than enliven it.

1. I Love the Internet. How else would I have presented my thirty paintings to an audience that, yes, was comprised of many, many people I know personally but also many that I’ve never met. I sold fourteen of my thirty paintings (some to complete strangers) and have four more commitments that I’ve yet to make official. There is absolutely no way I’d have been able to do that without a vehicle to deliver the paintings to an audience that spans an entire country. Not to mention the glory and ease of paypal transactions on-line. I’ve recently started taking a life drawing class once a month– there’s no instruction, just a bunch of artists, a small fee, and a live model. A fellow artist, an older guy, friendly, with a wide variety of old-school tattoos, sits next to my easel and overheard that I was a “professional” artist (one day I’ll remove those quotes). A conversation ensued in which his fundamental claim was that it was nearly impossible to make a living from art today, and that the 18th century, well, that was the time to be an artist! So much easier then. I, of course, disagreed for many reasons, but among the most obvious is the internet. World wide access. He would not be swayed. You simply cannot do it, he said. “You sell on your little website?” he asked. I left that class frustrated. The next day, that very same gentleman emailed me asking if I would show him how to set up his website. Ha! Now what would he have done had it been 1784? I’m sure a patron would have been far easier to procure.

2. I am the Master of my Naps. I paint every day (almost) even when I’m not doing a painting a day challenge. I paint at 1pm when my son takes a nap. In the morning before he wakes and in the evening when he’s gone to bed are lagniappe times, but naptime? It’s a must. When I wasn’t doing the challenge, I’d often be tempted to take some time off. That first moment in the afternoon when the entire house is quiet and my son is peaceful in his bed, the whole earth seems to take a deep breath. And I get tired. I sometimes give in to lying down myself for a few minutes. For the entire month of September, I was never tempted to slumber. I was probably more tired, more desirous of that beloved nap, but the stakes were such that it wasn’t an option. So I didn’t take it. I’m trying to figure out a way to orchestrate my projects such that I have that same impetus, but so far October has found me sleeping in my bed during the middle of the day at least twice.

3. Art Festivals are about Marketing not Sales.  Years ago I believed that all I had to do was make the art and a magic art fairy would take care of the selling part. Then I thought I had to put it outside where people could see it and a different fairy would fill my pockets with cash and checks. I did an outdoor market in 2008. Afterwards, I wrote a poem I entitled “Ugly Stripper.” It wasn’t my greatest literary achievement, but it did, however unpoetically, describe how I felt– on display, vulnerable, partly ashamed, and, of course, not at all beautiful. I started to feel that way again at both the Teche Fest and Alligator Fest this September, but what made these markets different was that, this time, I had a plan. I had a mailing list which I encouraged people to join. I made conversation. I handed out business cards and, with a little prompting, I painted on site. I made a few sales, but these markets were valuable not because of the sales I made at them but because of the sales I’m making (even now) after them. I’ve been in contact with several people I met at those events and have already shipped a couple paintings. There are more in the works.

4. Do It Anyway. That thing that keeps you up at night because you just can’t stop thinking about it. The thing that’s exciting. That thing. It’s probably a good idea. When I first decided to base each September painting on a story, I was overjoyed by the thought of it. When I pictured my thirty days, I saw a very happy, lively, possibly dancing version of myself skipping across a calendar page marked September. Think Sound of Music. But then I almost didn’t do it because of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. I soon began to think of it as not only a bad idea but a foolish one– instead of the pious and singing Maria, I was a woman of ridicule, a laughable character. But I did it anyway and the result has been a wider audience for my work, a stronger fanbase, and, most importantly, a renewed sense of purpose. Also joy. Joy creeps in there too. I’ve had other ideas that were less successful, less joyful, but even when they didn’t end up yielding the fruit I so creatively envisioned, they lead me somewhere else that, quite often, did.

sept 30 in 30 collage
Collage of all 30 paintings from the September Challenge

5. The More You Paint, the Better you Paint.  Duh. Go paint. Or write. Or play piano. I loved being an art major in college. I had wonderfully talented and helpful professors. But I’ve learned more painting every day than I did studying art for four years. I’ve learned more in six months than I have in the previous six years. I haven’t even painted all day everyday. Some days it was for just one hour, other days up to three. I have a part-time job and a full time child. It wasn’t about hours but consistency. I still make terrible paintings but they are ever so slightly less terrible than the terrible ones I used to make.  And I never thought I’d be so excited about terrible, but I can’t wait to see what the terrible ones will look like a year from now, a decade from now.

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

October 14, 2014

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