I think I figured out the secret to daily painting.

But you’ll have to stick with me for a moment first. Above you’ll see most of my 31 paintings from the January daily painting challenge (I couldn’t find a layout that would fit them all). I was joined by a host of others doing “a thing” for the month of January with me.

My sister completed the whole 30– a 30 day clean eating program. No grains, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol– that’s the gist for 30 days. If you go to the whole 30 site, it spells it out in more detail. My favorite part is where it says this, and I quote:

This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.

True confession: I tried the whole 30 over a year ago and didn’t make it. I had a glass of wine around day 19. It was hard, but I guarantee you I could have skipped that glass of wine. I just didn’t.

But I’ve never skipped a painting. So is a painting a day hard? Sometimes I take on the whole 30 attitude– no, of course not. Life is full of more arduous, soul-crushing feats. Buck up! Other times I think, well of course it’s hard. It’s damn hard!

I finally think I know why I have skipped through 31 in 31 painting challenges (or even a 100 in 100, remember that?) without cheating once, but I couldn’t go 30 days without breaking the whole 30 rules.

It seems obvious, and I don’t know why I’ve not articulated it until now.

In 2014 I did my very first daily painting challenge for the month of April as a way to launch my new career. I remember it well. It felt a little silly. I wrote blog posts for the first two days but had not a single blog subscriber. In other words, I put the art out “there,” and “there” was an uninhabited cave. I was afraid to share the link to those first two days on social media. So I didn’t.

And then I realized that if I wanted to make a living making art, I was going to have to let people see it. I was going to have to come out of that cave. I did. For the next 28 days, I posted and shared links to all my daily paintings. Like it was my job. And if I was going to act like it was my job, I was going to have to, at the very least, show up to it every day even when my heart wasn’t in it.

When people saw the work, it felt more like my actual job. Let’s be clear, my following at the time was miniscule. One fourth of it was probably comprised of my mom and grandmother. But it was a real audience, albeit tiny.

So that’s the secret. Audience. Community. I think we have all these really nice ideas about creative people doing the work “for themselves” and not to please others. Perhaps there is truth in that. There’s also truth in this: paintings are meant to be seen, music to be heard, poems to be read. Art builds meaningful connections. When the only connection is between art and artist, the artist can easily take a day off. A week off. Twenty-five years off. The artist has the art already. It’s in her head. It only exists to others when it leaves such a safe dwelling.

When I did my whole (3/4ths?) 30 I didn’t have an audience. I may have told one person I was doing it. I’m not saying I should have shouted my intentions with it from the rooftops or in the form of “humble brags” via Facebook. But I could have told those around me, particularly the people who eat with me. And I could have enlisted some poor fool friend to do it with me.

January’s 31 days were by far my best challenge. I didn’t sell the most paintings or gain the most followers of all my daily painting challenges, but I had a tribe of people taking on something hard with me. I had an audience and a community that gave meaning to the work.

I don’t pretend to think that if I’d skipped a day here or there anyone would have been alarmed or perhaps even noticed. That’s not what I mean about audience. It’s less about accountability and more about awareness– what you’re doing, in some even miniscule way matters. It draws a line between you and someone else. That is powerful. That is art.

If you did a 31 day challenge last month, I’d love to know your thoughts on the impact of community. And if you want to join the next one, I think you know by now, you’re invited.