7 lessons from painting consistently for 7 days in a row
Somewhere in the second half of every year I start to lose motivation for creating. The New Year New Me feeling has worn off, the monotony of the year has set in, and life starts getting busier the closer to Christmas we get.
A couple months ago I decided I would run an ‘online sprint’ for members of Paint Wild in that Glorious Week that exists between Christmas and New Year’s, to challenge them to squeeze in as many paintings as they could in the space of a week. I wanted them to get a burst of motivation before the New Year, and give them a chance to catch up on the topics they’ve wanted to do this year but haven’t had a chance to.
I also wanted them to experience what consistent painting in a short space of time could do for you. As beginners, if you get into a pattern of start stop, start stop… it can be really hard to reach a level where you can take a break from creating and pick up exactly where you left off. Often they’ll find themselves back at square one, confused about their lack of progress. But once you pass that (annoyingly invisible) threshold, you can safely take breaks and not lose your skills. You just gotta get there first!
Creating consistently can be a challenge for all of us, even for those of us like me who left their full-time careers to pursue art. The days get busy with so many other work tasks and life events, and if we don’t prioritise it, it can easily slip down the list with all the other ‘things I do for fun/me’.
I ran the online sprint week to benefit my students, and didn’t really think I’d get much out of it myself… but I was pleasantly surprised!
Here are 7 lessons I learnt from painting consistently for 7 days in a row:
1. Force yourself to start
Can I be honest with you? Sometimes the idea of painting feels like the hardest thing in the world. When I’m in the middle of painting, I always enjoy it, but getting myself to the desk some days feels like an impossible task. I think it comes from fear at times. Can I do this? What if it sucks? What if I have to start over? But I committed myself to showing up on livestream every day for my students during the online sprint, so I had no choice. I had to get to the desk and do it. And as horrible as ‘forcing yourself’ to do anything sounds… I really needed that push, and it wasn’t painful at all. If anything, forcing myself to paint more meant I was forcing myself to have FUN more… cos I genuinely do enjoy painting! Once I start, that is.
2. Consistency is key
I’ve known for a long time that consistency is the key to learning something fast and skyrocketing your skills in the beginning, but I guess it lost its importance for me over time as a more experienced artist. I still paint every week, and I do still learn new things, but not at the same rate as a newbie. Instead, what I ended up with as a result of the consistency - was confidence! Forcing myself to paint every day and not letting the fear of ‘painting something crap’ take over, made me just push through and get it done. There was no room for my fears and emotions, I had a task to complete. The more I showed up to complete the task at hand, the more excited I was to show up the next day.
3. Simpler challenges are more effective
I think something a lot of us get caught up with is creating really extreme and elaborate challenges for ourselves. We’ll commit to X amount of paintings per year, or 30 day art challenges with the hopes it’ll completely change our lives (how could it not after a month! Takes 3 weeks to build a habit right?!) - but it is super hard to keep it up that long! Motivation is fleeting and unreliable. A week was just perfect. You can very clearly see the finish line, so even if you anticipate struggling through it… it’s just one week. By day 4 you’re already past the halfway mark, and your motivation will spike again knowing you’re ‘almost there’.
4. Discipline > motivation
Although you’ll get a lil spike of motivation about halfway through the week, that’s not what will fuel you. Again, I’m going to be really honest with you. I thought this week would absolutely drain me. I thought all of the painting combined with having to show up and present, and talking for hours and hours would have me exhausted by the end of the week. I absolutely did not expect that I would paint MORE than what I committed to, but that’s what happened!
About halfway through the week (after tackling the hardest of the paintings I set myself), all I wanted to do was paint other things. It showed me that forcing myself to start was creating a routine and discipline, which is far more reliable than motivation. It allowed me to spend more time in the fun zone (when I’ve got past the starting point and I’m actually painting), my confidence was growing with each piece, and just getting on with it silenced all the voices in my head and stopped me overthinking. But the motivation did follow too, and it snowballed. The more often I got into the painting process, the more I wanted to do it.
5. Accountability counts
Another big part of what fuelled me on was knowing other people were relying or waiting on me. I had to livestream AND finish the paintings. Non-negotiable. Accountability can be scary when it comes to things like challenges - what if I don’t finish what I told people I will? Will I look silly or disappoint them? Will I let myself down? Which is why choosing a shorter time period like a week is great! It increases your odds of finishing cos it’s way more doable. Sharing with others and being accountable to them can create motivation just like discipline does. It was so much more exciting to me to get DMs and comments saying they can’t wait to see the finished painting when I was halfway through it, than if I just did this in my spare time and only showed people at the end.
6. Learn to love the process
Speaking of ‘the end’... don’t make that your goal! Don’t wait until the end of the painting to enjoy it or feel proud. It’s like when people say “oh, when I get this job I’ll be happy” or “when I buy my dream house everything will be better.” Why not be happy and proud of yourself for your progress towards the goal right now?! Those moments when you finally achieve the goal feel amazing, but the feeling doesn’t last long before you’re off chasing it again - so enjoy the process!
During the week I had 2 really challenging paintings - one was an A3 sized seascape (I’ve only painted A3 size ONE other time!) and the other was a painting of my cat. Anyone who has painted their own pet knows how freaking hard it is! You know their cute lil faces like the back of your hand, so you have to nail their characteristics or it’ll just look like any other cat. Those 2 paintings took me about 4 hours each, and I broke them up across 2 days each. This meant a loooooong ugly/unfinished stage - especially for the seascape. It ONLY came together in the last 20 or so minutes. This really forced me to slow down and enjoy the process. To breathe and trust that it will eventually come together, and I will love it, I just have to be patient. I so often want to rush details because the painting doesn’t look like the end subject yet and I want that gratification of creating realism, but I just couldn’t do that quickly on such a large sized painting.
7. Boundaries don’t stifle creativity
Sometimes freedom can be a little too overwhelming, there’s so many options, it’s why I started working with a limited set of supplies in the beginning. This week I had a bunch of parameters (one week, every day, 5x paintings, streaming the process, having to finish them), which meant I had a lot less space to fret and worry about starting the paintings or perfecting them. I just had to crack on and do them in the allotted time, and know that I would finish them. It took all the anxiety away of ‘what will this turn out like’, ‘will they like it’ and replaced it with ‘it will be done’. Having that sense of certainty allowed me to relax and truly enjoy the process. Worst case scenario, the paintings wouldn’t turn out exactly as I imagined them, but I still would have learned something and spent my time working on my craft. The paintings would be completed - that much was certain.
I want to leave you with some thoughts on confidence. Halfway through the week I started to paint (an additional painting of) a leopard, and halfway through it looked awful. The spots and fur on the body and neck were not looking good at all, and I almost binned it. But I came back the next morning and told myself, the worst that can happen if I complete it is that I ‘wasted’ some time, so I may as well see it through to completion. If I’m going to re-do it anyway, I may as well work through any other potential hurdles before starting the new one.
I saw it through, and it turned out to be one of my favourite paintings! I trusted myself that I’d make the best out of the situation, and it paid off. With each little addition and layer, my confidence in myself grew that I’ve ‘got this’. It made me realise how powerful that mindset is. If you can approach every painting knowing that you’ve ‘got this’ - how much more fun will that be?! That may seem like a crazy concept if you’re a beginner, so if that feels too extreme, how about ‘I’m going to learn so much by the end of this painting’, or ‘I will be a better watercolourist by the end of this painting, without a doubt’.
This week just really emphasised for me how important loving the process is. Focusing less on the end result and whether it’ll be “good”, and more on the importance of spending time working on my craft, having fun, learning new things and troubleshooting new challenges. I know the rate at which I painted this week won’t be sustainable, but I’m so glad I had the experience as it totally changed my mindset and taught me how to enjoy the journey over the end goal.