Beginning of this year I stumbled upon AJ Alpers IG Account on which he proposes an exercise to all artists interested. Draw 100 portraits in 100 days. I decided to paint the same portrait of my wife for 100 times. To be honest - I did not manage to be finished within 100 days. It took me 299 days which is approximately 3 days per painting. I am still very statisfied and proud I took the challenge and learned so much during this time. I chose to work with acrylic colours and bought four colours for the Zorn palette: Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light and Ivory Black.
This was the painting I started with and I remember I was super proud. It took me around 1.5 hours and I remember that I felt it was a milestone for me since I had not painted a lot portraits in acrylics before. On Instagram, where I shared all my 100 portraits I wrote:
" I am entering the 100 day portrait challenge as well. See how far I can get. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Just shot a snap of the wife, kind of caught her off guard. Like the lightning and it was overall a lot fun to paint. I stopped thinking too much about values and I just painted and it turned out pretty well.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
To me it seems like the first time ever I kind of got a 3-d kind of feeling to my portraits."
Over the course of the 100 paintings I had some I was really proud of and some I still feel embarrassed they have actually seen the light of day. But at the end there are several learnings which I pulled out of the 100 day portrait painting challenge, but I broke it down to 10:
1) Do it again
Before i started this challenge, I looked for a reference picture, drew it, finished. The result was as it was, no reconciliation. Since mostly the drawings were just for study reasons, this was alright.
In this challenge I learned that it does make sense to maybe redraw a drawing/painting, once, twice, three times or even more. Because if I only stay at one attempt Ill never know whether or not I like the second attempt better.
I remember that I was really happy with the 4th attempt. In the future, If I really want to create something, I wont stop after the first try, because after the second, third, or fourth, there might be a better outcome i would not have seen if it had stopped before. Furthermore, I always learn from every painting.
2) Have Fun⠀⠀⠀⠀
When painting the same portrait one hundred times it gets boring. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I think it is inevitable.⠀⠀⠀
At the beginning it is all fun an new, but the longer the journey takes, boredom for sure will hit at some point. I dont remember actually when it boredom first appeared but I guess it was around no. 20 or so. But when the boredom came for me it was all the more important to bring the fun back again and do things that I had fun doing. Not thinking about result, not worrying about how it will turn out. ⠀⠀
Also I experienced, that boredom sparked a lot creativity, because I so did not want to do the same kind of "work" that I had done before. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Painting no 36, 39, 40 and 46 are absolut examples where I stepped a bit out of the way of the normal painting routine. As well the 70s were a (unsuccessful) try to get some fresh air and a bit out of the box. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Nevertheless I think having fun is one of the most important learnings I got from this challenge⠀⠀
3) Process > Outcome
The good thing with drawing the same portrait over and over again was that I could not be so outcome dependent.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Because a lot of my 100 portraits did not turn out the way I intended, wanted or wished. Sometimes it was really frustrating that I could not make the portrait as good as I wanted it to be. To realize this is all a process and every portrait, no matter how good or bad, teaches me something, kept me from stopping and made me go forward continuously.
And on some days there was a gem coming out from one of my attempts. On these days, a lot worked the right way and I finished the painting proud and with new motivation for the next time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But I also learned that the learning curve did not go linear. The next attempt sometimes was a total mess. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Of course, my portraits in the end overall look a lot more mature compared to the ones in the beginning. But I am quite sure the the 100th portrait wont be the portrait that I consider the best. Nevertheless it was vital for me to regard the process as more important than the outcome. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Because no matter how shitty I thought the painting was, I would paint it again the next day.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4) Finish It
I was always a sketcher ( look at the name) but finished paintings simply look a lot better.
It does not necessarily mean that all paintings need a background, or that they look perfect, but simply to put all effort in the painting to make it look as good as possible to a point where it is finished
5) When Stuck - Dont Stick to the Plan
When I entered the 70s I wanted to do something special, something that would get me a bit out of the habit of painting regularly which overall was still nice but I felt I needed a change.
So I had a list with things I wanted to do and I did some things of them but I did not get into flow.
This was partly because I was not prepared well enough but partly because I simply did not like it.
It took me quite some time to realise that I should let it go and go back to painting again, if I wanted to continue the 100 portrait project. I was stuck and I decided to not stick to the plan I originally had developed in order to be able to continue.⠀
6) Challenge Yourself
but dont be too hard. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
In a challenge with 100 pictures - especially 100 times the same picture, results dont matter too much. I always tried to reach the best, but sometimes it simply does not work and I did not like some paintings. I really did not. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But looking back now, I still dont like all the paintings judging from what I wanted it to look like. But with a bit of time passing by I am unable not to admit that every painting has its own uniqueness and even some things that I genuinely like. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
What I also learned is that I did some things pretty good right from the start. And some things I still haven't figured out. ⠀⠀
7) Work Longer Hours
At the beginning I started and finished a painting in one session - mostly one evening - which took about 2 hours from pencil to finished painting. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But the more portraits I painted, I became aware of more things I wanted to work on, change or
add to the painting. It simply took me longer to finish a painting. Since I mostly paint after work there was a point when I got tired ( naturally) and I began to rush through the painting, with low energy and only wishing the painting would be finished as soon as possible so I could go to bed. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This influenced the quality of my paintings. And not in a good way.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
At a certain point I stopped the wish/rule/expectation that I had to finish the painting within one sessions. I began to take my time and when my energy went low I stopped painting and started painting again the next evening with recharged batteries. Some paintings took me up to three sessions and about six hours.
Not all, but some.
And longer hours dont necessarily mean better quality than shorter sessions. But overall the quality improved when I allowed myself to take more time.
Obviously it took me a lot longer from this point on, but the quality of the single painting got a lot better.
8) Proportions are Important
When I started using the grid the paintings took a huge leap forward, because i did not have to worry too much about proportions anymore.
I still had to, of course, but the help of a grid made it a lot easier. I started using it with painting no. 70 and from that point on, not all paintings look great, but the average result is better in my opinion compared to the paintings before.
To use this helpful tool, which enabled me to focus more on the colours, increased the quality of my paintings a lot.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
9) When in Doubt - Do it
There were times when I was unsure whether or not to do this or that. To add some more colour, to work on some details a bit more or to leave a painting like it was or not. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I mostly did not leave it like this. That had 2 reasons. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
First of all: I did not want to get too attached to a painting. In the past when I had a picture I was really proud of, I was afraid to explore an idea more because I feared I might ruin the picture that I liked so much. But a picture can be redrawn the next day. Dont get too attached to one painting. Its only process. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Furthermore, if I never explored an idea any further, I would have never known where it gotten me. So when in doubt ( and when its not a high priced commission with deadline in 1 hour) - do it.
10) Some Paintings wont be Good - They will be quite shitty actually.
It is sad, but improvement in art does not come gradually. It is not like an exponential curve, which steadily and easily visible rises and you can see your improvements in every painting.
It is more in waves which go up and down and slowly - but steadily rises. But as some pictures become good - and some even great, at least for the moment - there were some pictures where I asked myself if I actually had any talent.
They seemed to be so shitty and even after 100 pictures I still cannot say that I only produce great art. I produce on average better art compared to the first attempts in this challenge. But there are still some pictures which leave me full of doubt.
But it is like that and thats something I had to accept.
Thanks a lot for reading up until here. If you want to follow the story in more detail look at my instagram page: @sketchbooker__