Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More thoughts on daily art -- plan ahead!

Last week I wrote a couple of posts about my daily art projects.  This year I'm doing hand-stitching every day, and a weekly themed photo collection.  Several people commented about their love for, or non-love for, similar endeavors.  Linda asked how I deal with obstacles like holidays and visitors; Drew wondered whether she might want to start a daily art project on her birthday rather than waiting for the first of the year.

For them, or anybody else contemplating a daily art project, I would say that planning is the key to a project that works or one that fizzles.  You have to choose something that will fit in with your life and your capabilities.  But the good news is that you get to set the rules.

For instance, my project in 2001 was to make a quilt square for every day.  On days when I was home, usually working in the studio, it was easy: at the end of the day I would gather up bits and pieces left from that day's work and piece them into a square.  On days when we were traveling or too busy for me to have studio time, I would look for a striking visual image from the day.

I knew that we were going to be on the road a lot, so I set my rules to accommodate that.  I didn't require myself to actually sew the square that day, just to have one square per day at the end of the year.  While we traveled I would think about my project and try to decide which image to use and how I might execute it, but sometimes it would be weeks before I actually finished the square.

a trip to Washington DC in cherry blossom time

Similarly, in 2010 I resolved to take a photo every day and post it to my blog.  But again, I knew we were planning to travel a lot, and at the time I didn't have a way to access my blog remotely.  So my rule was that if I was away, I'd wait and post the photos when I got home, as long as I actually shot the photo on the given day.

By contrast, in 2011 I changed the rules so I had to post the photo that day, but didn't have to actually shoot it that day.  This allowed me to go to my archives of old photos for good images from the past.  And it gave me the freedom to post in advance when we were going to be away.

This year my hand-stitching project has proven to be extremely flexible.  Even if I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks, the fabric and embroidery floss fit into a small ziplock bag and I can work on it anywhere.  I can sew and talk (or listen) at the same time, so if I'm visiting somebody or somebody is visiting me, I can do the day's stitching while carrying on a conversation.  I enjoy days when I have meetings, because I can stitch/multitask instead of carving out time in which I'm only stitching.  I also gave myself some flexibility by writing the rules such that I have a day of grace period -- if I don't finish today's stitching today, I can do it tomorrow.

this will hold me for one week -- or if I'm tight on space, I can take lots less embroidery floss

Last year I had a project in which every week I would make at least one bundle or package of things I found around the house, in the studio or on the street.  If I was on the road, I had to find and assemble bundles from things I acquired en route.  Obviously the bundles from travel weeks were smaller than those made at home, because I knew I had to shlep them back with me, but that was part of the challenge.

bundle from a trip -- luggage tags and other travel detritus, tied up with luggage tag elastics

I've learned not to bite off more than I can chew.  If your rules are flexible, it's much easier to keep up with the project.  For instance, I made at least one bundle per week.  In busy weeks, there was only one; at more leisurely times I might make six, seven or eight bundles in the week.  That was fun, but I didn't feel guilty if I only had time for one.

I recommend that if you give yourself a grace period in your rules, you don't make it too long.  If you allow yourself to put off the daily art for days or even weeks, you're losing a lot of the essence of the endeavor.  Also if you get too far behind you will find it harder and harder to catch up; the project will become a chore rather than an adventure.

I also recommend a dry run before you embark on a year's worth of daily art.  Thinking about a project and actually doing it are two different things.  Unless you know how long it takes you to stitch a certain sized piece or make a certain sized collage or draw a picture, you won't know whether it's feasible to do that day in and day out.  Be realistic, and it's better to underpromise -- you can always do a little more some days, and feel good about it.


  1. I am rather fascinated by this exercise. For about two weeks, several years ago, I painted a red pear that I had purchased from the grocery. I had a watercolor work station set up at the table and while or after eating breakfast I would paint. Mixing the paints on a dessert saucer. I remember it being a lovely experience (zen like). I did not plan well. I ran out of the small block of watercolor paper. I forgot to buy a new pear. I have several of the painting framed and really enjoy having them. A few were given away as they were made.

    I had not thought ahead. I remember being very bummed out when I realized I had no more paper. Now I think I could have just moved to pencil or ink drawings of the pear.

    I am going to give serious thought to your daily art rules. I also like the freedom to do as many as one wants or as few as time allows (within a framework) to accommodate life's hiccups.

    I don't comment much--but read every post. Even the ones on Soup.

  2. I understand completely the need to make Daily projects, if there is less Art in ones life than one needs; for discipline; for a little pleasure each day; to make Personal space etc. etc. But I find that mine tend to founder, because all my life is one big thing, which is Art. The small things (daily projects, blog etc can get lost, and I get tired.. I suspect your life is pretty much like this too.. So, why?
    And I reall all your posts, much food-for-thought and good common-sense, for which I thank you


    1. Helen -- good question! let me think about it and respond in a day or so.

  3. I have been fed emotionally and spiritually and creatively by my daily art project this year - creating a 3 x 3 piece every day. I see the end in sight and I am pondering what to do next year because I truly see the value of this.

  4. I read this MoMA blog post and it reminded me of your packets that you have written about. Linked here if you are interested.

  5. Thanks for your observations on making daily art successful. I am great at starting stuff, but easily led in other directions, so I have to choose carefully, and try to remember my nature. Plus it is hard to work at a stressful brain-intensive job and still have any brain left at the end of the day. I find that spinning is nice on those days. Sortof zen, no brain required, and something produced at the end.