My Year-Long Art Challenge: A Review

Last month, I finished off my year-long challenge to paint one daily abstraction for an entire year. Every day for 365 days, I completed a 2″ x 3″ abstract painting based on something I’d seen that particular day, whether it was a landscape, a bird in flight, the cats at play, and so on. Whether I was traveling, studying, or running errands, I managed to creatively interpret my surroundings, eventually producing 365 paintings (technically 366, because I did two marbled pieces one night). Today, as we embark on a new year, we’ll take a look back at this project and see the finished works as a whole.

Colors of Williamsburg (and Florida), December. This was the final month for my year-long project.

After finishing the final painting, I decided I wanted to see how all of the abstractions looked together as a whole. Although I’d consistently photographed each month’s worth of abstractions, I was curious to see what the entire year looked like as a whole. On January 1st then, I closed the doors to my study, grabbed my bundles of abstractions, and spread them out.

After about an hour of fiddling, I had this:

A year in the life, 2019. Collectively, these works measure about 5′ long by 3′ high. Each row represents a month, with January at the top, and December at the bottom. My mother thought this would make for a nice quilt, and if I ever learn quilting, maybe I’ll make it someday.

What’s interesting to me are the changes that take place over time, both seasonally and stylistically. The overall palette has a lot more green in it than the color blocks I did in Roswell, which isn’t surprising because they’re two very different ecosystems. You can definitely tell when seasons like fall happened, which also isn’t surprising since that’s my favorite season and I’ve always loved autumnal foliage.

What’s most intriguing to me is that the compositions became more complex over time. The color blocks for January and February, for example, are basically color fields with dots, which is what I was doing in the New Mexico abstractions. As I got used to painting every day, however, I started experimenting with different kinds of compositions and styles, with the latter months being more intricate while maintaining a sense of abstraction. By the end, there aren’t really a lot of color fields at all, and there’s more emphasis on asymmetrical balance. Again, I think it’s particularly evident in the fall images, where I was rendering vibrant yet similar color schemes in different ways.

So what am I going to do with all these abstractions? While I’d love to exhibit them all together someday, in the meantime I need to store them. During the year, I bundled each month with a rubber band, but for the finished project, I decided to put the paintings in a photograph album so that I can consult them easily for future projects. I can also easily them out and compare them, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I had pasted them in a scrapbook.

So do I have any particular favorite? Not really, because there are too many to just narrow it down to one (Brandon’s favorite is the one with our two cats on the right). There are some that I like more than others though, either because I especially like the colors, tried out some new technique, or otherwise challenged myself to try something new. The gingko piece on the left, for example, makes use of yellow and purple, colors I normally don’t use but work well here. The piece in the middle took inspiration from a Cubist painting I saw earlier this year, which is a different style for me. The piece on the right is whimsical without being too cutesy, and effectively sums up our two cats’ personalities. The red background, in case you’re wondering, is a red blanket they both like.

Other abstractions I like because they’re connected to pleasant memories or events. The one on the left here, for example, is based on a Heathergem brooch Brandon got me for Christmas. The one in the middle takes inspiration from a tulip poplar leaf Brandon collected for me, as he thought I would enjoy painting it. The one on the right recalls the view from I-64 as we took a trip to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk.

Indeed, a lot of my favorite ones are connected to Brandon, as he’s enthusiastically supported me throughout this project. He was the first one to see each abstraction as it was painted, offered suggestions for potential compositions, and even brought home materials that he thought I would like to paint. It only seemed appropriate then, to end this year-long project with an image of him. And since he especially liked the paintings that featured the cats, I included them too:

So that’s been my year-long art journey, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’ve demonstrated to myself that small interventions can build up into a big artistic project, a lesson not unlike what I what from my daily writing workshop last spring. Some abstractions I only spent five minutes on, others forty-five or more, but they all contribute to a bigger vision. As a painter, I feel more confident working both abstractly and using different painting techniques. I’ll also be using these abstractions in future works for years to come, and already have ideas for new projects. All in all, it’s been a great experience, and I’m glad I challenged myself to it.

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