31 Portraits in 31 Days: What I Learned From Forcing a Project on Myself

On May 1st I decided to challenge myself with a new project; to paint a portrait every day for the month of May (#31portraitsin31days if you've been following me on Instagram.) There are a few reasons that I wanted to embark on this endeavour. My year of making art every single day was so beneficial to my art practice, but over the past couple months I haven't been creating as much artwork as I've been busy working on some other projects, like The 30 Studies Project. So I wanted to commit to getting back into the same daily habit that I had last year. I chose to work in portraiture for the month because I've been feeling like I want to push my work in a different direction. Not that I want to get into doing primarily portraiture, but I find in abstract painting that it can be easy to formulate habits around the way I paint. Start with a pour, add some layers, throw in a couple of lines, boom, paintings done. I wanted to force myself to break those painting habits by trying something different for a while.

Nicole Young portraits.JPG

I've also been delving back into some of my older works as a way of exploring and gathering ideas for my next projects, which is part of the reason I chose to get back into portraiture. The pieces below are from my fourth year drawing class in 2014, where I collaged paper figures onto dyed watercolour paper. I thought that further developing that old idea would be a fun practice to try for a month. 

nicole young portrait drawings.JPG

The first two weeks went really well, I made some pieces that I enjoyed and thought were visually interesting. I also got to draw a lot of people who are important to me, which made the drawings a little more meaningful. But over the last week or so, I've found myself really uninspired by the project. It has started to feel like a chore for me, where each day I think to myself "Oh yeah, I guess I have to do a drawing." instead of my usual excitement about art making. The more I thought about it, I came to the realisation that after 2 weeks of drawing these portraits I had gotten what I wanted out of them. I sat down to work on one of my usual abstract paintings the other day and had a moment of "wait, how do I usually paint again?" which was such a joyful and liberating feeling for me. Over the past few days of not enjoying this portrait project, I've asked myself whether I should continue with my 31 portraits project and see it through to the end, of if I should abandon it since I've already gotten what I wanted out of it. 

I am someone who really enjoys goal setting and accomplishing goals. But something I'm learning and trying to remind myself of lately is that I only have so much time. Is it worth it for me to continue making art that I'm not enjoying just because I said I would, just for the sake of saying that I did it? The answer is hell no. If something is not a hell yes for you, then it should be an absolute no. Life is way too short to spend making art that you're not enjoying. It's one thing to work from a place where you're frustrated that maybe a material isn't working out the way you expected it to; that has room for growth and development and exploration of new materials. But if your creative endeavours are feeling like an obligation instead of your true passion that gets you out of bed in the morning, then that's when it's time to abandon them. 

So I made the decision that I would abandon my project after I finished a couple more people that I wanted to draw - and then I ended up getting on a roll and just banging out 9 drawings last night. I did my 31 portraits in 26 days instead. I'm happy that I finished it but I think I also would have been happy to not finish. More than anything I'm just relieved that I don't have to draw any more portraits. So I just wanted to offer some words of support to anyone who is working on a 100 days project or any other daily endeavour and is maybe feeling bored or frustrated with it. Remember that we do not know how something is going to work out until we actually do it. There is no shame in quitting a project that isn't right for you. If you're halfway into your project and just not feeling it, it's not giving you what you thought it would or it's just not resonating with you, it's absolutely okay to stop. No one is going to think you are a failure. I will always be an advocate for having a daily creative practice, but there's absolutely no point in doing a daily practice that you don't like or isn't beneficial to you. And you always have the option to change the parameters of your project too. You only have one life so make sure you are spending it creating, exploring and letting go of the things that do not serve you.