The Show Up Series

Abstract acrylic painting by the author in deep blues, muted golds, pulsing purples and vibrant orange.
Passage by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson © 2019

Earlier this year, I gave myself the challenge of showing up daily at a canvas to paint. Finishing a painting could take five days or 30.

Provisioning was easy. I already had acrylic paints, brushes, gesso, and varnish. I found a good deal on stretched canvas at Michael’s and bought several.

Doing the work was hard. I’m working on my 5th painting and have learned so much.

Early and Easy

Paintbrush loaded with white gesso laying on a white canvas alongside strokes of white paint.
First Layer: White on White

The beginning is easy. All you have to do is prime a white canvas with white gesso. The layers of white build up between the warp and weft of the canvas and smooth the surface texture. Twelve hours of dry time and you can go again. Repeat as many times as you’d like.

Then comes the first big decision. The first gesture of color. Should it be blue or orange? Cerulean or cobalt? Tint or shade? These first decisions can be covered up later but this is the initial direction.

Messy Middle

Detail from Fire Fly by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson © 2019

Earlier marks constrain later marks. Even so, entire changes of direction remain possible.

Daily influences percolate through the layers. Multiple layers mean multiple decisions. One layer a day. 30 days in a row. That’s 30 different sets of decisions. A visit to a museum today to see the exhibit of a painter may cause you to veer off in an entirely new colorway, gesture, or texture on layer 28.

Deciding the End

painting of a faceless head on top of torso against a highly textured background
Unmanifest/Waiting by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2019

It’s not obvious when to quit working on a painting. It’s a moment you need to be open to. Some ways to tell:

  • When you try to push forward and nothing seems right
  • When the internal resistance you feel isn’t fear but about comfort with the meaning of the painting where it is

It is not the end when you just want to cover it all up with gesso, white or black, and start all over. That’s just discomfort.

Covering your painting with a layer of varnish is a way to protect the paint and add depth that comes with the shine.

What Gets in the Way

How can a white canvas be so scary? How can the act of daily painting require so much commitment? Fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of not being enough are just a few of the things that get in the way.

Wrestling with these feelings on the canvas is a great way to practice wrestling with them in a life that is not bounded by stretcher bars.

Balance fear with the joy of manifesting marks on the canvas, your marks, the pleasure of spreading shiny paint, the bounceback of the brush as you end a stroke, being present to the moment.

Embrace the Bad

After all of this, you will likely and in fact, hopefully, make some good paintings and some bad ones. Embrace the bad ones especially. Work with them kindly.

  1. Give yourself credit
    1. You showed up. Each painting is a success story of showing up, embracing fear, taking risks and exploring the unknown.
  2. Wait a week
    1. A painting that looks bad to you now may look entirely different from the distance of time. Return to your painting later and see how your reaction may have changed.
  3. Write down what’s working and plan ahead
    1. You need bad paintings to get to good paintings because they show you what you like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. Make a plan for what you’ll do differently next time.
  4. Keep going
    1. The process of a painting may seem wasted if you don’t like the results. However, the process does its work on you. #HWPO (Hard Work Pays Off)

Are You Ready?

Will you dare greatly? Take the challenge. Show up every day at the canvas (as in life), paintbrush in hand, to create. Tag your posts #paintdaily and have fun!