1 decision + 100 days = your art will never be the same

In the spring of 2016, I made a single decision that had massive implications for both my art and writing.

This decision resulted in:

  • 15+ art pieces I’m extremely proud of, 7 of which hang permanently in my studio
  • light years of improvement in my understanding of/skill for writing haiku
  • the single greatest haiku I’ve ever written
  • a type of art I create to this day (word influenced abstracts on 6” watercolor block)
  • the epiphany that I have never made art for the sake of just making art
  • understanding that unplanned abstracts are extremely cathartic and I need to do them more often
  • the realization that the art pieces I hate are often the ones other people love
  • further refined style only possible by doing a lot of small studies in a short amount of time

The catalyst for all this was my decision to participate in The 100 Day Project. I only made it 21 days.

I created 21 paintings, only two of which I would burn. They were only 6” square, and despite limiting myself in both time and medium, I still ended up spending 6 hours on one.

It was a great experience. Challenging and eye-opening in ways I didn’t expect.

The 100 Day Project happens every spring. 2020 marks its 7th year, beginning on Tuesday, April 7 and ending on July 16. From the website: “The idea is simple: choose a project, do it every day for 100 days, and share your process on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject.” In my opinion, it’s less about making it the full 100 days and more about the process. You’re committing to participate, not to finish.

If this project intrigues you at all, keep reading. I’ll use my past experience to explain a few rules I’ve devised for this year. Hopefully I can convince you to join us, and avoid the pitfalls I didn’t.

rule #1: don’t be too ambitious.

2016 was #100daysofhaikuart; I wrote a haiku based on Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day, then created a small painting based on that haiku. I love this concept, and to this day I make 6” paintings based on the WOTD. But writing good haiku is more difficult than you think, and my art… well, I take a long time to finish things. It wasn’t sustainable.

My constraints were:

  • haiku
  • watercolor + mixed media
  • ~1 hour create time

As I mentioned, writing haiku takes a while. I chose watercolor because I thought it would prevent me from getting hung up on details, but it’s not a medium I work with often or even like that much. I rarely used it. And 1 hour? Admirable. Possible, for me? Ha, not with those constraints. Day 1 was lucky. Day 2 is the painting I would burn, and mostly because I stuck to one hour. It only took 2 days to disregard that rule entirely.

rule #2: set constraints, and tighter than you think.

In 2017, I attempted to participate again, but I set the bar WAY lower. My only goal was to make space for creating, so 2017 was #100daysofdoingsomethings. Nothing more than making space in my day for something–anything–that involved creating. I split that time between writing posts on Medium (now posted here), and making progress on a couple of large paintings (Self Portrait, Transience, and a kid collaboration that was mostly messing around). It didn’t last long.

My constraints were:

  • make something

That’s way too loose. Don’t do this.

rule #3: work on your project at a set time every day.

2020 has been a weird year. It appears we’ll all be working from home for a while, but this doesn’t mean I’m less busy (I always work from home). Things feel like they’re in this state of flux, of unknowing, of anxious waiting and disconnect. Perhaps that’s why my desire to write has reached epic proportions. As mentioned in An Introvert’s Guide to Quarantine Bliss, I tend to write only when it becomes compulsive, and it becomes all I do for days. My brain won’t turn off until I click Publish, knowing I’ve managed to put something out into the world.

I’ve done no promotion for this website, so no one’s reading any of this, but it really doesn’t matter. I just have to make things.

It’s a fitting lesson for self-care in general. The more you put off what you’re made for, the more extreme when it gets out. It’s like sleep debt. I can stay up writing until 11 every night, but I can’t make that up on Saturday. Sleep, like self-care, needs to be consistent to have an effect.

Four years ago I was trying to wrap my head around the simple fact that self-care isn’t selfish. At this point in my life, self-care is built into my day (thanks to my Bullet Journal habit). So I know my lack of painting and writing is due to logistics. Both times I participated in The 100 Day Project, I tried to fit my project in wherever. There was no set time, or even an amount of time for the second attempt. I need set times to create, meetings with art supplies automatically blocked off on my calendar. Meetings consistent enough to make steady progress. There’s a reason this isn’t #TheOnceAWeekProject.

In trying to decide how I’m going to structure this year’s project, I’ve been comparing Year 1 and 2.

It’s almost as if Year 2 didn’t even happen. Other than learning not to do it that way, the only takeaway was Self-Portrait. Not just because it’s a complete painting. When I started it, I worked consistently, a little every night. I completed that piece in a month (and tracked my time, so ~14 hours). That’s insanely fast for me. I don’t think I realized I could do something like that. To be fair, it was a self-portrait – it just flowed. There also weren’t many logistical challenges common to my projects.

rule #4: try to design your project so progress is highly visible.

I really enjoyed having a completed piece of art at the end of every day. It might have taken me way too long, but it’s hard not to feel proud of a constantly growing stack of artwork. There’s a feeling of accomplishment that’s hard to put into words. I can only imagine what day 100 feels like for those steady, non-perfectionist souls. This lack of visible encouragement is also a large part of the reason Year 2 fizzled out. It was hard to see progress when I was spreading my time between multiple activities.

rule #5: limit your Instagram use.

I mostly quit Instagram a year ago (deleted app from phone, manual login only to check messages every week or two). It was the one piece of social media I actually used, and I never missed it. I’ve been back just in the last month to keep up with the craziness that’s been happening. It’s only confirmed the wisdom of my initial decision to get off in the first place.

The only reason I’ve ever been on Instagram was to follow artists and creators. It was inspiring to see others making time to make things. But I decided it was better to use that time to make art myself. In Digital Minimalism (a fantastic book I highly recommend), Cal Newport outlines 3 lessons surrounding real leisure time.

  • Leisure Lesson #1: prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
  • Leisure Lesson #2: use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.
  • Leisure Lesson #3: seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

The IRL interactions are on hold for a while, but The 100 Day Project provides the structure.

Now that I finally got around to building this website (last June, in a rush), I feel like it might be time to create an Instagram account for my art, something I’ve never done. It’s hard to participate in The 100 Day Project without using Instagram. It provides accountability, and a way to connect with and encourage others, which we need more than ever.

However, I will be limiting my time. My plan is to allow one session per day. I’ll log on for 15-30 minutes to post what I’ve made, respond to comments, check in on everyone I’ve convinced to do this with me. Then I’m out until the next day. There will be no absentminded app opening.

FYI, Instagram has a time limit warning. From the iOS app, go to Settings > Your Activity, then scroll down to Set Daily Reminder and decide how long is OK. Then actually get off when it notifies you. You can also use Screen Time settings on iOS.

If having the app on your phone is too tempting, do what I’ve done for the last year and delete it entirely. You’ll have to manually log in through your browser every time (don’t let it save your login). You have the added bonus of Instagram being so frustrating you won’t want to use it anyway (they’ve made sure everything but the app is so broken you have to download it. Then they can show you ads at a 1:! ratio).

So what’s my project?

I’m sticking with making something based on the Word of the Day. I love the constraint it provides; it’s that element of chaos I love, something outside of my control that forces me to get creative. I feel like writing is really important for me right now, but mixed media paintings are what I love most, so I decided to do both. Depending on the feeling, story, or idea that comes to mind when I read the WOTD, I’ll either write an essay or create a 6″ mixed media painting on watercolor block. I already know that these constraints aren’t enough, but I’m out of time. I’m going to go with it and see what happens, because that’s kind of the point.

If you’re interested in following along on Instagram, I’m @sarahschumacher.art. I’m using the hashtag #100daysofartandessays. I post everything to this website first, with a short essay on the thought process and sometimes progress shots. Subscribe to get an email every Friday with what I posted over the previous week.

The wonderful Elle Lune (@elleluna) has been the Instagrammer behind this project for many years (I’ve given away several copies of her book, The Crossroads of Should and Must). Now @lindsayjeanthomson is the facilitator of the project.

Don’t forget to find and use a hashtag unique to your project, and make you sure you also tag #The100DayProject on all your posts.

Here’s to a little bit of light in 2020, and a welcome distraction while sheltering-in-place. There’s never been a better time to join us.

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