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Sunset after sunset, what am I learning?

I have taken many, many sunset photos over the years and I had a strong urge to do a series of sky paintings. I can lose interest rather quickly if something drags on too long, so it made sense to see if I could do a series of these skies in a short time frame. There are many artists out there that have taken on a 'painting-a-day' challenge. The idea is to complete one painting each day, usually for 30 days. I consider myself a rather slow painter so this concept seemed more like torture than beneficial for me. Could I muster the discipline to stick with this plan?

I was hesitant to commit to 30 days in a row, so I thought I would shoot for about 24 mini studies over the next month. I decided to limit the size to just ¼ of a 9” x 12” sheet of paper. At the same time, I had some various paper sampler packs that I had yet to try. This series would also give me the chance to try a variety of paper surfaces without investing the time and energy in a ‘finished’ painting on a surface I might discover is not a good fit for me. I also decided that I would limit the time for each study to an hour or less. Eek! Could I do it? I figured if I could get a few decent studies out of the entire series, I would know which skies might be good for a larger, more finished piece.

I made the decision to do this and pre-cut all my various papers. I planned several evening field trips to photograph sunset at a variety of locales, the idea being to gather additional source material, and to ignite my passion for recreating Mother Nature’s majesty on my easel.

Sky Study #1, pastel

Time to begin. I cleared my work area, set up my work lights and selected my first sunset photo. I set the alarm on my phone to go off in exactly 1 hour. Just 35 minutes later I had my first completed study. What? 35 minutes? No one was more surprised than I was. I have always told myself that I am a slow painter. Granted, as a high school art teacher, I used to be able to complete a demo in a 45-minute class period. But I figured that was different. I didn’t take those demos to completion as I wanted the students to discover it for themselves.

"Sky Study #4", pastel

Was it beginner’s luck? Day 2, another strong sunset. And so, it has continued, as of this writing, for a full 14 days. I have selected sunsets that feature different colors, different seasons, some reflecting on water, and others with the landscape silhouetted against the sky.

Studies 1 through 10 on bulletin board

I worried about self-discipline needlessly. This project has been so motivating as my bulletin board has slowly been filling with painted sunsets. I barely get dinner dishes cleaned up and I am rushing upstairs to turn on my music and begin another sky.

What have I learned so far? 1) Perhaps I am not a ‘slow’ painter after all. Mulling over every mark slows the process, but does it make the painting any better? 2) Daily painting does indeed promote growth and learning. 3) There is much to be said about completing a painting in a single session. Riding the wave of momentum is a powerful thing. 4) With each small study, I am discovering different techniques to achieve various effects. 5) Posting each day’s painting publicly helps to hold me accountable! I eagerly look forward to seeing where this series takes me. Will you stick with me?


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