Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections on a daily dog art project

 Today's guest blogger is Christine Throckmorton. I have sent in my photo for her new 30 dogs in 30 days project, hurry and get your photo submitted before her calendar fills up. Read the details of her project below along with what she learned from working in this painting a day format.

Reflections on a daily dog art project
by Christine Throckmorton of i heart dogs studio

In September ’09, I created a project for myself called “30 Dogs in 30 Days/Weeks,” which coincided with my pet portrait business. The motivation behind the project was two-fold: 1) for quite some time, I’d wanted to engage in a disciplined, daily art practice. Many professional artists whom I admire have told me that no matter what is going on in their lives, they draw/paint/etc every day. I wanted to try it for myself. 2) In this economy, it is difficult to make money as an artist. I wanted to continue to create pet portraits that people could afford (I set the price for all 30-in-30 portraits at only $100, regardless of size and medium), and I hoped to keep some steady business coming my way.
There were two phases to the project. Phase 1 involved me drawing one dog per day for 30 days. I accomplished my goal for Phase 1. Sometimes I’d skip a day, then double up the following day, but overall I was on track. In Phase 2, I was to take one of the 30 drawings and translate it into a full-color fine art portrait every week for 30 weeks. Phase 2, however, wasn’t so successful as far as pacing. I painted 30 dogs in roughly 39 weeks. Clearly, no one but me cares about the fact that I was nine weeks over my projected time line, but it bugs me that I didn’t truly accomplish my goal. So I’m now doing it again, determined to finish on time.

© Christine Throckmorton

© Christine Throckmorton

Upon the completion of the first try at the project, and on the cusp of doing it all over again, I’ve been reflecting on the challenge and what it has taught me. This is what I’ve learned:

It is not easy to make art every day. At least not for me.
 Pet portraiture is not my primary job. I’m an art teacher by day, professional artist by whenever-I-can-eek-out-the-time. I constantly struggle to keep all of the aspects of my life balanced. Am I crazy, then, for creating a daily art challenge for myself? Actually, throwing this project into the mix forced me to work hard at the balance. Some days, taking the time to paint meant the dishes were staying in the sink until the morning. Or that my e-mails would remain unanswered for a while. And that was OK.

I got better, but not necessarily faster. 
Without a doubt, I have sharpened my drawing and painting skills. That’s to be expected. I also expected to get faster…but didn’t. Perhaps because I would spread the painting process out over a few days, or maybe I became more detail-oriented with my work, I’m not sure. I just noticed that it seems to take me much longer to finish a portrait now then it did three years ago. At times, this would frustrate me. I’d think, “I’ve spent how many hours on this painting, and I’ll only be asking $100 for it?” But then I‘d remember that the money was not my primary incentive. And I get back to painting, and remind myself to enjoy the process.

If I’m not in the mood to create, I shouldn’t force it.
 Some days, I might have had the time to paint, but wouldn’t have the motivation. I’d often force myself to paint on such days, hoping that midway through I’d get in the mood. It worked sometimes, but if I wasn’t enjoying the process, I’d stop and pick it up again the next day. Perhaps that is why I was nine weeks over my deadline! I don’t think any good art is going to come from an artist who is begrudgingly creating it. So I didn’t force it. But, I had to find a way to do something for the project; otherwise I’d never achieve my goal. On days when I just couldn’t deal with painting fur or eyes, I would tackle backgrounds. Gradations of color—easy! Or I’d prime a bunch of canvases, or paint the sides of canvases, or paper the backs of finished canvas panels, or tape up paper for future watercolor portraits. There were always things to be done that were more menial and less creative, but that still supported the project. Those were the things I’d do when I just couldn’t pick up a paintbrush.

Just because a fine art portrait of someone’s pet exists, I can’t expect the person to purchase the portrait—no matter how much of a bargain it is.
 Of the 30 finished portraits, I sold half of them to the person who contributed the photo and/or owns the dog; I gifted a few; I traded one for a portrait of my dog; and I have several currently for sale in my online shop. To be completely honest, I’d be surprised and a bit disappointed whenever a portrait didn’t sell. I just assumed that the people who contributed the photos did so because they wanted an inexpensive pet portrait. Turns out, a lot of people just wanted to help me out with my project (for which I’m very grateful), but ultimately chose not to purchase the portrait, despite the low price. An instant reaction for any artist in this situation is to feel rejection. A few times, I had to talk myself off of my pity potty. I’d remind myself of a few things: that $100 is a lot of money in this dreadful economy—especially for a luxury item such as an oil painting, that not everyone likes or wants to buy the art I create, and that the primary motivation behind this challenge was the art-making process, not profit. And then I’d consider the silver lining: any unsold portraits might eventually sell in my Etsy shop; and if they don’t, I’ll have inventory for an art fair or gallery show in the future.

I adore dog people. 
I’m incredibly grateful to all of the photo contributors for helping me out with my challenge. I couldn’t have done it without them because, for ethical and legal reasons, I only worked from photos that were willingly lent to me by people I knew.  In general, I’m humbled by all of the support and kind words I have received during this process. I got to know a lot of really lovely people who have a deep love for their canine companions. Several of the paintings were of animals that have passed, and I was honored to create memorial portraits of such sweet dogs. 

Good things come to those who work hard at their craft.
 As grueling as this process was at times, it was totally worth it. In a very short amount of time, I added 30 dog portraits to my portfolio (and I love every one). Two of the portraits from this project were chosen for a juried art exhibit. One of the portraits became my submission for a dog-themed wine label contest. While I didn’t win the contest, my art attracted the attention of three women from across the country whose dogs resemble the one in the portrait. All three women bought prints and/or cards featuring the artwork. All in all, I am a better artist as a result of this challenge. And, as hoped, I made a bit of money with my art, a portion of which will be donated to the animal rescue where I adopted my dog.

Mission accomplished, and I can’t wait to do it again, this time a little wiser! I highly recommend creating some sort of disciplined art exercise for yourself. I was certainly not the first to come up with a dog-a-day concept; I just tailored the idea to suit me. A few women have e-mailed me saying that I’ve inspired them to challenge themselves with their art. I hope I have inspired you to challenge yourself in some creative way!

Here is the gallery of the 30 completed portraits from Round 1:

Here is information on how you can participate in Round 2 of “30-in-30”. I’m accepting photos up to the third week in August:

Project Update 8/12/2010: Christine has filled her open slots on this project, and a few of her 30 dogs are Art Dog Blog Readers!  Yay, thanks to all of you guys for supporting one of my web artist pals.

 © Christine Throckmorton

 © Christine Throckmorton

 © Christine Throckmorton


AutumnLeaves said...

Christine, your portraits are fabulous, truly! My favorite story is the one about the mastiff. I am so glad mom was found and purchased the painting too!

I imagine that the real reason behind some of the paintings not selling is indeed the money climate for many. In our house we have two unemployed adults and lots and lots of fears!

Still, I thrilled to read of the wine label competition (it would have been so cool if you won!) and three women contacting you from that effort to buy your work. I also loved seeing your Springer with the mastiff (Matilda, was it?). I love how puppies play together! So cute!!

Now I'm off to add your blog to my roll; I love your work! Thanks Rebecca, for yet another lovely guest blogger!!

Resume Writing Service said...

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.

Christine Throckmorton said...

Thank you SO much, Rebecca, for the opportunity to be a guest blogger. I can't wait to draw/paint Atticus!

And thank you, AutumnLeaves, for your thoughtful comments.