What Painting For 365 Days Taught Me

Hello world, let me tell you a story.

A story about this project I’ve been running for 365 days in a row. One year later, and I’m happy to be writing this post. One year ago I got home from watching the latest Batman movie, where Tom Hardy played a role as Bane, Batman’s enemy for this time around. At a moment of inspiration I sat down, grabbed my pencils and started drawing Bane. The result wasn’t that good, but I suddenly remembered how much I once had loved to draw, paint and create. I had spent the last 3-4 years studying game design or working at a game company, and art had just been a small hobby on the side.

I looked at my drawing of Tom Hardy and realized it looked nothing like I wanted it too. This made me disappointed. To be honest, this feeling of not being able to express all those feels inside my head, to not be able to put pen to paper and draw that amazing landscape or space suit or beautiful faces I could see in my mind’s eye, had been frustrating me for a long time.  And I was kinda fed up with it.

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My drawing of Bane from Batman, created in the last days of August 2012.

After witnessing the amazing progress made by the artist Algenpfleger over at Conceptart.org  I kinda decided I wanted to give this a try. I wanted to get better at expressing all those emotion and ideas inside my head. Some nights I just stay awake, thinking way too much, filled by an overwhelmed desire to create something lasting. Something important.  I still feel this way sometimes. Anyways, I was tired of throwing away my talent, to think that art is not that important. To only do some scribbles every now and then on the back of some notebooks. When I moved to Sweden back in 2007 to attend game developer university in Skövde, I was exposed to some super talented artist, and found out there is this program called Photoshop. You could actually draw on the computer!

The Past

Let’s rewind a few years back. Back to 1994. I found some of my old drawings laying around my house when I visited Finland a while ago. It made me very nostalgic. I can recall exactly what I was thinking and feeling when I created each one of them.

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Drawing I made when I was five. Loved birds so much I decorated my whole room with drawings of them and even knew the name of each species of bird that could possibly be found in Europe.

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Animal species I made up and painted when I was eight years old. To say I was obsessed with biology could be an understatement. I loved everything about nature, and still do (but in a more balanced way ha ha). Also, note that the only inner organs I believed to be important to an animal was the heart, kidneys and the lungs…

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At the age of 12 I won a contest in Finland and got to design the front cover of a year of milk production. Sweet! However I had to share the prize money with my fucked up class because those were the rules. I didn’t really care about that, I was happy my drawing would be printed over 1 million times ha ha!

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Sketch from my sketchbook, made when I was almost turning 20. Still got that thing for animals and nature it seems!

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Now 22 years old and borrowed a digital drawing tablet from my ex-boyfriend. First time I opened Photoshop I almost started crying. I mean, there’s TONS of stuff there. Where do you even begin to teach yourself how to use it? And still I saw people create the most stunning art using it. Seemed like some kind of witchcraft…

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June 2013. Still life study of some water melons. These were delicious I eat them right after the study!

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Digital painting made with Photoshop and my dear Wacom this week. Now aged 25 and able to create something like this because I never gave up.

The day after posting that drawing of Bane on Facebook, I decided that if I ever wanted to get better at drawing, to be able to express all the feelings I carried, to not waste away something that once had given me a sense of joy, pride and meaning, I better start doing something about it. So the “Learning To Draw” project was born. Inspired by Algenpfleger I would draw or paint for at least some hours each day. At this point my goal was a very stupid one; to get better at it. It would take me some time to realize why this is not a goal in itself, and why it should not be.

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One month into the LTD-project. Like all people who want to honor their art skills I started out by drawing plenty of anatomy and hands, faces and studies, only doing analog sketching, no digital stuff. Funny thing is that I still suck at anatomy and hands…

So I got myself a new sketchbook and read the whole 150 pages of Algen’s thread over at Conceptart.org. I wanted to see what he went trough doing the very same art journey. I wanted to know what to expect. It was kinda like reading the logbook of another adventurer who had embarked on the same journey you were about to start. So I carried my SB with me at all times: on the bus, while traveling, at a crayfish party, when watching TV with my family.

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First ever self-portrait in the fall of 2012. After drawing animals and monsters for so many years I find it very hard to draw human anatomy…

 

The Cave Dweller

During the autumn of 2012 I got a new job and moved from Malmö, Sweden to Stockholm, to work for a big game publisher, analyzing data. This proved to be both a great challenge and a nice life-experience. The company was awesome in many ways and I really enjoyed the game we were making, but Stockholm was not really my cup of tea. I spent 12-13 hours on trains every other weekend, also commuting every day to work for one hour, the winter was long and cold, and I realized I would never truly be happy in this city. In one way I’m happy I got all those long hours sitting on the train with crappy Internet connection and no company. It made me draw for five-six hours in a row. I filled my sketchbook and got a new one. Filled that one after a while and bough a new. So far I’ve filled four books with sketches and my computer has an 8 GB folder of digital drawings one year later.

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Study of a plum, two months into the project. This took me 45 minutes of pain to create. I did not know how to use pressure sensitivity in Photshop.

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January 2013. Still-life study of an onion and a banana.

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June 2012, one hour study of an onion.

 While living in Stockholm I experienced a rough patch when I suddenly got these nasty headaches, blurred vision and dizziness. The doctors investigated me to rule out the chances of it being a brain tumor. Some very unpleasant things happened in the house I lived. I have never written on the blog about this, but he police’s SWAT team broke the doors of my wall-in-wall neighbor and raided his apartment. Next week a drunk guy turned off the electricity in our house and threatened to beat me up so I needed to call the police. All that combined with long hours on the office, commuting, dark and cold Nordic winter, daily headaches and the chances of maybe having a deadly condition took its toll on me. But the thing is, during these dark months I had two things that kept me sane, and that was my awesome team at work and my drawing.

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October of 2012. Some digital anatomy drawings and poses.

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Anatomy sketches from August 2013.

I morphed into a cave dweller. Me, who always been a very social, outgoing individual. As soon as I got home from work I locked myself in my rented room, pulling down the blinds, turning on the computer and sat there drawing and painting until it was time to sleep. I guess I kinda created my own sanctuary where I tried to hide away from all the struggle and problems the real would outside was throwing my way all the time. I found myself painting each night because it helped me to stay sane and focus on something positive that I felt I could control. I think that’s why some people get so amazingly good at what they do; that one thing or activity is your guiding light, the one thing that makes you feel good about life. Or that lends you hope when you are lost, confused or can’t see a clear way out. You do it because you love it, because it sets you into flow.

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December 2012, photo-study. Spending hours on drawing humans, and THIS is the result. Sometimes you just wanna give up!

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January of 2013. Sketching all the time on the metro each day to work.

The Realization 

That’s what I realized during the spring of 2013. You should do something like this project because you love art. Because you got a story to tell. Because it makes you feel damn good. The strange goal I had had in my head at the beginning to get better at painting and drawing, had just been a means, not a goal in itself. Upon realizing this I shifted focus and started viewing this as complete aspect of myself, not just a crazy race. I’ve honestly always had a very hard time dealing with people who give you that crazy look and tell you THEY WANT TO BECOME TEH BEST IN THE WORLD OMG!!1. I find it kinda desperate and it makes me uneasy. It feels like these people forget to enjoy the amazing world out there, they only see as far as their sketchbook.

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January 2013. Tried my first serious photo study in color of human skin.  This hurts my eyes today. But the thing is, if you don’t try, you will never fail or make mistakes. And by that you will never grow or get better.

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Spring of 2013. A girl from imagination. I tend to mute my colors, which makes my paintings dull and flat. Here I experimented and went crazy, which really learned me tons.

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August of 2013. Photo study of frame from the movie “Oblivion”.

So I made a very grown-up decision and quit my super awesome job at the game company in Stockholm, cuz I realized I would never be truly happy about my life there. I moved back to Malmö and hoped for the best. I know things work themselves out sooner or later. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and hope you’ll land on your feet,

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Summer of 2013. I finally decided to download some new brushes for Photoshop. So far I’ve only been working with the standard round brush to learn the basics and not rely on fancy tricks. Playing around with new brushes was awesome, and really helped me to evolve further.

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Summer of 2013. Back in Malmö I picked up painting IRL with acrylics again, which proved to be so much fun and a great supplement to painting digitally. I’m still having a hard time drawing human faces, but I’m getting there, slowly. 

During this summer I’ve had a lot of free time, which I’ve tried to pour into my art studies. I came to realize this was by now far more than just some hobby. It was a way for me to understand the world around me. Everyone who carries a strong passion in life for something, may it be art or physics or something else, learns to view the world trough that passion. I see the world much different today, one year later, than I saw it in August 2012. Today I see the world in complement colors, I see it in drawable blocks, I see it in cast shadows.

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May of 2010. Some kind of floating islands.

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Early summer of 2013. This image pictures a major realization for me. I realized you can mix soft, big brush strokes with hard, small ones!

When I look at the sunset I see the gradients and I subconsciously try to remember the colors in my inner visual library. When I sit at the bus read the faces of the passengers, trying to remember that cool nose or that special haircut for later when I’m creating. The world is art, and I love the beautiful diversity of the human species. I started going to museums now, because I feel something when I look at all those old paintings gathering dust. I think about the artists, long dead. Wonder if they ever felt what I’m feeling now. I borrow books about art from my friends, buy books about anatomy from the Internet. That  art-part of myself is maybe here to stay. Today I can’t imagine giving up on this, to just stop drawing. When I was examination for maybe having a brain tumor I went to bed each night thinking “pleas, let me have one more day here on Earth, so I can make one more drawing”.

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Books and magazines bout drawing and painting. I can really recommend the works of Loomis. I got his books with me to Egypt last winter, and boy were they an eye-opener. He talks about the theory behind creating a good looking image. I really felt like I had been guessing about things my whole life prior to reading his texts. Painting is more about what happens in your head, than what your hand does to draw the lines.

I feel like I finally found a piece of myself I just pushed away for a long time, thinking it wasn’t important or that it was silly.

 

The Advice 

This post is already way to long, and it’s super hard to write down what I’ve learned about both about myself, the world and doing something creative each day. Iäve never done a project like this prior to the LTD. I’ve never grinded anything like this before. But I’m gonna try to list the major things that I have discovered on my journey so far. Because it really feels like an journey. I have no idea where I’m heading with this project, where it will take me in the end. And I have no idea for how long this trip will last, or if I ever get to where I want to be.

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This August I dared to participate in the “creature of the week” event at Conceptart. I invested so much in this project, learning tons and tons again from it. This is an image showing my silhouette experimentation for 9 different lizards. The theme as “Bio-diverse Creature Colony”.

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The final designs for my lizard colony. I know I won’t win, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve learnt so much from this!

  • Routine is the key to success, no matter if your personal project is to learn how to draw or if you want to start working out at the gym. Once you get things into a routine it’s way more likely you get off your ass and actually do your thing. By making it a natural part of your life you significantly increase your chances of archiving something. I carried my sketch book around everywhere I went, and made sure I got the time to paint each night when I got home from work. After a while a cup of tea and the headphones in my ears made my mind automatically get ready for some Photoshop magic. Some days you won’t feel like doing it, you will hate it or you just don’t have the time. If you don’t feel like it, just do something small, only to keep the habit alive.
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Autumn of 2012. I made it my daily routine to draw some anatomy poses from the site http://www.posemaniacs.com/ every day.

  • It’s a marathon, not a race. Patience is a skill you must learn, just like how to create good looking shadows or how to use technical functions in Photoshop. I created a lot of images based on impulses or just based on plain chaos. If you take something and work on it more than just 30 minutes or 1 hour you will start seeing another dimension of your works. Those super cool images around the internet, painted by masters, are often done over a course of days or weeks. “If it matters to paint, it matters to plan” as Loomis once wrote. Painting and drawing is way more than learning to draw dragons or manga eyes really good. It’s about a mindset and being aware of the theory behind it as well.
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Early 2013. My take on the Iron Man 3 poster. This was the very first image I worked on for a longer time. Invested maybe 9 hours in it and learned way more than I expected!

  • It’s not going to be easy. It should not be either. If it’s too easy you are only doing things inside your own comfort zone, and that way you will never develop or discover new findings. I’m gonna be honest now. I’ve had times I hated to draw during this past year. I felt anxiety, pressure or just plainly avoided creating. Some days it feels like everything you do is crap, and you feel like giving up. I had two major crises during this project, where I just wanted to quit. But I’ve come to learn that is always the most shitty before you gain a new level of something. When you get yourself together and break trough it feels great. It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop. Sometimes you invest so much energy into an image, and in the end people look at it and they go like “Ehmm I don’t get it?”. Just analyze why things don’t work, and start over.
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From the winter of 2012. I was very emotional when making this, actually had to wipe away tears from the Wacom. When I posted it the main response I got was “Ha ha it looks like a dildo on his leg heu heu heu”. It made me kinda sad, but looking back I totally realize what they mean. Get sad, get over it and get better!

  • Document your work and find fellow artists. OK, some people following me on Facebook or Twitter probably believe I’m the most self-centered artist wannabe on Earth. I have albums on FB, a DeviantArt page and this blog to keep track of my project. The truth is that I don’t post it to acquire the praise of my friends. I post it to keep track of my own progress, to get date stamps, and just to get it out there. If I know someone else will look at what I created I pour more time into it, pushing myself even more. But be careful, updating a blog, FB, a Twitter, DA, a sketchbook at CA and Instagram takes a lot of time. Focus your time and decide for some specific channels or forums. In the beginning I hated CA, but now it’s the only place I get to hang out with fellow artists and get crit on my work. The feeling of talking to fellow creators is essential for me. Other sites like DeviantArt are totally dead and Instagram is not really meaningful to me, but I kinda hang there anyway.

 My ConceptArt sketchbook.

  • Draw from life, don’t just copy other peoples images or photos. Drawing and painting is essentially the art of looking at something in 3D and project it on a 2D space. Every face, object, flower, train or building presents a new challenge on how to do this. It’s like solving small puzzles all the time until you see the final motif! If you only copy other peoples work or photos you are just shifting 2D to (probably worse looking) 2D. As an artist you need to throw away how you think things look. Just throw it away and learn to look at things. A lot of the things we think we know what they look like, are actually very different when you examine them in real life.
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Autumn of 2012, I had just moved all my shit to Stockholm to start my new job.

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August 2013. A photo study from the movie Pacific Rim.

It’s impossible to list all the things I’ve learned, and I’m surprised if anyone’s still reading this super long blog post. I’m looking forward to hopefully another year of painting and drawing. I know I have a loooong way to go before I can really call my art “art”, but that makes it even more exciting!I can’t wait to see what kind of stuff I will create after 365 more days!

Remember: one year from now, you will have wished you’d started today. Just do it!

PS I want to say special thanks to Matt Kohr at CTRL PAINT.  Without this site I would never had made it this far < 3 Keep up the good work! Thank you to all my family and friends who have encouraged me to continue on this crazy quest. Thank you all who believed in me and followed my journey so far. Your support as been awesome! Thanks all artist friends who patiently answered all my stupid questions. I love you! DS 

One thought on “What Painting For 365 Days Taught Me

  1. Joseph

    Just wanted to leave a comment saying I really loved that post it encouraged me to get back on my grind. I’ve been reading a lot of your posts today they are great keep up the great work

    Reply

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