When I started watercolor painting, I painted the same thing every day for 30 days. I chose a photo of a farm road that I took while driving around Berlin, Ohio.
It’s not a particularly amazing photograph, nor is it a particularly great composition – but it’s what I used. I learned a whole hell of a lot by doing that, and I highly recommend trying it if you haven’t. It gets really tedious, I’m not going to lie, but it teaches you a lot about working through a composition to find the problems that you need to solve.
The very first time I tried to paint it, this is what I made:
After painting that every day for a month, this is what I made:
After painting for a year, I decided to paint that Farm Road again. I wanted to see how I had improved after a year. At the time, I was heavily focused on the techniques I was learning in Joseph Zbukvic’s book Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor, so this version didn’t end up feeling like I was doing “the same thing” I was more interpreting that photo, and trying to paint it how I though Joseph Zbukvic might… this is the result. (Here’s the post from that one, unfortunately something happened and a lot of the images were lost – they show up as broken links today, maybe one day I’ll remember to try to find them and fix it.)
Then, in 2020, I decided to try again. This time, I decided to try to paint the image and honor the composition from the photograph, because I thought that would give me a better 1:1 comparison from year to year. This is what I made then. (Here’s the post about that one.)
I remember feeling really down on myself after that one. I felt like the painting from 2019 was so much better than the painting from 2020 – It was like I had regressed. Honestly, that really screwed with my head for a long time.
When September 2021 came around, I painted it again:
Then, in 2022 I painted it again:
In 2023, I didn’t paint the Farm Road in September. Instead, I waited until I was finished with the Watercolor class that I took at the Canton Art Museum. I then wanted to wait until I was finished posting about those classes before I posted this. I thought maybe I would be better after the art classes, and if I waited until they were over, I wouldn’t make something “worse” than the previous years. I knew how much it hurt when 2020’s painting was “worse” than 2019’s painting, and I didn’t want to feel that way.
I was talking to my therapist about this ongoing competition I have with myself to “do better.” She challenged me to consider whether or not that kind of perspective is helpful at all. I am starting to think she’s right – it isn’t. Trying to “improve” has polluted my paintings since the beginning. Every time I sit down to paint, I’m in a contest with myself to make something “better” than the painting I made last time, and it adds all of this pressure and frustration to everything I make. I put this weird pressure on myself because every painting is a contest that I can’t win. I don’t even know what a “better” version of the last painting might look like, I just know there are things that I don’t like about it. As a result, I can’t tell if the thing I just made is in fact any better than the last painting. Am I “better” today than I was when I first picked up a paint brush? Sure. Am I “better” than I was in 2020? Sometimes? Maybe?
That attitude is something I’m trying to fix. I don’t want to focus on “getting better” any more. I get so down on myself when I don’t feel like I am improving that I end up being more discouraged than anything.
When I sat down to paint this, I wanted to try to go back to that original composition, and really stick to it. I wanted to get a 1:1 comparison to the very first version of the Farm Road. I did that because I wanted to see if I was “better” than before, but now I’m more interested in seeing how my approach has changed. I am trying to adopt that kind of perspective when I look at my art – not “Am I Better” but “How am I different?” Anyway – this is what I made:
Also note that I stopped numbering the Farm Road paintings as if it’s another version of the one I painted way back in 2019. This time, instead of numbering it 37, I decided to number it 5. This is because it’s the painting from year 5… I don’t care how many times I have painted it up until now, I just want to track how many years of experience I had under my belt when I painted it. So – there you go… Farm Road from the end of year five.
On to my sixth year as a Watercolorist.