Was the Strada Easel Challenge Worthwhile?

It’s the end of September and that means it’s the end of another 30 Day Challenge to draw or paint from life every day for 30 days. Sponsored by Strada Easel, this is the third challenge I’ve completed. As you may recall from this post, I hemmed and hawed over whether to participate this time.  Was the strada easel challenge worthwhile?

Select drawings and paintings from September Strada Easel Challenge.
Select drawings and paintings from September Strada Easel Challenge.

Like everyone else, there are so many demands on our time, and when I look back, I have to ask myself the question, was it worth it?  In a word, YES.

I’ll admit, the first time I did the challenge, my goal was to win an easel. (That didn’t happen.)  The second time, my goal was to understand form, and the change in color from light to shadow.  I painted so many fruits and vegetables!  You can see that post here.

This time, my goal was to revisit  and improve my drawing skills.  Even though I planned to paint from life, I also committed to drawing every day for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I drew in the evenings, after dinner, usually while listening to the US Open or while watching a movie (this only worked with movies that didn’t have subtitles – ha!).  I had a notebook, several ideas, and picked things from my daily life.  Most evenings, I found myself drawing for nearly two hours!

Several days were devoted to painting still life or plein air. Between painting with our local plein air group, painting simple still life, and participating in the Steamboat Plein Air event, that covered almost half the month.  On the days that I either traveled or focused on studio work, I picked up the pencil for drawing.

The biggest challenge was dealing with the ‘hiccups of life’.  My sweetheart had to go in for surgery (all is well now) and spending three days and two sleepless nights in the hospital made things quite difficult.  Surprisingly, I found that turning to drawing while I waited, or while he rested, helped me to relax too.  Rather than feeling obligated to draw, I found solace in quieting my mind.

Finally, it was an exercise in letting myself off the hook.  If I only had 20 minutes, that was ok.  When I was feeling stressed out, that was ok.  I drew or painted anyway, and I did my best to notice how it affected my work.  Each and every drawing or painting is a self-portrait.  What we feel comes through in the brushstrokes and line.  Some drawings were quick and loose and messy.  Some paintings fell apart or felt too stiff.  Each time I put pressure on myself to perform, things fell apart.  When I was relaxed, rested and focused, everything came together.

Perhaps what was most worthwhile was seeing the change in my work from one challenge to the next.  I can see improvement in color mixing, turning form, growth in my confidence as an artist, and improved stamina.

For the first challenge, I found the pace exhausting.  I was taking an online course (drawing from life), traveling, blogging, and many days I was painting in the rain!  It was too much. I felt too much pressure to post and create something ‘good’.  The second time, I kept it simple with 5×7 (or smaller) paintings and few days outside (it was January after all!) and that took the pressure off.  This time, I had the stamina for almost daily painting.  On the days I didn’t paint from life, I was still painting in the studio.  On those days, drawing from life was incredibly rewarding.  Almost like having dessert at the end of the day!

The bottom line, have a goal.  Have your materials ready ahead of time.  Paint small.  Plan your time.  And go easy on yourself.  The reward truly is in the doing.

What do you think?

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