Do the thing

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably know that I spent February engaged in a 29-day challenge to watercolor every day. I decided to do the challenge while reading Lisa Congdon's latest book, FIND YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE, in which Lisa talks a lot about the tension between learning-practicing-mastering skills (which usually necessitates doing the same thing over and over) and the wild creativity we often experience once we've mastered those skills and start, in the words of Neil Gaiman, making "good art."

In her own experience (and it was echoed by artists Lisa interviewed for the book), giving herself creative challenges was an effective way to tackle learning a skill. First, when you embark on a challenge, you commit to doing something every single day, and it is simply a fact that you will get better at anything you do every single day. Second, as you start to get better, and doing the same thing every day begins to feel tedious, you may surprise yourself by introducing variations on the original theme, experimenting further just to keep the challenge interesting. Boredom really can breed creativity.

I decided to give it a try with watercolor. Although I've been paid many times to create watercolor illustrations, my work is all over the map, and I often need to switch gears just as I'm getting comfortable with a new skill, technique, or medium. I love watercolor, but I never quite feel I've mastered it before it's time to move on. And I never fail to feel rusty and apprehensive when I come back to it days or weeks later.

So every day in February, usually first thing in the morning before I started working, I spent some time in my watercolor journal. I filled my first pages with familiar subjects -  lots of watercolor lettering - but fairly quickly I started painting animals, working on new-to-me techniques, and experimenting with different brushes and paints.

When I got more comfortable with my watercolors, I began to play with my drawings, making them more whimsical, adding words that I hoped would make people smile. (We live in difficult times... bringing a smile to someone's face is a worthy cause, I think, for an artist.)

By the time the month was over, I not only felt like I improved my drawing and watercolor skills, I also felt as though I'd stumbled into an artistic sweet spot at the intersection of my words and my art. I'm excited to keep going and see where this takes me.

If you want to learn a new skill or get better at an existing one, I can't recommend enough embarking on your own creative challenge. You can only learn so much watching tutorials and gazing at Instagram photos. At some point, the only way to get better at a thing, is to do the thing.

In the end I created 13 illustrations in 29 days. The ones I've posted here are my favorites, and most of them are now available as cards and prints in my Etsy shop, where shipping in the U.S. is FREE. (If you see something you want here that isn't listed there, send me a note. I'm happy to add it.)

Plus, all through March, prints are 15% off, so come visit!