A few weeks ago, before most of us were aware that our world was going to shift on its axis, I began a new occasional series of “warm up” paintings. I intended these paintings for my eyes only, with no plan of sharing them.
In the past few days I’ve changed my mind about that.
The immensity of despair and heartbreak all around us is overwhelming — especially as most of it is frustratingly beyond our own ability to reduce it. That is, besides being vigilant about staying home, cleaning hands & surfaces, being kind & generous especially to those in need, and minimizing as much as possible the burden on healthcare workers. For myself, beyond these crucial exercises, I feel there’s little I can do to help the situation, except try to stay busy and most of all try to be a calming presence for myself and those with whom I interact.
Maybe its no surprise then that painting helps to calm me and keep the tailspin of despair away.
With that in mind I’ve decided to start sharing these warm-up paintings of mine. My hope is that by sharing these they might cheer some of you, foster curiosity in others, and maybe even inspire yet others of you to begin a daily creative practice of your own. For I think now more than ever it’s important to have daily routines or rituals. With so much uncertainty in the world, having a daily creative practice in place can really help add a reassuring sense structure to your day.
Okay, so what are warm-up paintings anyway?
They are an exercise I do before diving in to my “serious” work. Like stretching before a run, warm-up paintings help loosen my artistic muscles, get the creative blood flowing and awaken the Muse. The point with the warm-ups is to be loose and not get hung up on perfection. It’s less about the end-product and more about the joy of pushing around color and making marks.
With my warm-up paintings, anything goes — almost. For I do like to have certain parameters in place with any kind of series I’m doing, so with these warm-ups the parameters are:
— One per day
— 12″ x 12″ watercolor paper (I use Arches 150 Lb cold press watercolor block)
— Painted primarily in watercolor (I use Holbein) although some mixed-media is OK.
— Resist going back and working on previous day’s warm-ups (Going back is allowed, but slightly frowned upon).
Here’s something else though that I this is important about this daily practice: My watercolors aren’t in my studio. Rather, they are right in the middle of the major thoroughfare in my house. Which means I walk by them every single day. Which means I cannot NOT see them. Which means every time I walk by them, it’s an invitation — a reminder, a tease — to paint. Which means there’s absolutely no excuse to not paint regularly! Even if it’s just making one brush stroke on my way to the bathroom, and another brushstroke an hour later on my way to the kitchen to make tea.
As the brilliant James Clear advises in his most-excellent book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: If you want to start a new habit, Make it easy. If your watercolors are packed away in a closet, you’re never going to paint with them. If you guitar is in its case under your bed, you’re never going to think to play it.
Get your sketchbook, your paints, your musical instrument, get your journal, your notebook, your book you’ve been meaning to read, get your knitting, your stationary and pen and stamps, get your whatever-it-is that you’ve been kind of dreaming of doing but still haven’t begun and put it out front and center where you can’t avoid it.
And then — here’s the other thing: Just do your thing (write, paint, practice your instrument, read your book) for a few minutes at a time. No huge time commitment, just a few minutes.
This is what I’ve been doing with learning to play Native American flute: Five minutes per day. The flute sits on my coffee table beside my favorite chair, and every day I commit to playing it for five minutes. Usually that happens right before bedtime, when it serves as a peaceful form of mediation. Some days I play for five minutes first thing in the morning; other days I pick it up and play it several times throughout the day. Basically any time I sit in that chair I have an invitation to practice my flute.
Same when I walk by my watercolors: I commit to just one brushstroke. And, as you might imagine, often that leads to another brush stroke, and another. But just for a minute or two; then I go on about my other business.
So go get that thing that you’ve been wanting to do and pull in off the shelf or out of the closet or the drawer or the attic or the garage or the basement or the shed or the box and place it front and center.
Make a teeny tiny daily commitment.
Make it easy.
Get started today.
And in the process, may you carve out a small bit of serenity and satisfaction.
And thank you for being here and reading my musings.
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Find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Learn more about it here.
Thank you again. Be safe out there.
~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico