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Confined Madness - Penny Painting Spree



100 Penny Painting – the Power of Learning on the Go and at Full Speed.

Every now and then I get the urge to just throw myself at something and see what happens.

However my ego likes to get in the way and expects a masterpiece for everything I produce. Even using tools that are brand new to me, using colours I’ve previously never touched, working at a size several times smaller than my comfort zone. It expects perfect, point-of-sale content to just fly off my brush.

I’ve long been a fan of Robin Sealark’s landscape painting videos, and her 100 penny painting video published back in early 2019 is one of my longstanding favourites. I was blown away by how much detail and mood she managed to convey on coins barely larger than my thumb pad. It’s only recently that I gained the courage to try the challenge myself.

Trying to do it in 24 hours was a combination of my overactive ego and the fact I knew I’d get bored and abandon the project if I took too long.

So you may ask, why was I putting myself through this? I’ve only ever used gouache once before in my Local Fool Tries Gouache video, there’s a stringent time limit and large quantity of work, I only have a very passing knowledge of colour theory and my tools are not suited to a job at tiny size?!

The answer is: so I can improve on all of those things at once.

I don’t know about anyone else, but especially now in the midst of lockdown and uncertainty, my ability to sit down and learn new skills has evaporated. Something about the stress and open-ended worry has dealt a real hit to my ability to absorb information. Add this to my aversion to reading what to do with any given material and I find myself stagnating. However I have found that new skills are often better absorbed by actively trying them out, and you’d be surprised how much you can learn if you’re willing to endure your first few tries Not Working At All until you puzzle out why.

Since completing this challenge I have a better understanding of how gouache paint actually functions and blends together, and my brush control has improved greatly due to so many screw ups and unintended blends (why does white have to be so reactive?!). I realised gouache can be thinned and applied like my usual watercolours, which was a lifesaver at 2am when the paint blobs had hardened and I didn’t want to wake everyone I live with by going to the bathroom to clean the palette. I also used cheap brush tip markers to add lines where I felt they were suited – and could even blend those out with water! New skills every day I swear.

Insofar my grasp of colour theory is that of a slumbering beast being poked with a large stick. I’ve never had a formal art education save in high school, and basics were ignored there in favour of blowing up bits of clay in the kiln. Using such vibrant and opaque colour straight out of the tube was as close to a heart attack as I’ve ever gotten – BUT messing around has finally hammered in the basics of complimentary vs contrasting colours and basic values. Part of it was the speed I had to paint each penny – at roughly 5 pennies an hour and sometimes even faster each thing I learned was fresh in mind for the next set of five. Granted, tiredness began to take a toll later on, but there’s a definite improvement from beginning to end. I highly encourage everyone to give this kind of rapid fire learning a try!

It also showed me what kind of subject I actually like to paint, something that I’ve always been a little hazy on before now. I can confidently say that unlike Robin Sealark, landscape paintings aren’t my thing and I get frustrated at my lack of skill with them. However, I found tiny portraits very fulfilling and hugely enjoyed painting sail ships on seascapes. I already knew I liked monsters, but I preferred the glowing eyes and ‘hint’ of the monstrous more than up close details. Talk about development! I likely never would have given seascapes or portraits a go without this!

I likely will not be selling any of the pennies either as scanned products or as originals, however that is fine. Not all art has to be sold, which is something I continuously have to remind myself of. Trying to remove the pressure to continuously be productive deserves an entire book, but I will cover it in another post at a later date.

Yes, some of the pennies ended up terrible unintelligible messes that I wouldn’t even show my grandma for fear of judgment. Some were ok, others became pieces I’m actually proud of - either through happy accident or taking note of what DIDN’T work on the other pennies. The point is I can see improvement, smashed my goal of 100 pennies in 24 straight hours, and produced several tiny pieces I am legitimately proud of.

And so long as the artist is happy, isn’t that all that matters?

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