Zach LeBar

Personal ramblings on a wide array of topics. "But, you know,
I could be wrong."

The 30x30 Direct Watercolor Challenge

— Painting something in a particular way, every day for 30 days

I’m going to attempt the #30x30DirectWatercolor Challenge. It begins June 1.

If, like me, you’ve never heard of this before, you can checkout Marc Taro Holmes’ blog, Citizen Sketcher, which has a section dedicated to the challenge. Started by Holmes in 2018, Uma Kelkar was brought on as a co-chair last year. They’ll be moderating the challenge together again this year. Most of the community and camaraderie of this challenge seems to happen within the walls of their Facebook Group. I don’t have a Facebook account, so I won’t be joining the folks there. That’s alright though. I’m not looking for a community to join, just an interesting challenge for myself.

There aren’t many rules to this challenge:

  1. Paint something every day for 30 days
  2. Don’t start with an underdrawing (no pencil, pen, pastel…nothing!), go straight to painting

These are both things I want to get better at. Painting watercolors has begun to feel more like coloring in a coloring book. I have my process down at this point: sketch something out in pencil, and be very detailed in doing so. Add a layer of color over each part of the painting, filling in each shape I just drew. Then another layer of paint, mostly focused on defining shadows or adding another color to the piece. Then I’ll add one more final layer, emphasizing contrast, refining the details…or, let’s be honest…more often than not I’m just overworking the parts of the painting I don’t like.

There’s nothing exactly wrong with this process…the results are fine, but they don’t feel satisfying to me anymore. I want to try something different. The pieces I’m happiest with over the past few months have been ones where I’ve done less sketching and more “drawing with the brush”, rendering details as I go.

This challenge presents a nice opportunity to practice a different approach to painting. Which will of course be a challenge. That first rule though…the “paint something every day” rule…that might be the bigger challenge for me.

Daily routines are a struggle for me. There are very few things that I do every day. Even the obvious things, the things you need to do to be a functioning human, I don’t do them at the same time or even in the same way every day. This means that making meaningful changes to my habits is very, very challenging. Attempting this challenge is a low-stakes way for me to practice building intentional habits.

Now To Make It A Little More Interesting

Marc Taro Holmes gave himself a few additional goals/rules last year when he did this challenge. I like that idea, so I’m going to do the same.

My complete set of rules are:

  1. Paint something every day for 30 days
  2. Don’t start with an underdrawing (no pencil, pen, pastel…nothing!), go straight to painting
  3. Use the same limited color palette for all paintings
  4. Don’t buy any additional supplies for this challenge
  5. Use the same kind of reference image for all paintings

Rule #3 is meant to force me to focus on tone and value in my paintings more than hue. Hue is the obvious feature of any scene, but seeing past it, seeing the shadows and highlights and how they coalesce into shapes independent of hue is a skill I need to develop. This should help me do that.

Rule #4 is because I have a problem when it comes to buying art supplies. I mean, who doesn’t?? Art supplies are the BEST. They’re also a distraction. I don’t need to spend any more money right now to elevate my art skills. I just need to do the thing. Repeatedly.

Rule #5 will (hopefully) leave me with a body of work that looks harmonious, like it’s supposed to go together. I like painting things in series. Even without a challenge like this, I’ll usually start multiple paintings at the same time, all with a connected theme. When I’m pushing out of my comfort zone in other ways, it’ll be nice to have something that’s familiar.

What’s my theme going to be? Well, if anyone’s actually reading this, you’ll just have to wait for the challenge to begin! Each day I’ll show my reference image(s) along with my painting, and I’ll explain why I chose this particular theme on the first day.

I’m looking forward to this. Hopefully I end up with some pieces I’m proud of.