The 100-day project is a global art project. Every year, thousands of people from around the world take part. The idea is simple: you choose a creative project and do it every single day for 100 days. You can share your work on social using the hashtag #The100DayProject, but you don't have to.
I took part in the project for the first time this year - I painted 100 portraits in 100 days. My goal was simply to improve my observation skills. Portraiture is possibly the most demanding subject - our brains are so finely attuned to faces that we can instantly tell when something is a bit off. You don't have that problem when you're painting a tree!
So I filled a whole big sketchbook - a properly stitched and bound one, because I wanted to force myself to keep the failures as well as the successes. But is the last page of my sketchbook any better than the first one? To be honest, I don't really think so. You don't get really good at portrait painting in a hundred days, of course not. Portraiture is just really hard, and it takes ages to get better at it. But I've still learnt a few important lessons from the project:
1. The only way to get better at making art is to make lots of art. Durr. Bit of a no-brainer, that one. Practice makes perfect and all that. But it's not just that. It's also the fact that, the more I made, the less invested I was in each individual piece. That doesn't mean that I stopped trying - it just meant that I no longer aimed to get there by the safest route. I took risks, I followed hunches, I explored ideas that didn't appear very promising. That's so much easier to do when you make a 30-minute painting every day, than when you spend three hours on a Sunday on a single painting.
2. Because I had so much time to spend on the topic I had chosen, I didn't have to whittle down my ideas, like I normally would. I got to try them all, and sometimes those that I was less enthusiastic about turned out to be the best ones.
3. It is easier to do something difficult every day, than it is to do something difficult every now and then. I think that's because it eliminates the element of choice. Sometimes, deciding whether to do something or not is harder than actually doing it.
4. It helps to have a plan. I would set myself a weekly theme - like self portraits, or master copies, or painting characters from a film - and gathered all the reference photos I needed on the weekend. That way, when I sat down to paint, I wasn't casting around for ideas.
5. Don't ignore your diurnal rhythm. I have a day job, and it often felt like this job got all my energy, and art got whatever was left at the end of the day - which often wasn't much. I decided to flip this on its head and paint first thing in the morning, before I opened my work emails. That worked well for me. I didn't always manage to complete a painting before work needed my attention, but once I had started, I felt compelled to go back to it, and it never felt like a chore. I might just spend 10 minutes between Zoom calls here and there - the beauty of remote working!
6. It's a good idea to build in breaks. Breaks give the paper a chance to dry properly between layers, and they give me a bit of distance from the painting. That makes it easier to spot mistakes and reduces the risk of overworking.
7. Photos lie. Just like paintings, photos can have varying degrees of likeness. Taking a good reference photo is really difficult. Not only do you need a good range of values to render form, you also need to capture what makes the subject unique. Then there's the issue of lens distortion. This particularly seems to be an issue with photos taken on a smartphone, and especially if they are taken from close up or where the head is at an angle to the camera - if you copy those measurements too slavishly, the painting will look completely wrong. There comes a point when you have to stop comparing the reference and the painting, and just focus on the painting. I've occasionally heard myself say "but it looks like that in the photo!" when someone helpfully pointed out that an eye was wonky, or a mouth off centre. If it looks wrong in the painting, then it's wrong, regardless of what the photo suggests.
8. For portraits, good drawing is essential, and it's the hardest bit. I would almost always spend a lot more time on the drawing than on the painting.
9. Making master copies was a really useful exercise. The main thing I learnt was not to worry too much about skin tones - these artists focus more on tone than hue, and it works. Some even use black! Oh, and caricatures were really useful for understanding likeness. They were also the most fun part of the project.
10. Posting on social media is optional. I didn't want to post my work every day, because I knew that it would make me less willing to experiment and make mistakes. So I just posted a reel once a week where I flicked through the paintings I had just done. You can watch them here.