As we reach one year since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, I’ve been thinking back on the last year. I don’t think 2020 went how anyone thought it would: lockdowns, masks as part of a daily routine, social distancing from friends and family would have seemed almost unthinkable to be part of our new daily life. But in this post, I want to reflect back on a different part of 2020 that didn’t go quite how I thought it would: my 2020 challenges.
I entered the year with the ambitious plan to take on a new challenge each month. In January, it was to write a blog post each day. In February, I got out with my camera to take photos every day. March was perhaps my most visually striking month, where I drew every day and dramatically improved my ability to draw a self portrait. Then during the first lockdown in April, I tried to keep a little fitness in my life by doing 10,000 pushups over the course of the month. But after that, I started to lose steam. I ended up completing two electronics-based mini projects in May (one to rewire a light to work off a USB charger and the other two make an Arduino immersion circulator), but I didn’t get around to finishing the blog post for the later until 2021. I kept trying to finish what I’d left behind while taking on something new until the whole project came to a standstill in the second half of the year.
So while I don’t have any grand plan this year like I did last year, I wanted to see if I could at least finish what I started. In a world where I, among many, feel like I constantly leave things uncompleted to chase after some shiny new thing, I thought that before taking on new things, I would finish the three started, but unfinished challenges from last year. Writing the Arduino blog post was the first, which brings us to the second…
How to Paint
I’m still very proud of the progress I made while drawing, so I wanted to see how well that could translate to painting as well. I researched books, online classes, YouTube videos, etc. and bought a ton of cheap, small 10×10 cm and 12×18 cm canvases to be able to practice and finish a tiny painting every day. As I planned to move out of my apartment at the end of June, the goal was to improve my skills and then paint the view of that apartment of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, here in Montpellier.
But even right away, I missed a few days, which turned into a week. Eventually, I did manage to sit down and do a small painting of a sweet potato that still hangs in my kitchen today.
But then for the rest of the month I just kind of procrastinated the time away. I’ve always been a bit ‘streaky’. If I go to the gym three days in a row, it’s fairly likely that I’ll keep in up for weeks. Miss three days? It may be months before I go back.
So while I hadn’t improved daily as I had wanted, I made an effort in the last few days in my apartment to still paint my view of the cathedral.
In the end, I didn’t finish, but I had a basic version of the painting complete.
Master of Procrastination
And there it sat for ages. I kept having ‘Finish unfinished challenges’ on my things to accomplish each month, but essentially nothing would get done. The few times that I did try, I kept trying to fix the discrepancy between the colors in the two towers, but each time came away unsatisfied. (Mixing colors is hard!)
I even changed directions and decided to redo the sky as a sunset, as those were some of the most awe-inspiring views I had from that window.
And then the painting sat, more or less untouched for six more months.
Finishing things in 2021
Which brings us to the present. After finishing the immersion circulator post, I slowly started chipping away again. I’d put on some music, dance around with the cat like a crazy person, and try to have fun with it. I’d remind myself that I didn’t need to end up with a masterpiece, just something completed that I could keep as a measure of my progress.
I still wasn’t as productive as during, say, the drawing challenge. But finally I was making some progress again and could see things coming together.
And so, while not perfect, I have finally finished the painting that I set out to do more than nine months ago.
Thoughts and Reflections
I have a few thoughts about painting and about projects in general.
For painting, colors are hard. I didn’t have a vast array of colors, just a few cheap acrylic tubes of white, black, red, yellow, blue, etc. I ended up buying raw sienna, burnt umber, and cadmium red and yellow before starting again, and I think that helped with making the shades I was looking for. I’m much more in awe of people who can easily mix together any color they are looking for from just primary colors because to me it is way harder than drawing. But still, even though the colors in the painting are different than the ‘realistic’ ones I was going for, I think I might like this look a little better. Painting, more than the drawing I’ve done, feels like an artistic domain that allows for one to more easily leave realism behind.
As for projects, there is a lot to be said for the vast space in between perfection and throwing in the towel. I didn’t end up with lots of little projects. Nor did I create a blog post with lots of resources on learning how to paint. Hell, I didn’t even finish in the same calendar year that I intended to. But by finishing the painting now, I still learned a lot, I regained a sense of pride and accomplishment, and I built up some momentum going forward. And in the end, that’s all I can ask for.