When to quit and when to commit to not quitting
My commitment to do 356 doodles (drawings or paintings) in a year is not the first time I’ve done such a thing. Well it is the biggest such commitment, just not the only one.
The first time was imposed upon me by a college art teacher. She had us each choose three objects to draw for an assignment at the beginning of the semester - without forewarning us that we would be making 50 drawings or paintings of those same objects before the end of the semester. Had I known, I might have chosen something I was at least slightly interested in or thought lovely to look at. But for that first assignment I just chose what was handy on my desk: a stapler, a bicycle padlock and a small cellophane tape dispenser.
After two or three assignments drawing those objects, I was thoroughly bored with them and really wanted to move on but my grade was dependent on my sticking with it. I tried to amuse myself by trying different mediums in the next few assignments: charcoal, colored pencil, pen and ink. Still, the objects of my attention were not at all interesting to me. The teacher had said there were no limits to how we rendered our objects as long as all three were in each assignment. Sometimes she gave us multiple approaches to choose from, such as make your objects into animals or make your objects tell some kind of story. I can’t remember exactly what I drew to tell a story except that it had something to do with the stapler chewing on the padlock to open it. I don’t remember what the tape dispenser ended up doing. I only remember that’s about when the real fun began that semester.
I made a huge drawing of these three (now) characters on a bedsheet, I drew them dressed to the hilt in a fashion show, I planted them in a garden painted with oils. I hung the actual objects like a mobile inside a picture frame. I made some really awful drawings and paintings and learned a lot about painting in the process. My commitment to seeing that assignment through to the end was forced on me by that teacher but I learned a great deal about what magic can happen when you stretch your sense of possibilities by not giving up too early. I reached a level of creativity not initially available to me when I first drew those objects.
I've used this disciplined method of pushing myself in other ways since. About 10 years ago I promised to make 200 paintings in one year and sell them to help raise funds for a youth mentoring program I was involved with. What kept me going with that project was my desire to help that agency financially and the momentum that was created by people who joined me in the cause by being the first to claim and purchase each painting.
Last April, I started my plan to make 365 doodles/drawings or paintings in one year "to see what would change in my life as a result." I was looking for a way to transition from a year filled with grief and loss to a year filled with renewed hope and expectation for better things coming my way. My, oh my, I couldn't have imagined what would happen as a result of that decision and my sticking to it. I couldn't bear any more grief so at first I just used the daily drawing as a way to distract me, a way akin to meditation for me. And then I got caught up in it and the doodles became drawings and the drawings became paintings and the painting flowed onto my 1972 Chevy camper van and I doodled my way into some new adventures and relationships and even to knowing I needed to make a physical move for my own wellbeing. And now here I am sharing this process and my artwork with you, less than 100 doodles away from completing my commitment, at peace with my grieving process.
But there are times when it's more important to let go of a commitment than try and keep it. When a commitment to do something is no longer rewarding or healthy or loving to yourself or others. In the middle of my earlier grief, I had to acknowledge I couldn't take care of myself and keep the non-profit arts agency I was leading going. I had to make my own wellbeing a priority over the expectations of others. There are paintings that you can rework and rework until you find what you are trying to say and there are paintings no amount of overworking will save and it's best just to let go of trying.
Today I am finding new balance and new understanding about when to keep a light touch and trust and when it's important to stay committed to a course. It's probably not all that important in the big scheme of things whether or not I reach my goal of 365 doodles/drawings/paintings in a year but, for me, I have some important history around staying the course and seeing what happens. It helps me trust myself the next time I need to commit to something that is important.