February Daily Project

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Some little books being born. They are absolutely not crap –ed..

There is a thing that I know, and you know it too. Making stuff is both the best and the woorst thing ever. It is the best because you get to DO something, and have a tangible thing at the end of it, like an art, or a sock, or a document. It is the worst because what we produce is routinely not the lovely thing that we saw/wanted to emulate/exists in our head. That lovely thing, I am here to tell you, is a snare and a delusion. It is standing in the way of the things you can make by taunting you. Together, we are going to kill that lovely thing dead, and use the bones to seed a new habit, a new process, and a new willingness for you to make things. We, my beloveds, are going to make CRAP. On PURPOSE. It is gonna be great.

I would like to invite you to take the month of February to practice something every day, and see what happens. The thing you choose has to be easy for you (the low bar), it has to be fairly rigorously delimited (solid boundaries to push against) and you have to follow two simple rules.

There are reasons for these requirements. The first is that a low bar benefits everyone. The second is that without boundaries, you’ll be paralyzed. The third is that you have to leave it to someone else to define the rules, so you don’t get too hung up on outcome.

The Very Low Bar: The purpose of an absurdly low bar is to invite anyone and everyone to step over it, to prove, in fact, that anyone and everyone can step over it. Having stepped over it gives you a little jolt of accomplishment, which is a good thing, and encourages you to do it again. We are after that tiny jolt of encouragement that comes from doing the thing. That will propel you to do it again, and again, and again, which is practice. So choose something you have tools for. Choose something that you can set up quickly and clean up easily (or set up in a corner somewhere that won’t be disturbed). Lower the threshhold for doing the thing as much as you possibly can. To that end, it is perfectly legit to lay in a stock of things before Feb 1 – like pre-cut paper, sharpened pencils, the paints for this February’s palette, or all the ends of sock yarn you have on hand. Get a little excited about this process!

The Very Clear Boundaries: This is a lesson from Twyla Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit and reinforced by personal experience and even Orson Welles (“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” ) To this end, 1) you must put some lines around what you want to practice, and B) make that measurable. So choose a size, limit your palette, limit number of stitches you are knitting, limit yarn size, commit to buying nothing new, or using up all of a resource, do whatever you need to make the box you are creating around your project small enough to be a little constrictive, so that you can experiment with pushing at the edges without having to spend too much time finding the edges first. To make that measurable, choose metrics you can see, and count, things that are strictly mathematical or true/false. Your metrics matter, a lot. “Make one nice picture” is useless because who says it is nice? “I used up all the paint I had” is a very good metric because you can tell when you’ve achieved it and also it is pushing you towards more using and making.

Two Rules:

If you liked doing that, do it again.

If you hated doing that, do it again.

We can talk about this, or you can just think about it a little. If you liked doing that, it was satisfying in some fashion. Chase that, and figure out what it was. If you hated doing doing that, something in it was aggravating or frustrating – figure out what, and try again but avoid that thing. Or maybe the frustration was around a thing you don’t know how to do – go look it up, and then try again. Lean towards what you like and is gratifying. Don’t shirk the frustrating stuff.

Some Additional Details:

February, as we all well know, is the longest month. The Romans did us a favor by chopping days off it until it felt as long as July, but since it has only 28 days this year, it is technically shorter by two or three days than any other month we have. Since we are going to do something daily, picking Feb to start seems like a good plan. And yes, we are going for daily, which is why the Low Bar and the Clear Boundaries are going to work in your favor. We are not working on making Art every day, we are working on making A Mess every day, and learning from it.

I’m going to be posting work to Instagram with #dailyFeb2018 for a hashtag. I hope you will join me. Tell me you are participating, and there will be prizes. There will be prizes for hitting your marks (use up something? Get a prize! Work every day for a week? Get ANOTHER prize! Make it Through Feb Every Day? A REALLY BIG PRIZE! I’m feeling really generous!) Post your project in the comments, friend me on Instagram (lee.thomson.art), hash-tag your work.

Get ready now!

Lee Thomson is finishing a mid-life crisis and looking around for dragons.


49 Responses to “February Daily Project”

  1. exitpursuedbyaclaire says:

    This is exciting! I'll need to figure out what my boundaries are. I will probably be drawing, because I am not crafty and this seems like a bad time to try and start being crafty (see: low bar to entry). Maybe I'll draw an animal mash-up every day (cat + deer? Parrot + ferret? Rabbit + rhinoceros?)

  2. Lynn says:

    Ooo, I think maybe I will use this to prompt myself to work on the <a href=" https://somethingturquoise.com/?s=felt+flowers&qu… flowers I've had the supplies for since last February. I bought my first hot glue gun and everything. (Note: I found them on a wedding diy site but I will be making them just for house decor.)

  3. Onymous says:

    It's not February yet and you scared shit out of me.

  4. vladazhael says:

    I REALLY like this idea and I need to figure out if I a) like it enough to finally join Instagram and b) have the bandwidth to add a project on top of moving prep and self care and existing projects.

    • Lee Thomson says:

      That is completely legit – if you do want to join in, and really want to avoid IG, and you have something you are experimenting with, put a gold star on the calendar for each day you do the thing. Post a picture of your calendar here, and you'll get credit (I'm easy, truly!).

  5. ru_ri says:

    I want to do this! Low bar and clear boundaries may be the thing I need to get me to play music daily. Thank you, Lee.

  6. Doc_Paradise says:

    I'm in.

    I will be making and modifying postcards.
    I will be using drawing and painting mediums.
    I will be mailing them to people.

    Actually sending them to people makes this easier for me. I find it motivating. Anyone who wants one sent to them, email me at doc dot paradise 42 at gmail. I'll also put them up on Instagram.

    • Lee Thomson says:

      awesome!! Tags on IG seems to be ways to relocate pix, so you can search for a particular tag and see people's work for the month. If I lean more I will relay it to you here!

  7. Doc_Paradise says:

    Er. How do I follow tags on Instagram?

  8. Absotively says:

    Hmm. The art I'm most interested in working on right now is sewing, because I'm developing a clearer view of what I want in my wardrobe. But it's not that quick to set up and clean up, and I'm not sure I can find a corner for it. Also the chunk of my to-sew list that I'd most like to attack is mending, which isn't all that creative. But maybe I could make it work. And maybe I'd get more of the mending done if I had things set up already for reasons of this challenge. I will consider it, anyways.

    Oh, also my parents may be visiting in February. That makes it a little trickier, they tend to take up the corner that would work best for sewing. Though it's possible my mom would lend a hand with some of the mending. Hmm.

    • Lee Thomson says:

      As far as I am concerned, mending totally counts – and if you want to keep moving and turn the mending into embellishment, that counts double!!

      • Absotively says:

        If I can count mending, then I think I'm in.

        Limits: don't start a new project if I have a half-finished project I could reasonably work on.

        Metrics: I will try to do at least one of the following every day:
        * buy fabric/materials (but only if no half-finished projects, as above!) (or if I think I will finish my current project before the next time I have time to go fabric shopping)
        * pre-wash fabric (not very creative, but a bit time consuming)
        * prepare a pattern (select size, print + assemble if PDF, trace if needed, cut out)
        * cut fabric
        * sew two seams
        * sew a hem or binding or zipper, or make bias tape, or otherwise do something more complicated than a seam
        * any of the things on my mending list

        I will probably skip Wednesdays, because Wednesdays are very busy. Or maybe I'll just save up the easiest things on the mending list!

    • Kazoogrrl says:

      You could try different mending techniques?

      • Absotively says:

        I am actually planning to try a different technique for some of the repairs needed, so I guess that counts!

        The different technique is just "figure out machine blind hemming finally," but still.

  9. Fancy_Pants says:

    Ooh, I really like this idea. I'm going to have to think of a creative project I can do in tiny day-sized bites. A lot of my creative stuff–like, record a song–isn't exactly someyhing I could do one of a day. Maybe I could do a sketch a day though!

    • Lee Thomson says:

      You could try to record a song a week? There must be some way to parcel that process out over a week, between writing, and videoing and messing about with editing and practice. I guess I'm thinking of the songwriter for Fraggle Rock who wrote a song a day, even if was a dreadful song. He didn't care, and it gave him more opportunities to produce a decent song.

      Maybe Jonathan Coultan did something like this too – I seem to remember his song about Fancy Pants (side note – THAT's YOU!!!?!) was something that happened and he no idea how well received it would be. Which ultimately – very enthusiastically.

      • Fancy_Pants says:

        Oh wow, OH WOW, that Fancy Pants song! From a song-a-week project no less! I mean, I guess I *have* to do a song a week, now, hmm? I've been specifically called out.

        I think I need to pick a specific creative constraint, like a lyrical theme or a style or a narrative structure or, like, a *something* to write a soundtrack for, otherwise I will get stalled and get in my head about making it Good, and that's not the point. So I will have to think about that and if anyone has any good ideas for a 4 song writing/recording project please help me out.

        • Lee Thomson says:

          heh. the younger Crow and I were developing a set of songs we called The Freeze Thaw Cycle – there was one about potholes, one about maple syrup, one about proper drainage in roads, and… I've forgotten the last one. Maybe it was a hymn of joy when the world stopped smelling like dead mud and felt green?

    • Lee Thomson says:

      there's the opening material here:

  10. dirtymagpie says:

    Okay, I see the brilliance of this.
    I won't be an artist for Feb, I'll just fart around with it.
    I'll be a FARTIST!

    Or maybe the German spelling: FAHRTIST!

    Because "fahrt" means to drive (also journey) and it's good to think of it as a way to a destination.

  11. Lee Thomson says:

    I am making a small painting every single day. I have the canvases pre-cut, and the paints on hand, and a book ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22676111-lear… ) and I'll post something every day.

    I am looking to use up paint, use up the canvases, and make at least 28 tiny paintings. I hope I will gain facility with paint by not worrying so much about what I'm looking at, and thinking harder about how to move paint around on the surface, and what kinds of effects I can produce.

  12. Heathered says:

    Giving myself this week to decide whether to practice embroidery daily or try to write a haiku a day. I'm not a 'grammer but I will be with you in spirit doing one or the other…or a third thing if one occurs to me.

  13. kkw says:

    I love this idea! My first thought is knitting, because that's something I could do every day, even while travelling, and using up what yarn I have in the apt would be tremendously efficient. But. I don't know that I'm challenging myself sufficiently, because even if I don't do it as often as I'd like, I am unaware of any knitting insecurities.
    I feel like practicing painting, towards not being so intimidated by using underglazes in pottery, is more in keeping with the idea of giving myself permission to just be bad at a thing. But the barrier to entry may be too high, because fear (and travel).
    Will think.
    Thanks ever so for the inspiration!

  14. Kazoogrrl says:

    I know I won't be able to do this with the things I'd usually try (sewing, knitting) since I'll be traveling for almost two weeks. I might try to make a point of writing a few journal lines every day, or maybe taking pictures, as that's easily portable and can be folded into vacation activities.

    • Lee Thomson says:

      That sounds like a fine plan! Also two weeks of travel sounds like a really good moment to journal or take a picture that somehow feels like it encapsulates the day… I bought a (tiny, foolish, but basically adorable) Sprocket printer to print pix from my phone to stick into a journal. Because they're slightly expensive ($0.75 each) I don't print a lot, but I can do one per day just to remind me.

  15. jenavira says:

    I am so excited about this! In February, I will finish binding my pile of Not Very Nice Notebooks. (I make them en masse from scrap paper at work.) Last summer I sewed up a whole pile of book blocks, and right now they're taking up space in my craft storage while they wait for covers.

    I don't think I have 28 book blocks, but I have at least half that number, which gives me some flexibility to deal with drying times and such. (And also possibly to teach myself how to make bookcloth, which I found a tutorial for a while ago, and I have Plans for my fabric stash.)

    • jenavira says:

      (And on reflection this feels more like a To Do List Item and less like Trying Art, so I am going to make every cover something I have not done before. Backed and rounded! Homemade bookcloth! Watercolor painting! Embroidered!)

  16. vladazhael says:

    Update: I have not yet decided whether to take the Instagram plunge or not, but I did a test last night of how index cards hold up to watercolors (since that's the most demanding of my available materials), and just now I bought one of Lee's tiny books to make An Art in every day of February. Each Art must be limited to single page, 15 minute limit for each, unless testing a new technique (then no time limit, but only testing).

  17. Xolandra says:

    O my pizza, I am tots going to use this time to learn to use the India Ink that my mommy gave me for Christmas! (I have a fountain pen and my mother saw pots of ink and was like Xolandra likes pots of ink!!!) Anyway. I have always loved calligraphy and I got the tools required and this seems like an _excellent_ way to open that package and actually DO the thing. Maybe I'll even get my own sketchbook instead of just appropriating one of GentlmanX's ^_^

    Such inspiration! Thank you!

    • Absotively says:

      I assume the tools required include a dip pen? I am slightly worried for your fountain pen at the moment, since India Ink is generally not safe for fountain pens. You probably know that, though.

      • Xolandra says:

        Please don't worry! Upon receipt of said gift I was like "this is not the ink I usually use" and narrowed my eyes at it and googled and was like ah, yes, ok. So dip and bamboo pens were both acquired, as well as a brush, because why half measures? ^_^

  18. SquirrelGirl says:

    Me…always late to the commenting party. I sooooo want to do this. But what I really want to do/get back into is more involved than a quick setup/breakdown, and I have some travel in February plus a class.

    But I will do this and I will Instagram it–just not sure what or how. My initial idea is to write fast poems each day. Limit writing to one hour and the first word of each poem must begin with a different letter. So, for February, I can only repeat 2 letters (or start with a symbol or somesuch). Not sure if I'll find this too challenging.

  19. islenskr says:

    Holy cow. Man. Can I do this? This would be really hard because my 'low bar' is usually way higher than it probably should be. But man. What a great idea! A February Flail!

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