Case for Making: Colortober Watercolor Challenge!
For the month of October, I took up a challenge offered by a sweet little Watercolor Shop in San Francisco, CA that I happened to follow online via Instagram, Case For Making. Their ‘CFM Colortober Challenge’ was a pretty simple and straightforward way for me to make the excuse to dive into watercolors, and also clear my cart I’d been secretly adding to on their website since I found them. Case For Making is a sweet little company run by a team of women in California, and each of their pigments is hand-mixed and poured. They have a little shop I’d love to visit in person, but for now, the mailbox parcels ordered and vicarious living through the internet will have to do on this snowy and blustery winter day in NW MT.
Also, for the month of October, and most of September, I found myself in desperate need of a break from creative work. As every studio artist knows, burnout is real. I’d been hammering away at my bench all summer, and the exceptionally long and warm Fall gave way to a pretty momentous accidental sabbatical. This break I knew I needed was actually great timing, as my husband and I had just finally purchased a small border property directly behind our house that we had been gingerly trying to purchase since 2017, and we desperately wanted to give it our full attention before winter came. We took the liberty of using every nice day in September and October to reacquaint ourselves with the wooded lot behind us. We moved in dirt, removed trees, built a rock retaining wall, an access path, a sweet north patio, and put in fencing around it. I couldn’t wait to spend my fall days burning sticks in a barrel fire while sipping on a cold beer into the darkness of Fall that turns so quickly to our very long winters here in Montana. I took up this new goal to watercolor every day as a means to still keep the creativity rolling, but also became a great excuse to set my tired and dirt-covered butt into a kitchen chair for a moment to paint. And boy. I had no IDEA how impactful that would truly end up being.
For the creative scope of making a living at art, it can sometimes feel as though churning out objects and never-ending inspirations is not just a requirement, but sometimes, the whole production can feel like a total drag. Like everything has already been built, made, or thought of. Especially with a feed of other wildly talented creative people in your back pocket, ready to show you what you DIDN’T do, or maybe SHOULD'VE done. As every artist can admit, the creativity funnel of the online world can burn you at both ends if you’re not careful with the flame. I most certainly didn’t feel as though I wanted to quit my job, I love metal. BUT I felt so obligated to churn out good stuff on the regular, I really needed to step back and re-appreciate what I do for a living. I think it was one of the strongest moves I’ve made in quite some time.
In that step back, I approached a few things differently. First, I limited my extensive screen time to less than 2 hours a day. For someone who runs an online business, this can be nearly impossible! BUT! In doing so, I found that the constant stream of jewelry I had regularly participated in seeing, after a good break, was just not that captivating anymore. In other words, I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss anything, actually. Everyone is still setting beautiful stones, (always has been, we just now have a platform that monetizes it in front of our eyes, and hands) and honestly, I was better at feeding my creative self without that constant comparison. We all are.
Second, I let go of the ‘rules of engagement’ for this challenge. Meaning, if I missed a day, or a whole week of painting (because, life!) I refused to beat myself up about it or feel as though I had failed myself in some way. This was going to be fun, dammit! ‘Colortober’ was to be a monochrome study, with each day assigned a specific color from CFM’s gorgeous library of paints, but I wasn’t going to NOT put a little yellow center on a pink flower if that’s what it needed. I tried to do one small painting at a time, usually no more than 3”x3”, but some days I would finish one, and move onto the next, and the next, to catch up. I did find it easier to work on one piece at a time, and the times I did try to do more than one at once, they usually always ended up in the garbage. And the garbage! It was totally okay to start over if I hated it. No need to make ugly work stick around longer than needed!
Third, and I think this one was the most important: I tried not to rush. With watercolors, I learned quickly that time is your friend. Papers can get soaked with too much water, things can look muddy, and entire baby squares of paper can be warped, peeled, and ripped in a nano-second…If I was rushing. And come to find out about myself, that’s apparently usually how I show up in life. Impatient and in a hurry. Onto the next. Onto the next. Good enough. Onto the next. I know that seems like a personality trait that a jeweler might not exude, as jewelry can be downright tedious sometimes! But for whatever reason, this exercise brought up in me some very deep-rooted habits, or lack of habits, about ‘the time it takes’. I’m still processing all the things this one exercise has shown me about myself, my creative process, and my creative habits (good or bad). But mostly. I became acutely aware of my need to finish something over just enjoying the process of moving paint on paper, and that lesson alone I hope to bring into my creative practice regularly. It should take the time it takes. And I should give myself permission to do just that.
The thing about being a full-time metalsmith I guess I hadn’t thought of before is that most everything is project based. To an extent, I would say all studio artists making a living at their art are project based. It’s what makes timelines and bills paid and monetization of creativity almost nearly necessary. No one buys an unfinished painting, or a nearly-built bolo tie. But this watercolor study has brought up many things about joyful play in practice. About doing something just for the hell of it. For me, it was specifically about learning something new, something I had very little experience with, and something I didn’t need to monetize. It was a refreshing practice to make something as an artist, just for the fun of it. I had forgotten how truly joyful creativity is. I had forgotten what it was like to just…play.
For being just 31 squares of watercolor paper, I feel evermore prepared to build up a stronger creative practice in NOT watercolor. It’s odd that something so new and unaffiliated could be such a strong teacher, but then again, isn’t that why NEW is important? Without freshening up our life’s language, we’re doomed to repeat ourselves. We’re boring ourselves without even knowing we’re doing it. It’s so crazy to think I hadn't been in the habit of play while doing creative things. While making stuff I loved. Stuff I was proud of. And so I go back into the jewelry studio a little lighter this winter, hoping to re-learn the ways that paint habits could also be metal habits (and maybe could also be life habits?!) and of course, to give it the time it takes.