Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Value of a Challenge

I'm involved in teaching another pastel class at Lux Center for the Arts this weekend.  My good friend and cohort in art, Mavis Penney, has offered to stand in for me.

“The Value of a Challenge” by Guest Blogger Mavis Penney

There’s a lot to be said for responding to a challenge. A challenge kicks you into high-gear action. It gives you another person’s point of view, and it forces you to be accountable for doing what you say you will do. I’ll bet that you know what it feels like to receive a challenge, and what it feels like to respond to one, too. Patricia Scarborough has dished out quite a few challenges in my direction, and every one of them has repaid me handsomely in value well beyond what I expected.

©2009 Mavis Penney, Muskrat Falls, 5x7 oil

Patricia and I met in a workshop conducted by Alyson Stanfield of, and we started collaborating on painting projects almost immediately. Our biggest project together was our 2009 “Off the Highway” series, in which we each produced 100 paintings in 100 days, and posted our images with our comments to the project blog. Patricia and I have pushed each other to work through online courses, we have read books together, and we have celebrated each other’s successes. And we have each pulled the other out of those places where the temptation to quit was so strong it was just about swallowing us up.

This past summer, I felt I was losing touch with my watercolor technique and also with the freshness of painting outdoors. I whined about it once too often, and Patricia offered me the challenge of painting 30 watercolors “on my back door-step.” She said I would reap the benefits of closely observing the scenery in a very limited area, and I wouldn’t have to go far from home to do it.

The view from Mavis' back step
I don’t think Patricia intended it to be a-painting-a-day challenge, but when I observed that there were 30 paintings to be done and that there are 30 days in September, I got up a head of steam over completing all 30 paintings by the end of the month. And I pushed myself to make the project a fully plein air experience as well. And I pledged to make myself accountable by posting the 30 paintings to my blog. In other words, I overbuilt the challenge. In fact, I made it so top-heavy that I couldn’t keep up with it. And so, I am writing to report that at the end of 30 days, I have completed 12 paintings. Most of those paintings I did do out of doors, and the rest are either from sketches or photos from my back door-step that I completed indoors. I’m about halfway through this challenge. I haven’t met my expectations. But I haven’t quit. I am still painting, still working with the watercolors and still posting the results to the blog.

 ©2010 Mavis Penney, Fireweed Blossom #10, 11x15" watercolor

From the halfway point, I can tell you that the true value of this challenge is not that I am adding to my skills and also to my inventory of paintings, and it is not that I am sharpening my powers of observation, although all of these things have happened. The true value of accepting this or any challenge is that it opens your mind to possibilities you never thought about. The true value of a challenge is that it provides a jumping-off point for new challenges beyond your wildest expectations. Thanks for reading! I’ll be in touch again soon to let you know about the second half of this challenge.

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