A short adventure

I have just finished a private 30 day challenge (which we both preferred to name ‘adventure’) with a good friend.

This sort of daily practice comes with particular challenges but folk seem to find them overwhelmingly positive so I thought I’d give it a try!

The first task is to select a focus for the month.  This is the point at which you can narrow down exactly what you would like to explore and provide some limitations for depth.

In the previous post, I said I’d like to use my new pastels and get loose and sketchy so that’s what this was about. I limited myself to watercolours and pastels and a set of photos as the weather hasn’t allowed going out to sketch. I saved some sets of photos in my files – one of some bluebells and a couple of walks we did recently. I took photos of all the ordinary things as well as scenes as I thought I’d try sketching the near and far together and maybe collage them into something new. That didn’t really happen but as I re-listened to Lewis Noble and David Mankin both talking about what I’m calling the ‘in-ness’ of a landscape, it all started to make sense. For example, as Lewis says, why not have blue at the bottom of a painting, given we are in the sky and it’s not just where we see it above the horizon? I have been on a number of workshops where sketching the near and far of a place is encouraged, the noises, and how it makes you feel, and although I haven’t got there yet, it makes complete sense.

I’ve never committed to a daily approach before and expected to be flagging after a couple of weeks, however, totally surprised myself actually. I kept the time to do something very short each day but often found myself playing for much longer. Did it all start with a triumphant fanfare I hear you ask? Er no… I thoroughly infuriated myself by somehow avoiding the very thing I wanted to do. I wondered if I’d wasted my money on my new chalk pastels to be honest. But after a re-start few days later and giving myself a slap around the cheeks with a wet kipper I was actually able to begin sketching. It was nice to start with some colour from Spring..

I found myself resisting doing what I felt was landscape as I wanted to use anything I did to support abstract work. As I noticed this though, I started to realise two things, 1) both those terms are ridiculously fluid and not particularly helpful and 2) representing the subject more realistically helped me understand it before being able to pull away into abstraction. It is possibly just something I need to do.

Textile interpretation
Close-up of another piece I’m working on…

So why sketch?  I just wanted to see if this was for me or not and how it might help create work. Over the 30 days, I’d say it:

  • Provided connection to place
  • Helped to see differently 
  • Put a pilot light under memory
  • Supported ambiguity and looseness
  • Helped capture essence
  • Provided ingredients for subsequent work
  • Allowed time for depth

As my friend and I carried on, it was interesting to find we both produced things that were ‘us’. It seems no matter where you start, you come back to your own voice. We also shared the experience of ‘seeing’ more. For me, it opened up seeing the landscape in terms of shape, colour and line. Places I have walked almost daily for years suddenly had new things to offer such as the way the lines of fence wires rested or the shapes of shadows on snow.


The thumbnails and sketches provided inspiration for a finished painting and textile work. It wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t, but I wouldn’t have made them without doing the challenge, and that’s the thing; just engaging in something small each day takes you to unexpected places (and is the reason for an ‘adventure’: a journey with unknown destination).

Thumbnails looking at field wall lines – these feel more exciting!

As I say, I didn’t end up with material for ripping up into collage and finding new possibilities but I did find creating small abstract thumbnails really beneficial for compositional ideas and were probably my takeaway from the experience. I’m excited to continue developing any kind of process might work for me, whether it’s more of the same or something else.

The watercolours were great for recording colour and the pastels for developing it at speed.  They stopped me getting fiddly and were great for adding light on dark.  The challenge really freed me up, and sharing my uglies as well as the good bits with a trusted friend was really helpful. There is no one process for being creative and it really is about personal discovery. For me, 30 days was perfect for giving this a go.

You can find out more about various art challenges on line. The idea of most of them is to post what you are doing daily on social media. It wasn’t something I wanted to do as I went along – it’s sometimes a good idea not to post things immediately if you are not confident or when something is in a fledgling state. However, do find someone else or a small group of friends to do it with as that provides the same sort of accountability for showing up each day. It has been good to look through things post challenge and I will add some bits to social media but clump them up. I don’t really care for daily images from someone doing a challenge for 100 days! However these types of challenges are really common and that’s just my view, you decide on yours.

What’s next? More of the same I think, a dabble with inks maybe? If I am to sketch outside, I recognise that having some dry media would be helpful and I’m glad I’m friends with my chalk pastels again. I have NO IDEA if I will end up anywhere with this but I’m enjoying the unknowing.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue

20 thoughts on “A short adventure

  1. This is very inspiring and I’m so impressed with the thumbnails and the development work. Such gorgeous colours. I have several full sets of chalk pastel pencils (husband used to work for Swan Stabilo) and I’ve never really used them. Perhaps I should start a 30 day chalk pastel challenge! (Yes, definitley!)

  2. Thanks for sharing your challenge, I love what you have done, love the colours. I have loads of art materials that I haven’t really explored so I need to get them out and have a daily play to see where it takes me. Thanks for inspiring me.

  3. So much enjoyed reading your post and seeing your work. The challenge has certainly been productive. As for me, I think I need to go off and find myself a wet kipper!

  4. Brilliant, just brilliant, love your way with words…thank you Rachael. I agree about the daily posting, finding there is too much of this about. There is nothing wrong with developing work in a solitary state if it suits you and I increasingly find that this is the case with me! Thanks again.

      1. I cancelled in December, having a rethink on what I do as a result of the arrival of a litter of puppies from my daughters Cocker Spaniel in November! And we have kept two, one was always the plan, we weakened and fell for a second having reared them from birth. A joyous experience and now a new focus to my walks! Still looking and working towards distilling and abstraction. Could you pass on details of the Lewis Noble and John Mankin that you mention. X

      2. They were talks in a painting membership group I joined for the year so not open to all I’m afraid. Will miss you but it sounds as if your hands are full with bundles of mischief!

  5. I love getting a glimpse of people’s processes, and seeing how you developed the bluebells (a nostalgic favourite of mine) from a realistic interpretation through to the more abstract and textile versions is fascinating – and it’s something that wouldn’t be at all obvious in daily Instagram posts.

  6. J’aime beaucoup la démarche du défi et le travail qui s’ensuit. La représentation d’abord, le travail de simplification ensuite et le cheminement vers l’abstraction. Cela aide énormément à comprendre la transformation intellectuelle de ce que l’on voit et à comprendre les peintres abstraits. Un cours n’aurait pas fait mieux ni davantage. Bravo à vous !

  7. Hi, Rachel,I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your willingness to share, and I love many of your images as well as your commentary about this approach. Thanks, and happy hunting for those next inspiring places. Regards, Kris Loffler

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS

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