Use-it-or-Lose-it Challenge Debrief

[Published a bit after the fact, alas!] Yes, I realize we're smack in the middle of the holiday season, but I'm still enjoying the afterglow of the November Daily Art Challenge I wrote about last time. I want to tell you how it went, because (as always) I hope you can take something away from my experience.

Yes, YOU, the one with that great collection of art materials sitting in a box in the bottom of your back closet.

I know you. You're the one waiting for somedayWhen you have more time.

I'm happy to report that I pretty much rocked the Challenge!

It had the exact effects that I hoped it would. I'll explain more about that in a minute.

First, let me recap the rules I set for myself, which was an idea borne out of having too many art supplies that I use too rarely.

Review: Rules of my Self-imposed Challenge/Self-designed Game:

Each day in November: 1. Use a color I don't like or rarely use. 2. Use a material or tool I've never (or almost never) used. 3. Work quickly -- don't over think it. 4. Post daily on Instagram and Facebook.

Here are some things I learned:

  • I frickin' love my iridescent, sparkly Royal Gold mural paint. Why haven't I been using this shimmery deliciousness more often? My pint jar is so old that the consistency of the paint is now lumpy, thick and gelatinous (better than dry or hard!), but it's great for dipping a fingertip in and smearing some glinty gossamer over a collage or to highlight a painting.
  • The fancier the material, the harder it is to find a use for it. I have these cool adhesive letter charm things, but they've been sitting next to my work area all month and I can't figure out how to incorporate them into anything. They're attention grabbers, and I'm afraid they'll look tacky wherever I put them. They ultimately didn't make the cut.
  • Conversely, the most benign objects can become stars. The humble paint chips I used last week to make a collage, and then to paint mini pictures on, got enthusiastic comments. Probably because they're usually seen as temporary tools, not art materials.
  • Because I told you I would be doing this every day, I made darn sure I did it every day. Yes, I know only a few of you were really following along on social media, but you mattered. Accountability is a magical motivator.

What Got Used

Here's a partial inventory of things from my stash that I used in artwork last month: playing cards, hardware store paint chips, vintage sewing patterns, homemaker book pages, sequins, my bead collection, buttons, leather swatches, jute netting, jumbo oil pastel sticks, black gesso, white gesso, molding paste, BINGO cards, Lotteria cards, worry dolls, Yugoslavian postage stamps, mini envelopes, gel pens, a wooden drawer, watch parts, alphabet beads, a cigar box, wooden thread spools, seashells, ledger paper, dictionary pages, Dymo label makers, rusty hardware, candles, rubber stamp carving materials, inked scratch boards, and bright orange paint.

And deep purple paint. And pale lavender paint. And cherry red paint. And dull blue paint. And sunny yellow paint. And yellow ochre paint. And many other colors of paint that are not the four that I've been using in almost all of my artwork for the past 5+ years!

Here's a sampling of how they got used.

To see more, check out my Instagram feed.

BINGO collage
BINGO collage
paint chip paintings
paint chip paintings
gracious hostess collage
gracious hostess collage
Bird painting on old yearbook
Bird painting on old yearbook
"Release" mini-collage
"Release" mini-collage

So, now what?

Someone asked early on, "What are you going to do with all the things you make?" Well, that was not my concern when I started—the point was just to make. However, a few of them appeared on the tables in the first annual holiday craft & art sale held in our new Portland home in December.

(Within the Challenge came a secondary challenge: to try not to think about the end product, as if I should be able to sell each thing I make. This is an issue every time I sit down to make something. *sigh*)

Most Notably...

The most important take-away from this whole experience has been the playful, gaming mindset–the ease and anticipation with which I sat down at my makeshift studio table each morning. I couldn't wait to see what would happen there! What fun things would I dig out of my stash to use? How would I surprise myself? I'm always encouraging others to treat their artwork as an experiment, so it was good to remember that and fully embrace my own advice. :)

Also, remember the Preciousness trap I talked about last time—the feeling that a special object or art material is too special to use right now, but must be held onto for someday because it is so cool? I was pretty successful in JUST USING STUFF. Just picking it up and gluing it on, maybe dabbing a little paint on it. What's the big deal?? Some things worked out pretty great. Others, not so much. Importantly, nothing bad happened from using something precious.

The "work quickly" rule was tough, though. I did spend a fair amount of time selecting the materials each day. It actually seemed right that I should be thoughtful about that. Once I got into the making part, I tried to mindfully not overthink the process. That sounds like irony, but I reminded myself to just keep going, keep going.

Remember my mantra?

Use it or lose it. Why do I have it if I can't allow myself to use it right now?? I made great strides in getting over that mental block.

The "use it or lose it" mentality has been oozing into all areas of my life. My wardrobe is both pared down and more interesting as a result. Lots of items aren't making the cut—good riddance. I've been testing out clothes I've had for ages but that usually feel too daring or dressed up or "out there" for me to actually wear in public, and it's been fun! It feels like another way to be visually creative. (I know, "Duh!" But this is coming from someone who wears black yoga pants and the same paint-stained navy sweatshirt every day at home.)

Confession: I also looked to Marie Kondo for inspiration. You know, of the "keep only those items that spark joy" fame? Honestly, her lens helps a lot. I'd read about three pages of the book, and then go round up two more boxes worth of stuff to donate. Because even if I might someday use it, I could still stand to lose plenty more of my stuff.

So my questions for YOU are:

  • How are you "gaming" your life? Are there areas needing work and attention that might benefit from a game approach? A little playful light-heartedness?
  • Do you hold onto precious things in ways that might actually stifle your creativity and your freedom? (Even though I had success this round, it's something I'll be working on for a while.)

I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!