MerMay is back! I am so excited to have been able to participate again, despite the constant obstacles being thrown my way. This one was much less planned than last year’s and I’m surprisingly happy with the finished paintings. Really, I’m just as shocked as you. I did not expect that and to be extra honest, I think the title here is a little misleading because there wasn’t much of a process this round. More on that later.
If you haven’t heard of it, #MerMay is one of many monthly challenges that takes place primarily on Instagram, created by Disney animator Tom Bancroft. Bancroft posts his prompt list a couple weeks before May starts and artists use it to generate ideas for their creative contributions.
Although I wasn’t able to complete all 31 days, I was able to make 10 finished paintings that are now available for print. Here’s how it happened:
I pulled out my tablet to review the plan I did for last year and then made a new sketch page where I pasted the prompt list in the corner. I scribbled some ideas and thought of interesting, but complex paintings and drew a few thumbnails. Then, I left for work and forgot about it until May 1st smacked me in the face.
After rearranging my schedule and deciding not to be 100% adult for a while, I was able to give myself about an hour a day to paint. In other words, not enough time to make one painting a day with any of the ideas I had. I needed to start over. I made a grid in my sketch app and then roughly sketched in idea thumbnails as they came to me. When stuck, I went over to a figure posing app and moved the figure around keeping in mind what might be interesting to see as a mermaid’s pose (something not seen before/commonly). I also looked at images of sea creatures and plant life to help generate ideas.
Once I had a thumbnail that looked good, it would get copied onto a new sketch page, dropped opacity 50% and enlarged to fill the space. I started with the background first every time. Using a giant, digital, flat watercolor brush, I would swirl it across the screen and then let it bleed. Sometimes I’d adjust it to a low flow and move areas around if they looked bad. A couple of the paintings have two of the backgrounds on top of each other to expose a brighter color beneath, like the one below.
After painting at least three different backgrounds, I picked the one that suited the thumbnail best and started on the figure. Due to my scrambling to complete this challenge, I did not use a consistent process and instead of stressing about it, I went with how I felt it should be done for that day. Basically, I went with the watercolor flow. On a few of them, I painted the light areas in, using the thumbnail as a guide. On others, I didn’t know where the light would be so I would do an outline trace of the figure. Then, I start painting the areas of the sketch that light would be hitting, changing it as new ideas came in. I never painted the areas of the figure that would be darkest as I wanted them to be emerging from the background color, whatever color that may be.
There were many creative (and life) blocks that made these hard to complete. One being when I couldn’t figure out how I wanted a face, tail, or hand to look so I would have to let the painting decide. By that I mean: I had an incomplete thumbnail that I put into the new sketch page and I would go back and forth between sketching and painting until something sparked. This is the problem I had with the two paintings below.
I pretty much just let my imagination take over and feed me ideas. I went with the flow and didn’t let myself think about it much.
Speaking of not overthinking things! My naming convention is the laziest, but funniest to date. It’s kind of impressive how deep and artsy each painting sounded when I would tell someone what it was called (whilst giggling internally). They each have a title that really does mean something to me but it’s because the name is a quote from whatever I had on TV while painting that piece. For example, I Was Up All Night Trying to Stop (in my top 3 favorites) is from Bob’s Burgers and the full quote is, “I was up all night trying to stop a turkey burglar!!” Most of the titles ended up being from Bob’s Burgers and Supernatural. It started because I was sitting there painting away and I overheard dialog that kind of matched what I was painting. I thought that might make a good title so I wrote it down, but then I kept listening up until the piece was finished and then chose the final name.
With only 10 finished paintings, it’s obvious I did not paint every day. I did, however, paint more than 10 days since some of them I couldn’t let go of and wanted to “just do a little more” before calling it good. Most days, I would be painting at home, on the couch with a show playing, but there were a few times I brought my tablet to work and tried to paint in my car or in a quiet place in the warehouse to complete this challenge. I do not recommend doing that. Home on the couch is a lot more inspiring than sitting on a dusty pallet surrounded by a bunch of boxes with a progressive backache. Although, it paid off.
Shop for these prints on Redbubble
I’m happy to say that this challenge taught me about letting go of perfection and how to get my brain inspired. I really wanted these mermaids to be shown in a different way than we are all used to seeing. I didn’t want to do another “babe” mermaid. I wanted something I hadn’t seen yet and I believe that was accomplished. If you have been on the fence about joining a challenge, just go for it. It’s not going to be perfect or go the way you want and you need to know that’s fine. The point is that you tried and will be more prepared for another challenge. Next up: Inktober!
What do you think? How do you approach art challenges? What would you have done differently? Have you been angered at the sheer gall I have for not appropriately naming my paintings? Share in the comments.