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The Index Card Art Project: Paint for 31 Days

Michelle Wooderson challenges you to a 31-day painting commitment. This art project is easier — and smaller — than you think.

By Michelle Wooderson

I used a vintage pochade box and a limited oil palette to create all of the index card art.

During my art journey into oil painting a few years back, I created a 100 Meadows Project. During this challenge, I painted 100 small meadow landscapes on oil paper. I learned so much from this challenge and developed the discipline to paint on a consistent basis. Many of my online followers participated in the art project along with me. Two of my artist friends — Page Ellis and Marian Parsons — and I regularly shared and critiqued one another’s landscape work. This successful endeavor led the three of us to collaborate on another creative undertaking: the Index Card Art Project.

A list of ideas and guidelines, some inspirational books and copious amounts of coffee are the fuel for a monthlong art project.

Prepping for Success

For the Index Card Art Project, we each purchased a set of vintage index cards numbered from 1 to 31. I got mine online at Etsy; they can also be found at other online sites, such as eBay, and at thrift shops. Because the index card sets are numbered to 31, they served as the perfect surface to use for a monthlong art project devoted to creating one small oil painting a day.

To prep the cards, I painted the full set with a few coats of white acrylic gesso, using an old brush. I then let the cards dry for a day. Having the foundation prepped in advance made it easier to begin work each day. I also set up a small vintage easel with a repurposed paint-tin-turned-palette in my art studio (see image at top of article). The dedicated setup greatly improved the likelihood that I’d complete my daily painting because I didn’t have to set up or clean up the area every time I sat down to paint.

The Goals

Page, Marian, and I agreed in advance to several key goals:

  • Paint daily.
  • Hold one another accountable to do the work.
  • Share the work on social media and encourage others to participate.
  • Improve our painting skills by focusing on a few specific ideas.

I was particularly keen on studying and capturing the styles of some of my favorite Impressionist artists, including Camille Pissarro (Danish-French, 1830–1903), Alfred Sisley (French, 1839–99) and Edward Seago (English, 1910–74). By homing in and being specific with the studies, I was able to concentrate on a specific style of painting. My studies emulated the landscapes, muted colors, and short brushstrokes of these masters and served as the foundation for future exploration.

For each index card painting, I first created a coordinating composition and value sketch.

Clocking In

As for my daily time commitment, it varied based on other work and family responsibilities. But I’d designate up to one hour daily for this art project. Some days I put in more time, others less. There were days that I’d get so absorbed in studying Pissarro, Sisley, and Seago’s work that I’d need to quickly execute the painting for that day’s session.

There were two things that helped me stay focused along the way — and contributed greatly to each painting session’s success. First, I created an initial sketch for each card. Second, I worked with a limited palette. Bonus outcomes? I improved my sketching skills and color acumen.

Working Together

To add some fun, several times Page, Marian, or I selected the reference photo for all of us to paint for the day’s session. After we completed our painting interpretations, we compared our works, observing and learning from the differences. We also designated days to share photos of our current work areas and paint palettes with one another and our online community. There’s something collegial about seeing works in process and knowing that everyone is hunkered down in their respective spaces doing the work. We found that having a like-minded community participate in the art project was a great way to add accountability and to learn from others.

Shown here are about half of my completed index cards — and their accompanying composition and value sketches. It’s quite satisfying to see them all grouped together. Progress builds by working little by little — and by tackling small bits at a time.

Putting in the “Brush Miles”

If you’re looking to start small in oil painting (or any media), to paint daily or more consistently, or to improve your art, this might be the perfect art project for you. I firmly believe that the only way to improve your painting skills is to put in the time at the easel. Some refer to this as ‘brush miles.’ You’re sure to be pleasantly surprised at how a monthlong project can boost your creativity. It may be just the thing you need to get you out of a creative slump.

Bonus: Recruit new friends with similar interests to join you. By sharing your paintings, critiques, discoveries, and even your struggles, your art life will grow.

Try This!

To see my work, and the work of Page Ellis and Marian Parsons, follow us on Instagram: @mishwooderson, @openfieldmercantile, and @marianparsonsart.

To see our paintings and those followers who joined us on our journey, search for these Instagram hashtags: #100meadowsproject #my100hundredmeadowsproject #indexcardartproject.

If you take up the challenge, feel free to post your own works.

Michelle Wooderson lives in Kansas and gains creative inspiration from walks in the woods, trail riding in the mountains and camping in a vintage Airstream. She also enjoys painting en plein air.

A version of this article originally appeared in Artists Magazine.

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