Happy New 365 – beginnings, endings and the fear of failure (FOF!)


Lights, Bergen Kunsthall – ©2013 Bryan Ecclsehall

Back in January 2013 I reported on a number of 365 projects that I was aware of. These are those projects where someone does something every day for the whole year. A year later, I think it’s time to review them.

Last year’s post is here.

Andy Cropper’s painting-a-day was by far the most ambitious of them all, and the most insane, and I told him so. Andy is a painter and his work varies in style and content, from sublime traditional subjects to candid street captures that have an almost dystopian blandness to them. I talked to him at length about the project and his approach to his subjects, but some of what he finds fascinating completely escapes me.


‘Good to Go’ – ‘Painting-A-Day’ no.055 – 3rd March 2013 ©Andrew Cropper

That’s no criticism, but it does highlight the futility of trying to analyse his art or compartmentalize it, although there seem to be definite threads.

To my eye, the most successful are the the close-cropped  details, and his painting style produces that contradictory effect of the image seeming to be a photograph and a clearly a painting, simultaneously.


‘Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh Why on Earth Did I Paint This?’ – ‘Painting-A-Day’ no.020 – 25th January 2013 ©Andrew Cropper

I’ve known Andy for about 10 years (I think), and he’s painfully apologetic about his work. I always want to slap him. A little humility is a good thing but too much can be unhelpul. I wish I could paint like that.

Inevitably, he couldn’t keep it up and had to admit defeat. Some of the paintings took 14 hours to complete and all the work is evident on the canvas (MDF).

It can be disheartening to have to give up on a project, but sometimes it’s better to retreat rather than push on until you get stressed as that will only lead you to hate your own work, even if you are making work at such a high level.

I had to postpone one of my own projects, No Glove Lost, because I just couldn’t find enough hours in the day for it, particularly given all the things I need to achieve for Bolam Retrospective. Even though it was not a 365 project, or even a daily project, it stills feels like a failure.

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Anyway, to my mind, by far the most successful of the 365 projects is Bryan Eccleshall’s drawing-a-day. Not only is the quality of drawing excellent, but he managed the project very cannily by making the daily achievement not too great, and not requiring himself to do the drawing on the actual day. What’s more, he hasn’t shied away from challenging subjects and the drawing are not merely sketches, they are finished works.

This is one of my favourites:


Polythene on Floor, Museum Ludwig, Cologne – ©Bryan Eccleshall 2013

Also, the drawings are for sale and there is an exhibition at Bank Street Arts, Bank Street, Sheffield UK from 8th January until 8th February 2014. The drawings are very reasonably priced and I recommend you go to seem them in the flesh.

Cindy Cheung is a designer and this shows in her work. Cindy’s notes were not really works of art in themselves, more of an illuminated manuscript. The task for her was not particularly onerous and she seems to have used it as a bit of continuous promotion for the year.


I must admit to not actually following Norn Iron Girl’s Twitter feed for the year, but looking back at it now, it’s strangely compelling. I think it’s particularly because I was just a few years older in 1981 and remember many of the same things. The most fascinatingly obsessive behaviour of the then 13-year-old is the recording of the weekly listing of Top 20 singles. I remember all of these songs and, like many teenagers, had a similar obsession with pop music although I didn’t documented it as compulsively as she did.


I can’t deny it was tempting to start a new project on 1st January. However, with the launch of Bolam Retrospective looming, I really need to concentrate on that, and particularly the core document of the project, which is the Catalogue publication. I have only finished one issue so far but am planning a series of 12 that will provide a representative reference to my life’s work (so far).

Although it didn’t start that way, this document has become central to the project. Issue two is underway, but I have a lot of research and writing to do before the series is complete. I am planning to publish the remaining issues one per month during the Retrospective year.

Also, I still have Bolam 365 coming up, running from 24th April 2014 to 23rd April 2015, and it will be managed more like Bryan’s project than Andy’s,  although I will not be committing myself to make a piece of work each day. There will be a scheduled blog post every day for that year, including examples of past work as well as other bits and pieces as the retrospective continues. Subscribe here:

Rule 1 – No rules.

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Rule 2 – See rule 1.

I don’t do manifestos. Much as I believe in limiting options in order to combat the tyranny of choice, I think that art led by manifesto is a self-defeating conceit. And no, I am not about to repeat the trite meme that “rules are meant to be broken”, what I say is similar but subtly different. I say that some rules exist for very good reasons, but if you are going to break them, do it for very good reasons.

I have seen a lot of posts on Facebook recently from BrainPickings.org about writers’ regimes and artists’ creativity, and I am becoming a real fan of their site. However, I don’t find the writers’ working regimes helpful at all, but that is based upon experience. I think you must find your own routine, and that only comes from thousands of hours of day-in-day-out, year-in-year-out dedication to your art and craft.

My own regime has been established, intuitively, over 40 years or more. After all that time I have come to know I have a cyclic creative output. I will be highly productive in one medium or subject for a period and then it stops. Sometimes I return to the same theme or activity years later, often with nothing having happened in between. Sometimes I can pick up where I left off and sometimes I can just rule a line under it and move on.

What works in my favour is that I’m now old enough to have had this happen enough times not to worry about it. This is one of the reasons I do not enforce a schedule on myself. It just doesn’t work for me, but it does work for some people.

However, I am a great believer in self-discipline, and the simple act of regular work is both stimulating and productive, even when not necessarily directly.

One traditional discipline I believe in very strongly is drawing. Regardless of whether you are a figurative artist or not, I think the act of observation and the physical action of recording something is extremely rewarding, and there is simply no substitute for putting the hours in.

I recently watched an interview with film music composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, 2000, and Hannibal, 2001 amongst many others) who said you need to put in “10,000 hours to get good at something”.
FYI 10,000 hours at eight hours a day for five days a week is about five years.

Sounds about right.

I can hardly compare myself with Zimmer but I remember observing about photography, after I bought my first digital SLR camera in 2007, that after two years and 40,000 shots I had only just began to learn how to use the camera. Another three years on, I think I am starting to know what I am doing, but still only in a small number of subjects and techniques.

Another convenient soundbite I picked up is Chuck Close’s observation. “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

He also talks about some artists’ fetishisation of creating the ideal working conditions, and using this as an excuse for not getting things done. This is another reason why I like drawing so much. You only need a pencil and a piece of paper, and you can do it anywhere, although moving vehicles make it difficult.

It’s almost impossible to avoid talk of new starts and resolutions at new year, and I made a resolution many years ago not to make new year’s resolutions. However, having been in a bit of a creative doldrums for a few years, but newly motivated with the prospect of my retrospective, I am rekindling old habits and getting old skool (again).

I am confident I clocked up my 10,000 hours drawing several times over way back in the 80s and 90s, and I think my drawing is ok but I’ll never be Dürer, or Doré, or Moebius, or any of the other masters that I admire.

However, I still love drawing. So, just to contradict myself, here is my Bolamfesto.
Rule 1 – Draw every day
Rule 2 – See rule 1

Scan drawing