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Day Four: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Sketch vs. Painting

March 11, 2021

Day Four! Today I only did three pieces. Which is a bit anti-marathon-ish.

One was a dud, which I won’t show. The other two – well I like one of them! The other – less so.

I find these art marathons have a natural arc.

I start out sprinting – just having fun with it. Feeling a bit stiff, but enjoying the feeling of warming up. Soon enough you’re watching the images roll out under your brush like magic. You start to say, hey, these are getting pretty good – and gradually – you end up taking things too seriously.

Not just gratefully accepting the good ones as they appear, but straining yourself – trying to make great work ‘on demand’.

Loyal readers will know, I have an aversion to trying too hard.

You can’t make your best work when you’re concerned about success or failure.

The very act of thinking about the outcome creates an anxiety that holds you back from a daring move, that makes you afraid to touch a good-bit, or more likely, unwilling to stop when it’s truly great. You don’t always recognize it immediately. You hope one more (rash) move might make it better – and then – you’ve overworked it. You’re scrubbing-out or scraping-back, trying to save it – and you’ll always know you blew it, even if it looks pretty good in the end, and nobody will ever see what you had – before you lost your nerve.

But that’s the game.

We’re training our hand skills by running this marathon, but – we’re also training our judgement.

The more pieces you do in a row, the more shots-on-goal. The more likely you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to push something – or – when you need to stop and let something stand as you’ve made it.

[Photo Credits to @uriah_forest and various unknown models]

I’ve used Uriah’s excellent photography as the basis of many of my experiments this year. Without permission admittedly, but – while I hope he and his models don’t mind – on the other hand, I feel a study from other artists’ work is fair game.

This is the nature of artistic practice. We need to look at things, and grow by the gradual process of absorbing what works for us and leaving aside what doesn’t. Any artist that says they’re self taught, or they’ve invented something from nothing is fooling themselves.

Ideally, we’ll find everything we need by working from life. But life today includes the constant stream of images on social media. For many of us, this virtual world is more rich and rewarding than our actual day-to-day existence.

There’s another balancing act there. The basic need to acquire skill – let’s call it your artistic vocabulary, versus later, the point when you should be thinking more about *what* you have to say, than the mechanics of *how* you will say it.

Ultimately – a copy is only a copy. It’s not a work of art. It’s a study.

So, that’s what I’m thinking about today, at the peak of this year’s #OneWeek100People. I think tomorrow I’ll just cool down and finish up the challenge with some pen and ink sketching. Thanks for giving me a soap box for my thoughts! I hope you guys are posting your work. I’ll see you all in the Facebook group!

Thanks, ~ marc

Day Three: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Hitting Stride

March 10, 2021

[@lee_r98, Instagram]

Hey everyone! Crossing the half way mark for some of us?

Liz Steel and I like to do #OneWeek100People in five days, rather than the full seven. It’s a thing – she doesn’t work on Sundays. Which, I think is a very good policy for life.

So – this is exciting. I really haven’t done any watercolor [looks back at the blog] since the beginning of September. So that’s six months away from the medium. I have of course been painting in oils, and done some digital work here and there. But still – I always find it takes a few days to get back in tune with water-media.

[Emily Mack, Sktchy]

[Jasper Means, Skchy]

But it hasn’t been hard to jump back in.  I have a strict policy to love everything I make.

I mean – I’m very critical of my own work. LIke – I can see why this one isn’t a great painting. But I think it’s crucial that we are 100% impressed with our own efforts. It is exactly as good as I am capable of being at this moment in time. The act of making something from nothing, this is an automatic victory every time.

If we don’t insist on this mode of thinking, how are we supposed to find our own voice? Decide what works for us. What is going to be intentionally imperfect, intentionally unreal – choosing to step away from reality, in favor of creating a new image we might want to live with.

[Photo credit, @uriah_forest. Model, unknown]

[Van Lozito, Sktchy]

This is something that I think can only happen during an art-marathon such as #OneWeek100People.

The process of working every day, for a week straight, (or a month – in the case of #30x30DirectWatercolor) – this does two things. It fine tunes your reflexes. The hand-skills of painting. Much like a musician doing scales. Painting is a physical skill that needs to be kept in tune.

But at the same time, the grind breaks you down. You stop caring quite so much about an individual piece.

If you sit down to make one single masterpiece – I think you can’t avoid freezing up. I get anxious about how it’s going to come out. I can’t be free to create by instinct.

If you’re going to make 100 works, you can’t (or I can’t) force myself to worry about each and every one. In this way, the unconscious is unlocked, and the work rises above the limits of perfectionism, to reach a new level.

I hope this feeling is clicking for some of you? Maybe it will by the end of the week. Let’s keep at it, and keep posting our work to the group. I’m interested to hear from you as you close in on your 100’th person.

How did you feel as you sketched your last figure? Think about it and let me know!

Thanks, ~Marc

Day Two: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Portrait Sketches

March 9, 2021

Day Two! Today is devoted to the ios app Skchy, with its community of models donating selfies for artists.

Here’s a video demonstration of this watercolor sketch of Bennet P.

It was interesting – looking back at my own footage – I can really see the abstraction that’s happening in my oil painting, showing up here in the portraits. Probably nobody else would say that – but it’s like, I could feel the assembly of shapes happening without much concern for the drawing. I used to be very concerned with getting a likeness – even while I was not very good at it! But now, I’m just painting shapes.

The eye sees, the hand records. It’s like it doesn’t matter to the eye if it’s a rock, or a face.

That’s not a very romantic thing to say – but there you have it. Painting is getting to be like automatic writing. Transcription of the visual field, without much conscious mediation.

Ok everyone! That’s the highlights of my day. I’m heading over to the Facebook group to comment on everyone’s stuff.

See you over there. ~marc

Photo Credits, from top: Bennet P, William F, Ray Williams, Marissa M, Teri Babayeva, Madison Bradley, Hana Moayedi


Day One: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Warmup Sketches

March 8, 2021

Welcome everyone to Day One of #OneWeek100People!

I know a lot of you are already posting over on the Facebook group. I’ll be stopping by there next – and every day this week – to comment on what people have put up. Thanks everyone who’s participating!

I’ve been away from watercolor for a while – combination of writing projects and working oil painting over the winter – and then quarantine was getting me down to the point where I wasn’t doing much at all for a few months.

That’s what I love about these challenges that circulate around the web. I really need the group motivation they provide. On my own, I can get distracted. Having a deadline, with goals-and-quantities, that’s the best possible thing for keeping myself on track.

I wanted to start without over-thinking things, so I just riffled through my saved pics on Instagram. I’m going to call these 7 minute sketches – but to be honest, I wasn’t timing. And – I work on a row of them at the same time, so I can keep moving while a shape is wet. So, you could also say – 30 minutes per set.

Anyway – here’s a video!

This 4 min short shows how I ‘grow’ figures by fusing brushstrokes into silhouette shapes, and of course stacking three passes of light, medium, and dark values together. The old – Tea, Milk, Honey concept.

Ok – see you guys over on the Facebook group, or – if you’re not posting there – leave me a comment if you want to show some work.

Thanks! ~Marc

Photo credits go to IG photographers @monalogue, @uriah_forest, @periodwardrobe, @norrisniman,@placidevantia, @arakishiro.

#OneWeek100People, March 8-12, 2021 – Pandemic Relief Edition!

February 22, 2021

Hey Everyone!

It’s me Marc! It’s been a while hasn’t it? But here I am, breaking a long silence to shout out about #OneWeek100People – our annual event, where we sketch one hundred people in a single week.

My friend Liz Steel and I came up with this project in 2017. We think 100 sketches is the magic number. Enough challenge that you push yourself, but not so hard that you can’t do it in your spare time.

Need a reminder how to do #OneWeek100People? You can watch last year’s video or, have look at my own past marathons: here’s the year-by-year index. I’ve approached the challenge slightly differently every year. There’s as many ways to do this, as there are artists, and art supplies :)

Please note:

This event comes from my time with the Urban Sketching movement, so it’s usually done by drawing on location. There’s lots of great reasons to do your sketching from life, but of course, we’re still in the midst of the global pandemic, so:


If you live in an officially declared healthy population right now – I don’t know – maybe parts of Australia and New Zealand? – Antarctica? – then please,  I hope you’ll dive into the spirit of #OneWeek100People and send us all your lovely street-sketches. It would be wonderful to see.

However, if you live in an area that has experienced widespread community transmission in the past year, PLEASE DO NOT go sketching on public transportation, or in any indoor public spaces.

I know this sucks. All my favorite people-sketching places – the metro, the museums, libraries, restaurants, sporting events – these are off the table right now for me.

That being said, I hope to use this year’s event as a big re-set. A way to get out of a long, sad COVID winter.

For me, #OneWeek100People has always been an early-spring retreat (or boot-camp!), where I can focus on tuning up my hand-skills, checking in with my personal approach to sketching and watercolor, reminding myself that less-is-more, and sketching is foundational to finished work – in general, recharging myself for the upcoming plein-air painting season.

Even though I personally won’t be able to follow the event’s original spirit of drawing from life, I’m planning to enjoy myself, and push my watercolor sketching at home, and I hope a bunch of you want to come along for this ride!

Let’s have a great fifth year of #OneWeek100People – sketching from social media, youtube, movies – whatever it takes to reach our goal.

As in past years, I want to mostly share our work, and our comments in the Facebook Group.

But, if you’re not a Facebook user anymore, that’s fine – just hashtag #OneWeek100People on the social media of your choice and we can find each other by searching the tag.

Feel free to drop me a blog comment below, especially if you come up with some interesting sketching projects you think other people might want to try.

Thanks everyone! See you soon.





Oh and, here’s some clip art. People in the past have enjoyed using these to make a ‘progress bar’ below their sketches.

Degas and Cassat in their own words

September 5, 2020

“Art is vice. You don’t marry it legitimately, you rape it.”

“I should like to be famous and unknown.”

“Boredom soon overcomes me when I am contemplating nature.”

“You have to have a high conception, not of what you are doing, but of what you may do one day.
Without that, there is no point in working.”

“If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color”

“The first sight of Degas’ pictures was the turning point of my artistic life.”

“Sometimes it made him furious that he could not find a chink in my armor, and there would be months when we just could not see each other, and then something I painted would bring us together again.”

“I will not admit a woman can draw like that.”

“I, marry? Oh, I could never bring myself to do it. I would have been in mortal misery all my life for fear my wife might say, “That’s a pretty little thing” after I had finished a picture.”

“A picture is a thing which requires as much knavery, as much malice, and as much vice as the preparation of a crime. Make it untrue and add in an accent of truth.”

“Apart from my heart, I feel everything grows old in me. Even my heart has something artificial. It has been sewn by the dancers in a soft pink satin purse, like their shoes.”

Edgar Degas 1834 – 1917

“There is only one thing in life for a woman; it is to be a mother.
A woman artist must be capable of making primary sacrifices.”

“It is as well not to have too great an admiration for your master’s work.
You will be in less danger of imitating him.”

“I have not done what I wanted to, but I tried to make a good fight.”

Mary Cassat 1844 – 1926

Art in the Time of Corona Virus

August 26, 2020

[ Model with Medical Mask, From Life, 20 Minutes ]

The virus situation in Montreal is currently in a lull. My napkin-estimate is 1/200 people walking around spreading. That’s assuming it’s 10x worse than tested-numbers, and, that all of Quebec’s infected are in Montreal itself. (In other words, a cautious estimate, but not paranoid).

That seems not too bad? On a given subway trip, the odds are only one person is a carrier.

And so, I went out for the first time in a long long while to a figure drawing group.

I don’t know why, but I was surprised the group was well attended. We were all masked, including the model of course. In a way, that’s disappointing, but in another way it makes the sketch a record of this time.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

August 22, 2020

[ The Heart of an Irishman is Nothing but his Imagination, 30×30″ Oil on Panel ]

One of the very first paintings I ever made en plein air was a portrait of a tree.

It was a pine, with orange-red bark. Probably it was the light on the trunk that grabbed me. I thought, Wow! – If I paint that, it’ll feel just like being here in the forest.

This was probably 30 years ago, and the painting was a terrible failure. I had no idea what I was doing at the time.

More importantly, I didn’t really understand what the landscape had to offer as a subject. The whole thing about tree paintings is a misunderstanding of why we paint landscape. The idea that I would paint a view – as I might do now – just – the view itself – just looking off towards the horizon and painting the sense of space and vastness.

At the time, that simply did not compute.

My brain was saying; There’s no focal point! What’s the subject of the painting? It can’t just be a picture of the hole in the air in front of you! (Which, of course – it can.)

What I was looking for, instinctively, was a portrait, or – a figurative subject.

Something to put smack in the center of the painting, like I had done with hundreds of figure drawings in classrooms.

(Aside: I also didn’t understand what post-modern critics were on about – the idea that academic figure painting objectified the model – but of course, this is exactly what they meant. The model (let’s be honest, the naked girl) was supposed to just sit there and look pretty. Like a vase full of flowers. As a younger man, it didn’t occur to me that this might be a shallow expectation for a work of art).

As a consequence of my early failed paintings of trees, I simply don’t do it very much any more. Paint a singular tree, trying to make a portrait of it.

But every so often we will go out walking in the woods and I will return to that idea of a painting that makes you feel like you’re in the forest.

I really do want to make one of these that works for me. This one is getting very close.

Do you remember those old photo wallpapers in the ’70s? You could make your room into a redwood forest? I have a strong memory of one of those rooms – I can’t imagine I really had that. My parents would never install such a thing, but maybe a school-chum had a room like that? It’s a very clear memory for me.

That’s what I want out of a good painting of trees.

It actually is about space.

Not the vista of a landscape – but something closer to a domestic interior.

You should feel that enclosed space, inside the forest, under the canopy, surrounded on all sides by tree trunks. Hopefully it conjures a lush, green quiet, that gives you the contemplative feeling of a walk in the woods.

That sense, on entering a sudden clearing, of discovering a magical place you’ll never find again.

That’s I think, the real purpose of a painting of trees.

[ Branches Hung With the Weight of Inspiration, 24×24″ Oil on Panel ]


[ Winter’s Bones, These Dry Branches Carry a lot of Weight, 30×30″ Oil on Panel ]

New Works, and Playing with Titles

August 4, 2020

“I painted this place. It’s mine now.”
”So – you can go there whenever you want?”
”Well, not really. I have to look at the painting.”
”But what if you sell it?”
“I guess I have to be ok with that.”

10x10x1.5”, Oil on Panel, 2020

My usual process is to product a batch of paintings all in one go. They tend to share some colors. (When I’m mixing paint, I like to keep adding to the same mounds).

I like to focus. If I’m painting, I don’t like to do anything else that day. If I’m writing, same thing – that’s all I do that day. That’s one thing I like about the out-of-house-studio. Once I’ve made the trip, I tend to stay a good 10-12 hour day.

Fresh paintings go up on the wall wet. I have all my blank white-primed panels hanging on the wall, so that I know there’s a hook for them to go back to when they’re painted. I like the effect of all the white panels getting filled with color. It’s kind of motivating. Like checking off a to-do list. I stick a bit of tape with the date on them so I know when they’re probably dry. It can take quite a while. Months even for some of my thicker pieces.

During this phase I like to look at them and think.

When we’re eating, I face the gallery and compare new pieces with the best of the old ones.

Sometimes I bring them back down and repaint a bit. I might ultimately decide I don’t like a painting. These offending ones go into a closet to dry out of sight. Eventually they get sanded down and painted over. The paint is so thick on these, I actually scrape them aggressively with a BBQ scraper, and then smooth with a wood rasp, and THEN sand them. Otherwise it takes all day and uses up many sheets of sandpaper.

So if they make it through the ‘watching and waiting’ period, after a few weeks I’ll do the titles.

This time around, for some reason I was playing around with these little dialogues. In the place of your normal short title, I have instead a snippet of imagined conversation. One day I want to see these on a gallery wall, with the stories printed on little white cards below. I think people would enjoy that kind of show.

“If you pull back far enough, it looks like a painting.”
”But if you look really close, it’s just paint.”
”Cool hey?”

10x10x1.5”, Oil on Panel, 2020


“This was as far as the ladies went.”
“I can see why! Does the road get any better after this?”
“Everything was so simple for those ladies.”
“At least they built a nice tea house here.”

10x10x1.5”, Oil on Panel, 2020


“I’m just saying – there was a time you could live off the land.”
”But what kind of life was that?”
”We might be about to find out.”

10x10x1.5”, Oil on Panel, 2020


“What if there was a place where everything goes with the flow?”
“Could anyone go there?”
“Sure! Let’s all go live there.”
“Naw, you’re going to have to keep that place to yourself.”

10x10x1.5”, Oil on Panel, 2020

I Wonder – How Many of You Are Readers?

July 24, 2020

Do you read for entertainment?

Because – I’ve recently put together a collection of my own original fiction, Snake Eater and 29 Other Bite-Sized Stories. < affiliate links, thx ]

It’s a slim volume of thirty stories. Some are tiny – what you’d call micro-fiction. Others are traditional length short stories.

They cross an odd set of genres, maybe best labeled contemporary fantasy. Maybe a touch of horror, definitely spiced with some dark humor. Oh, and they’re written for adults. But nothing I wouldn’t let my mother read. (You don’t know my mother. That might not be saying much).

I’d love to hear what people think!

If you’re interested, I can send you a PDF copy by email. Free of charge. Details below.


I’d love it if you were willing to make a purchase – because that gives you the option to leave a verified review on Amazon.

Which is kind of an incredible favor for a writer. The best thing you can do for us, and it only takes a moment. A great many of you did this for my drawing books, The Urban Sketcher and Direct Watercolor, and those reviews are still putting bread on the table as we speak. (For which, you have my heartfelt thanks).

So yes! You can buy Snake Eater in eBook format at a special price of $2.99. (US and CA, and something close to that in other currencies). Or, if you prefer, you can purchase the paperback for $9.99. (The regular everyday price).

The print experience is my personal favorite. I very much enjoyed doing the page design. Typography is kind of nerdy, but so satisfying to get it right.

Also – I should be clear – even though I’m an artist, this book is not illustrated. These are stories that work best with imagination.

You have my thanks in advance for purchases and reviews!! Or, if you want to take me up on a free PDF version (readable on screen in Acrobat or a web browser, or you can print it out yourself), email me at marc(dot)taro(at)gmail(dot)com with Snake Eater in the subject line – and I’ll send it right out.

Thanks everyone,
~Marc Taro Holmes