Fine Art · Lifestyle

It Ended as It Began… Or Did It?

The first and last self-portraits of my Daily Portrait Project.

For three years, I drew myself every day. In sickness and in health, camping in the mountains and camped in my partner’s hospital room, at home in the middle of the day and in hotel bathrooms in the middle of the night, more regularly than I brushed my teeth, I drew myself.

After the first few months, friends asked how long I planned to continue, and I replied as long as it’s interesting.

Months became years. People learned of the project, checked in on it for awhile, got caught up in other things, were surprised to find months or years later that, yes, I was still doing it, still drawing myself every day. On the second anniversary I started to wonder about changing it in some way, but I continued just the same.

Halfway through the third year, I started thinking it was time. But we humans so love round numbers, and I didn’t really know how I wanted to change it, so I decided to go for a full three years. And then, on March 15th, the third anniversary arrived, and it really was time, and it ended. It ended as it began, with a simple green line drawing of tousled hair and mock turtleneck, large glasses and double chin.

I Drew in the Hospital

I drew when I was sick.

It ended as it began except… the world and I have both changed in these three years.

It ended as it began, except I’m much more facile now; the drawings have a different ease. I’m much more confident – not worried about the muse leaving me, knowing that if I draw every day I’ll get some duds and some beauties, and neither matters very much, because it’s the process of engaging with the visual world which compels me, not the results.

It ended as it began, except the first drawing was done with magic markers on paper and the last one was done with my finger on my iPod Touch using the Brushes App. The first one was done staring in a mirror, the last one was done staring at a live video feed on my computer. Technology didn’t change my imagery or my interests – but it sure made it easier to keep drawing every day, no matter where I was, no matter what was happening.

I Drew in My Thai Hotel Room

It ended. . . . and something new started. To celebrate the end of three years of drawing myself, I decided to throw a virtual Portrait Party and invite other artists to allow me to draw them, and to draw each other, from photographs. I sent out the invites a week before the Daily Portrait Project ended, hoping to have a few photos to start drawing from when the Daily Portrait Project was over. In that week, more than 60 artists joined the party and made over 200 drawings of each other, including two dozen of me. Tomorrow I enter the fray.

I can’t wait to get started, and to let you know about the experience in these pages next month.

Julia Kay first described her Daily Portrait Project here a year ago, and last fall shared vivid memories of many Septembers. Since then, the Bay Area artist, data analyst and Teacher of the Alexander Technique has seen one of her  portraits in a Chicago show featured in the New York Times. Kay agreed earlier this year to check in with us once a month with a new selection from her work chosen just for WVFC, and to let us know what new directions continue to grow out of her process. Stay tuned as Kay moves beyond the “self-portrait” concept to something entirely new.— Ed.

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  • Anne March 16, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I found this after googling “how do you wake up every day and draw?” Now I know. Thank you!

  • View on the river Merwede « Tekenen van alledaagsheid October 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    […] to draw even those 3 or 4 times though. Then I remembered Julia Kay and her habit of drawing every day. So I took my journal and didn’t think about what I could draw, didn’t look at Flickr, […]

  • ivona poyntz September 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Very inspiring. To persevere for so long: real dedication

  • 2010.03.18: Mariah O’Neill (American Artist) » Daily Art of Julia Kay March 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    […] March 17, 2010It Ended as It Began… Or Did It? An illustrated essay celebrating the completion of my 3 year Daily Portrait Project. […]

  • eedraw March 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    What a great story, and a spiritual journey you must have had.

  • Dottie Kay March 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Hey, I forgot to look at your daily portraits. Is it still possible?
    Your comments are great and I think the artists drawing each other is really neat. Your drawings that I have seen are great. Very good job.
    Love you,

  • david friedheim March 21, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Mozel Tov! Such a marvelous project. Of course it grew out of what came before. Likely it contains the seeds of what will come in the future. I think that our creative lives are ongoing processes, interweaving braids of influences and possibilities, some proving more fruitful than others. Demarcations do help us to sort, organize and clarify what we are doing. I have loved watching your output for so many years and look forward to many more.

  • Elizabeth Ingebretsen March 21, 2010 at 5:53 am

    I, too, loved your comment about process being more important than results! It is far too easy for me to get wrapped up in the pursuit of perfection in my work, which usually results in art that is over-worked. I look forward to seeing your flickr Portrait Party postings!

  • Ann Koo March 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Did you notice that your neck is free-er and you appear more poised in the last portrait than the first one?

  • Kay Julia L. March 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you also Rita, Mia, Tor & Theta!
    Mia, I’m looking forward to exchanging portraits with you!
    Theta, letting the muse move through me is the ideal condition, not always achieved. But I think having a daily practice makes it easier because you put yourself in the right state for it to happen if it’s going to happen.
    Tor, I was confused at first by your metaphor, but then made it sort of literal for myself – I stayed in the same place (self-portraits) but I moved (to landscape, narrative, new media, easier process and more consistent results). Thanks as always for a new perspective and good things to think about.

  • Theta Michele Drivon March 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Amazing, Julia! I admire your persistence to letting the muse reveal through you. Plus I like the pictures. Cheers!

  • Tor Krieger March 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    The summary is written a little like the way I percieve you to draw: truth used as both anchor and sail; so you move without moving! It’d been almost 30 years and I’m still intrigued.

  • Mia Robinson March 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Oh my Julia…you could track your development in so many different ways on this project. I still think this is sooooo very brilliant and so inspiring! I am, like they’ve said above, thoroughly impressed by your work, dedication and commitment. It certainly is not EASY to wake up everyday and draw/paint a new picture…no matter how good of an artist you are…sometimes the inspiration is just not there. It is amazing to see you push past that and produce one brilliant piece after the next. No doubt, you may be bringing on a new project of painting others now…maybe you’ll soon have 365 members in the group! 🙂 congrats to you again, you should be so proud!

  • Kay Julia L. March 19, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Thank you everyone for following my art and my essays!
    Galen, although I’ve always been more interested in qualities of light and color and their emotional resonance, than in getting a resemblance, the truth is if you do something over and over, you tend to get better at it. Without striving specifically for this trait, it simply started appearing in my work. I welcome it but try not to get caught up in it as a goal – it’s irrelevant to anyone who hasn’t actually seen me in person anyway.
    It will be interesting to see whether it’s only my face I’ve learned better or whether I get better resemblances of other people, too, as I move into drawing other artists this month.

  • artbwf March 18, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Here is a quote from what you wrote.

    ” I’m much more confident – not worried about the muse leaving me, knowing that if I draw every day I’ll get some duds and some beauties, and neither matters very much, because it’s the process of engaging with the visual world which compels me, not the results”

    I was so happy to read that and I can say that I totally agree.
    You have completed an amazing and dedicated journey.

    I love the new path you chose with the flickr Portrait Pary.
    I am enjoying everyone’s drawings and seeing how people are treated in the atwork of others. Of course my curiosity keeps me looking at what others have drawn of me. It is a wonderfully engaging project. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Andus March 18, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Inspiring … and daunting. I feel honored to be on your list. This practice is very laudable – just to do anything consciously every day is a great thing. Way to go Julia!

  • Alan Templeton March 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    It is remarkable that Julia was able to keep up the demanding task of making a new self-portrait everyday for three entire years. It shows her dedication to art remains undiminished throughout all these years, as well as her neuroses, perhaps. Still, she seems pretty healthy in person. Portraiture is one of the great subjects and challenges in art, though I hope she will also consider creating more of those striking depictions of leaves filled with light and color which she does so well.

  • galen March 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    ps. and, i am impressed with this project and your skill

  • galen March 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    the last one looks so much more like you!

  • Virginia March 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Making art and self-reflection a daily practice is inspiring in so many ways. It has the wisdom of being in the moment, day by day, and at the same time has power beyond the daily act. It seems that 3 years of faithful practice has energy to put things in motion. I’m moved by how Julia has taken this very personal practice and in sharing it has set off a tidal wave!