It all started with a dream.
Several months ago, Marianna M. Duford, a lifetime artist and long-time resident of Summit County, jostled herself out of a deep sleep to write down an idea.
“It just kind of came to me in the middle of the night,” she said, remembering it with a laugh.
Unlike most things sleepily written down in the wee hours, this particular suggestion held up to the cold, logical light of day. That idea sparked the Little Gems Project, an endeavor which Duford has been working on since March, with its end finally approaching.
The idea that jerked Duford awake in the middle of the night was this — a personal artistic challenge, in which she would work to paint one oil painting a day for 100 days.
“‘Whoa, this might actually work,’” Duford recalled thinking after reviewing her notes the next morning.
In fact, it turned out to be just the kind of thing she needed.
“I was looking for something to kickstart me back into good habits,” she said, and this was it.
While Duford has worked as a full-time artist for 14 years, she scaled back in recent years in order to take care of her elderly mother. Having a challenging personal project would be just the thing to get her back into regular production and the full-time artistic mindset.
The Little Gems Project, Duford decided, would produce one 5 inches by 7 inches oil painting each day. She would do this for 100 days, creating 100 paintings and offering them for sale for $100 each.
“In the art world these days, it’s not easy to make a living,” she said. “The competition is pretty fierce for the dollar in art.”
To show off her new paintings and allow others to follow along as the project progressed, Duford created a separate gallery on her artist website. Each day after painting, she uploaded a photo of the painting along with a short blurb. She described the painting, or the weather and circumstances around its creation, sometimes adding in a humorous comment or extra information. On St. Patrick’s Day, for example, she shared having the song “99 bottles of beer on the wall” stuck in her head and re-phrasing it to “99 paintings to hang on the wall.”
While updating the blog every day meant more work, Duford is happy with the way that it has connected her even more to her audience.
“It puts a personal connection with me, the painter, with the person who’s viewing it, which I think has helped the whole project be successful,” she said.
Out of doors
Duford added yet another twist to her project, deciding to paint the majority of her pieces “en plein air” — an artistic term that refers to the practice of creating art outside of the studio, in the outdoors.
“It really became popular through the Impressionists,” she said, “and the whole thing was going outside of the studio and to capture the effect of light on color. When you go outside, you’re painting directly from what you see, so it’s a lot different from studio painting, where you’d be working from a photograph.”
Although Duford began her project March 15 — a time of year when most people want to stay indoors with the heat up — she got herself outside and painting. She insisted that all it takes is warm layers, several gloves, something to stand on and an umbrella to keep the snow off.
Warmer weather has brought its own share of challenges, such as insects sticking to the paint and curious moose sneaking up from behind. But Duford loves it.
“That’s what plein air painting is all about,” she said with a laugh.
So far, all but a handful of Duford’s 100 paintings have been sold, or “adopted,” as she chooses to call it on her website, likening each sale to the painting going home.
Some of the paintings were commissioned, with people reserving a date ahead of time to have her create something for a birthday or anniversary, a project that she enjoyed.
“The whole thing with art is, there should be a reason why you’re painting what you’re painting. Otherwise it’s just wallpaper,” she said. Having the commissioned art allowed her to listen to other people’s stories and find a way to represent that creatively.
Duford is incredibly pleased with her project overall and its success.
“It’s been quite a ride, actually … It’s been a much bigger challenge to myself than I’ve ever dreamed, too. It’s really made me step up to the bat and hit.”
Nevertheless, she’ll be glad to see the end of it and free herself up for different projects.
“I’ll be honest, I’m really looking forward to this being over on Sunday and I can start paintings bigger than a 5x7,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been fun, but it’s been a challenge. I’ve learned a lot from it.”
To view Duford’s Little Gem Project, which wraps up Sunday, visit www.mduford.weebly.com.