Twelve years ago, I started a project whose seeds were embedded well before I ever put paintbrush to canvas.
It started when my kids were little. Each and every year around this time, just as the snowfall becomes more regular and the smell of pine becomes more prominent, I’d cozy up with my kids to read the 12 Days of Christmas.
Of course, reading the book always meant singing the song, and before we knew it, it became a family tradition to make the 12 Days of Christmas a regular part of our holiday celebrations.
For me, I first fell in love because of the family gathering it inspired, but that love grew deeper when I really took time to explore the different ways the 12 Days were illustrated, and the meanings behind them. Of course, with a song and story that has centuries of history behind it, it’s bound to be disputed -- but that aura of mystery that inspires so many different interpretations is one of the things I love about it.
As with most things I love in life, I began to brainstorm how I might incorporate the 12 Days of Christmas into my painting practice. What evolved was more than I could’ve originally imagined.
The 12 Years of Christmas
In the initial year, I took the first verse...
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”
...and I painted my version of it.
That painting became my Harris Studios holiday card for the year. As soon as I was finished, I started brainstorming what next year’s, those two turtle doves, would look like. Needless to say, I was quickly committed to a 12-year project.
Making it mine
Despite it being a painting that I would normally only tackle around November or December, this project tended to stay on my mind all year long. As a result, each year’s painting (and therefore holiday card) reflected my interpretation of that year’s verse, much inspired by what was going on in my life, my business, or the world at that time.
This year’s painting is no different. As I approached the final year of the project -- 12 drummers drumming -- I couldn’t help but think of the divided nature of today’s society; the negativity that’s been prevalent in much of this year’s news; the easy way in which we’ve forgotten all the light in the midst of all the dark.
It led to one of my most important paintings (above) and messages yet:
“Listen for the beat, the blending of our spirits. For we’re all in this together. Find the similarities. Celebrate the differences. This season, let’s send joy to the world as we take time to center ourselves and to help others find peace and love.”
Practicing persistence in a prolonged painting project
I’m incredibly proud of what this series has become, but that’s not to say that it’s been easy. Any prolonged project requires a certain air of persistence and self-determination, and this was no different.
I had to overcome the lure of distractions by remembering that other projects could be pursued both around this one and after it’s complete.
I had to overcome the itch to skip a year when it just felt like it was too much by remembering all those who’ve told me that they save my cards year after year and couldn’t wait for the next one.
I had to push past the inner naysayer who liked to creep up and tell me that this didn’t matter by having a constant reminder at-the-ready: That there’s the surface value of having a painting painted, but the internal work and meaning behind it is what matters, always.
Prolonged persistence is a true test for anyone, anywhere -- but especially for creatives who love to dream.
But like any project that you’re proud of and that stands to help others: It’s completely worth it.
Ready for what’s next
Coming to the end of such a deep project feels a lot to me like finishing a good book that you’ve found yourself very involved in. There’s that initial feeling of overwhelm at what’s next. Then there’s the time to reflect on what you’ve just taken in. Then, there’s the excitement of what’s next.
Because we’re always moving forward, friends.