The 1008 Paintings Project

1008 Paintings Project by Lisa Sonora Beam

The 1008 Paintings Project: 1008 Meditations on the Human Condition

The 1008 Paintings Project came about from an simple idea: I needed a creative challenge to get me back into painting again after more than a decade of not showing or selling my work.

At the time, I happened to be reading novelist Haruki Murakami’s engrossing memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”.

I’ve always admired people who like to run, and do marathons to challenge themselves. I’ve tried to be a runner. It’s not my thing. At all.

Reading Murakami’s book got me thinking about what creative challenge would be my marathon equivalent.
At that same time, I happened to find a stack of human behavior encyclopedias from the 1960’s at a yard sale. The moment I saw them, I knew they would become my sketchbooks, that I would paint and write directly into them.

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The idea was to cultivate a strong creative practice to get into painting, showing, and selling my work again. Showing and selling my paintings was something I had stopped doing more than ten years prior.

The urge to paint again kept knocking at the door, so I needed to find a way to allow it in without so much pressure to produce something “marketable”. So I the idea of painting as a creative practice was meant to be a bridge to producing work for sale.

Initially, I started painting right into the encyclopedias, as a daily meditation and creative practice experiment. I thought that this practice would be a kind of solo meditation retreat for myself, that I could do right in the heart of Los Angeles, where I was living at the time.

After just a few days of painting this way, the project evolved into something else entirely. I wanted to have the paintings out in the studio where I could look at them, not closed up in a book.

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Since I was still thinking of the project as a personal creative practice, I wanted to use whatever materials were readily available. I’ve learned that going shopping for the “perfect” art supplies is a sure way to derail my creative ideas.

It happens that I love painting on cardboard, and the dumpster outside of my apartment building was constantly overflowing with boxes. So I started tearing out the individual definitions and glueing them on scraps of cardboard from the recycling bin of my apartment building.

After doing about a dozen paintings, and noting the seeming endless number of intriguing entries in the thick encyclopedia pages ahead, the idea for the 1008 Meditations on the Human Condition came into focus.

I had found my marathon.

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As I was formulating the project, set this up to be a learning experience for myself, I was wondering:

What would it be like to get into regular painting again?
What would it be like to have a marathon project that felt rather out of reach to do?
What would it be like to chart my progress (including the ups and downs)?
Where would painting take me if I just let myself have time and space for it in my life?
What if I were to start selling my paintings again, after 13 years of not selling my paintings?

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Project tracking is something I explored in depth as I painted.

All the while, I kept detailed project sketchbooks that mapped my inner process and outer results. Originally intended to be completed within one year, the project took two years and four months from start to finish.

I wrestled with these questions:

How do we stay on track with a big goal?
How to we start again when we’ve gotten sidelined?
What supports constructive action and creating? And what undermines?

The 1008 Paintings Project evolved as a way to learn more about how I work, and a way to learn more about this thing called balance, and a way to do more of what I really want to do more of (paint!) in the midst of an already busy life.

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Each painting in this series takes as it’s title some kind of disorder, or behavioral, psychological or physical condition culled from American human behavior encyclopedias from the 1960’s.

As I looked through these encyclopedias, it was sobering to grasp just how delicate the balance of the human organism is, and yet how miraculously most of us are almost perfectly healthy. But there is so much that can go awry, from either nature or nurture, and then how do we deal with it, or attempt to heal it?

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Why 1008 Paintings?

When I was designing this creative challenge for myself, I wanted it to feel like a marathon, or like a long sitting meditation retreat. If you’ve ever done a long sitting retreat, you’ll know it is just as arduous as running, but in a different way.

1008 Meditations on the Human Condition

What amount of paintings would constitute a marathon challenge?

As I considered numbers, 100 paintings didn’t feel like enough of a marathon for me. When I considered doing 1,000 paintings, that’s when I felt the pang of excitement mixed with a touch of terror, a recipe that always lets me know I’m on the right track with a new idea. One thousand and felt much more like a marathon to me. One thousand felt exactly like the reaction I get whenever I have considered doing a running marathon: no way can I do that. One thousand seemed even likely impossible, considering all the other responsibilities on my plate.

When I got up to 1,000, it was a natural step to round up to 1,008, which is a sacred number in many spiritual and mystical traditions, especially in Buddhism. The number 1008 represents the infinite, and is said to contain the dimensions of the universe. I’m not a scholar on these things, but the number 1008 just felt right as I sat with it.

1008 Meditations on the Human Condition

What is the figure in the paintings? Are those Buddhas?

I think people should see what they want to see in these pieces. For some, they see a Buddha. In fact, so many people see these as little Buddha figures that my shorthand name for this project became simply, The Buddha Project.
The Buddhist traditions teach about developing our Buddha nature. This is done, in large part, through the practice of meditation. Meditation is an act of observing the mind and body without judgment, without interpretation. The meditator is literally sitting there, watching the mind. Breathing, and coming back to the present moment. The act of mediation is one of those things that is simple, and yet not easy. Especially after five minutes or thirty minutes, day after day for one, two, five, ten, thirty days.

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For me, these figures represent the person sitting with what is: the ups and downs of life, the myriad human conditions that affect us all, directly or indirectly at one time or another. They also represent the Buddha nature of the meditator.

At large meditation retreats, I am always struck by the sight of hundreds of people sitting together. Each person sitting with all of their thoughts and memories and aches and pains and not leaving the room. Simply sitting with what is: simple, yet not so easy.

Whether a person meditates or not, we are all sitting with so much going on inside of us. Not literally sitting in meditation, but going about life with all of these thoughts and feelings and problems and challenges and joys and sorrows that no one else can see.

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Everyone has these worlds within them, these human conditions and struggles, these breakthroughs and joys. But we don’t talk about it much, and it doesn’t really show in the outer world. I have always been fascinated with the interior life of us humans, and all of the unseen forces that shape us into who we are.

34 Responses to The 1008 Paintings Project

  1. Kim Ford Kitz June 27, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Hi Lisa,
    Enjoy your workshops this weekend. Stop by and say Hi before you make the actual Big Ass move.

    • Lisa Sonora Beam July 12, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

      Hi Kim! OMG – the last few days of the BigAss move took it all out of me. I didn’t see you around…and I was scrambling to get it all done – which I did not!

      So I am back end of August – let’s get together!

  2. Angeline-Marie April 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    What strikes me about this post is 1008!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????????? That’s about 3 years straight! One per day! I struggle with 30 paintings or mixed media pieces in 30 days!

    Recently, I did discover altered books…and am having a blast working through my third in less than a month. However, my creative fairy is very quiet…and my sketchbook is empty….and my day job has taken over most of my time =( and I struggle to use the minutes I might have to create….

    Any how…my challenge is to get my creative fairy back out of hibernation and buzzing around me so that I’m jotting notes down outside of my sketchbook to later glue them into the sketchbooks and act on them in the studio.

    • Lisa Sonora Beam April 16, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

      1,008 – my marathon! I really painted more like 1,050 – because some didn’t make the cut. Now – to get the exhibitions in order. They’ve needed to rest a while in my loft while this next part gets sorted.

      • Melody June 25, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

        Wonderful work Lisa!

        One year I decided to write a poem a day for a year. By May of that year I had written the 365. I continued to the end of the year and actually wrote 1107!

        when we set ourselves these tasks we always do so much better than we imagine we will! 🙂

  3. Michelle Saleeba February 1, 2014 at 12:59 am #

    Lisa
    I have been asking myself but without the right words “what is my marathon?” my whole life, so thank you for articulating it so succinctly.
    I shall have to read Murakami’s memoir now too!
    best wishes
    michelle

  4. Melanie December 27, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    Hi Lisa–I love this! Love it! I just finished my second round of Daily Advent collages, and I have been doing another regular diary practice for nearly 20 years. So what you do totally fits into what I love–discipline and art together. This morning I saw an exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art of Simon Evans’ work. Do you know his work? You might like it–it’s got that similar sense of self-discovery, personal mantras and discovery.
    Thanks for doing this–practice so takes practice, and you are an inspiration.

  5. Megan W. December 23, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Hi Lisa – I have just found your blog thanks to a post by Kelly Kilmer on Facebook about the 30 day journal project (I signed up!). This painting project is inspiring, I need to focus on my creativity and this might be just the boost I needed – thank you

    • Melody June 25, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

      As someone who did this last year and has signed up again for this one- I can’t tell you how much you will enjoy this – Lisa’s 30 day journal project is simply wonderful.

      I wish you a truly blessed month! 🙂

  6. Javier September 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Hi Lisa, Hi Andrew, Hi Aime ( in order off appearance)
    This is a very inspiring moment for me too…many thanks.
    As I was reading Andrew’s reply, I felt as if I was hearing my own intern voice…what a coincidence!
    I also love watercolors and I always wanted to become an artist…I also chose to be an architect and I have made a life from this…but I have been struggling with the same fear as Andrew.
    Now I know it is time to walk towards freedom…I have started a blog…sort of catharsis…I have no writing skills but I am glad with this short attempt…I will stay in touch.
    Y que viva Lisa Sonora!!!!!
    Javier.

    • Melody June 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

      Yes! Yes! Yes! please do! Our world needs you.

  7. Andrew Di Genova August 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi Lisa,

    Today your book The Creative Entrepreneur: A DIY Visual Guide inspired me greatly. All my life I wanted to be an artist but didn’t have the courage. Instead I choose to be an architect (15 years), then a digital visual effects artist (5 years), and recently a user interface and web designer (8 years). But none of them satisfied me because they were always a compromise for the real thing – watercolor painter. Until now I didn’t become a painter for fear of being in poverty all my life. After reading your book, today I decided no more compromises. From today on I will be a true artist. Thanks for writing the book and inspiring the heck out of me!

    Warm regards,
    Andrew

    • Lisa Sonora August 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      Andrew: I’m so glad you are inspired. Thanks so much for letting me know. It means a great deal to me that my work inspires others into thinking and dreaming and action. Good for you!

      I want to offer that you’ve always been a true artist…all along.

      I believe we need to redefine the word “artist” into something much broader. Our artistry is the desire to express what is within that lives inside us. Overcoming the fearful forces (poverty is a very real one, isn’t it?) is another kind of artistry. Both take tremendous courage.

      And then there is…the earning of money from one’s artistry. Another job altogether and also not for the faint of heart. This probably requires the most courage of all. To keep with it even when it’s hard. Because our world equates “success” with how much money is (or isn’t) earned.

      You are a true artist. And you are brave.

      And this is true for anyone else besides Andrew who is reading this.

      • Andrew Di Genova August 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        Hi Lisa,

        What a sweet and considerate inspiring person you are! What a great reply. Thanks for thinking I have courage but I don’t. I should have studied art in college and became an artist right off. Instead I drifted through lots of 6 digit salary jobs that left me creatively bankrupt. Now I have to do my art because the writing is on the wall. I despise the corporate world and it thinks the same of me.

        I encourage your readers to read The Creative Entrepreneur, not because of any gain for myself, but because your book was the right message at the right time for me. Three simple lines you wrote were extremely powerful:

        1. There is a pot and lid to fit out there for everyone of us, that includes me!
        2. Definition of success is to create a new habit and do it everyday for a month.
        3. The artists I consider to be successful are: Susan Kasmer …

        So I looked at Susan’s work. It is filled with originality and energy. It reminded me of an artist I LOVE. Her name is Helen Musselwhite who does stunning craft-work in paper. Her work has been featured on TV ads and art museums. She LOVES what she does and it shows. So I realized that the only thing left in life for me to really do is what a truly love. Nothing else.

        I was also impressed with The 11 rules for successful creative entrepreneurs, Howkins (2001) which include:

        1. Invent yourself
        2. Prioritize ideas over data
        3. Be nomadic
        4. Learn endlessly
        5. Most importantly, have fun

        Those rules ARE who I am. Maybe your readers can relate? So I am going to pick back up some explorations in paper sculpture, that I stopped doing months ago, combining a laser printer with my painting and see what I come up with.

        A huge THANK YOU for your inspiration and kindness. I really love what you are doing for artists.

        Warmly,
        Andrew

        • Aime Miyamoto September 2, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

          Lisa and Andrew – I am blessed by this dialogue between you both – on many levels. A nod and bow to you both! Aho! 😉 <3

    • Melody June 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

      Oh I am so glad you came to that Andrew! I wish you the very best on your journey forward into who you really are – a courageous artist.

      Please share your journey with the rest of us. we need you! 🙂

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