Make One Hundred Apples

“Create one hundred different paintings of an apple in one week.”  

That was an actual art school assignment that one of my artists, the incredible David Limrite, was given during college.  He shared this anecdote with his students (and me), while I was modeling for one of his workshops.

That sounds overwhelming, right?  A hundred paintings is a ridiculous amount of work, even ones of a simple subject.  To finish all of them in one week is ludicrous.  

Like any self-respecting college student, Limrite panicked.  He started out trying to create high-quality, beautiful paintings of apples.  But after the first dozen paintings or so, he realized something: the paintings stopped being precious to him.  He started experimenting, slapping paint on canvas, trying weird colors and compositions.  Apple #37?  Paint it from behind your back.  Apple #45?  Paint it a different color.  What about black?  What about blue?  

You learn more about painting by painting more, not by trying to make one painting perfect.

Limrite learned the lesson his instructor was trying to impart: don’t let your art become precious to you.  You learn more about painting by painting more, not by trying to make one painting perfect.  But why does pursuing quantity rather than quality give you better results, as counter-intuitive as it seems?

I think there are a few reasons. When you try to create one great painting (or essay, pose, or computer program), it’s hard to know the next step, let alone where to start.  When you have to paint a hundred of indeterminate quality, the next step is easy: put some paint on a canvas.  Repeat.  Changing your goal from quality to quantity can get you over your fear of acting in the first place. 

However, I think there’s more benefit to creating a large quantity of work than just forward momentum.  When individual results stop being so important, it’s easier to innovate.  You can justify taking risks or trying something new.  After all, failure isn’t as big of a deal when you have ninety-nine other tries.  Who cares if black apple #45 wasn’t profound?  Perhaps blue apple #46 will be. 

Some of my favorite images that I’ve modeled for have come about because of photographers who were willing to embrace the experimental process of making a hundred apples.  There’s nothing wrong with planning out or storyboarding a shoot.  But I think the best results happen when a photographer comes to the shoot with a concept in mind, and we make those hundred apples together.  We can vary angles, poses, compositions, and facial expressions.  We can innovate and experiment until we find the perfect image that we would have never otherwise created.