On January 1, 2017 photographer and mixed media artist Stephen Sheffield resolved to create one new piece of art every day from start to finish. Earlier this month, Sheffield successfully completed his resolution and put the finishing touches on his 365th work of art. Don't Take Pictures interviewed Sheffield about his process, challenges, and what he learned about himself this past year.
DTP: The goal: to create one new piece of art from start to finish every day for one year. Why did you take on this challenge?
Stephen Sheffield: The project/challenge was an alternative to a mid-life crisis (ha!). Although I continually photograph whatever subjects of interest come into view, for over 20 years now I have also been following the path of producing a specific body of work. I shoot hundreds of sheets of film each year and maybe five to ten photographs are strong enough to include into my Everyman series.
My photographic education was in analog and my philosophy for “success” was cobbled together from a number of mentors in undergraduate and graduate schools and beyond, but it boils down to this: “always be shooting, always be showing.” During my time in art school (circa 1980s), the saying was, “out of a 35mm roll of 36 exposures, if you get ONE image worth keeping, you are doing great.” I teach this philosophy and I decided to spend 2017 practicing what I preach.
I also decided that shooting a photograph each day was too easy if it was digital, and since my darkroom in my new studio was not yet up and running, I chose collage and mixed media as my medium for this project.
DTP: What rules and parameters did you set for yourself?
SS: The major rule was that I needed to make, sign, and post something every day. The “make” part was open-ended and could be anything analog. The “sign” part—to physically apply the date and signature—was the stopping point. No more work could be done to the piece. The “post” part was proof to myself and to the world that the piece was completed and was a way for me to let it go. The minor rule was that I couldn’t worry whether each piece was “good,” just that I made it.
DTP: What was the most rewarding piece that you made?
SS: I tell you, there have been a great number of pieces that I really like, and a few that I am really proud of, but the most rewarding piece was made on December 31, 2017—the last day of the 365 days. I also like it! Funny thing is that even after the new year and into 2018, I haven’t stopped. Now that the pressure is off to make 365 consecutive finished pieces, it feels more like a creative habit than a pressure to “make.”
DTP: What was the most challenging day?
SS: There were a few challenging days! Christmas Eve was tough because of my kids! There were a couple of crazy days in the midst of printing for a show and under the pressure of a commission deadline. The toughest was during vacation in the woods in Maine. I was prepared with a suitcase full of material and glues and knives, but I was in full leisure mode and it was tough to break away sometimes. I tried to work it in and get my kids involved.
DTP: Do you think that this discipline has made you a stronger artist?
SS: Absolutely! No question! I have been able to get back to the wonderful feeling of making for making sake instead of trying to constantly make something “good” or “important.”
DTP: What have you learned about yourself during your year of art-making?
SS: This process/project has turned out to be one of the more important undertakings of my art career so far. And it is not because of the finished work. I have had many milestones and turning points in my career so far, and this is one that has been truly rejuvenating. I have relearned that the habit of making art is more important to who I am as an artist than the works I have sold or the attention I have received. Now, how will I be remembered, or what my legacy will be as an artist is something more fluid. I have no control over what pieces or photographs I have made that will be remembered or will live on, but choosing how I live and work as an artist and the example I set can be controlled at least as much as one can control anything.
View all of the pieces made in 2017 on Sheffield’s blog.