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Wisdom

Cynthia Daignault

Artist

In 2014, the artist Cynthia Daignault took a year-long road trip around the border of the United States, stopping every 25 miles to paint what she saw. The final piece, Light Atlas, includes 360 paintings. She’s also a banjo player, prolific collaborator, and writer (who likes to write Star Trek fan fiction). This piece is an excerpt from a longer discussion The Creative Independent had with Daignault in 2016.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

As an artist, I don’t have a boss. I spend all of my time alone. This could be crazy making. The studio doesn’t have the structure of a desk job. It doesn’t have a time I go to work, or a time I come home. It doesn’t have other people. It doesn’t have days off. And it doesn’t have success markers like when a boss comes in to tell you “Good job Cindy.” For some people, like myself, that’s a highly uncomfortable space. I needed strategies to break up the time, benchmarks. Those kind of larger works are one of those strategies.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

For I love you more than one more day, I knew that there would be 365 paintings. I knew that in order to make the whole piece, I just needed to break the work up into the task of making 365, one at time. One foot in front of the other. I don’t have to start from scratch each day, but am carried from the momentum of all the days before. I’m not lost in the middle of an ocean, shoreless and directionless, surrounded on all sides by water and death. I can always see the shore. The numbers are a lighthouse.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

Really, it’s a capitalist assembly line. Henry Ford. The Amazon fulfillment center. Number goals. And like Amazon, I usually set impossible goals for myself. I’m always behind. The “boss” is always pissed at me and I’m always stressed about not meeting my numbers. Shit, I’m 10 paintings behind. Shit, now I’m 20 paintings behind. But that’s pushing me. Maybe it’s masochistic, but it works.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

Usually, the numbers I set require working 16 hour days to meet them, and that’s impossible, and that’s probably the point. I think every artist races against time. There’s only so many days before your next show. There’s only so much art you can make before you die. You’re chasing the clock. I’m always trying to find ways to motivate myself to make as much work as possible in the short amount of time I have.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

To be honest, just like the Amazon worker, I can be pretty miserable while I’m in the middle of a shift. I work 80-hour weeks. I get incredibly lonely. I physically break down from the receptive stress on my shoulder and neck. And yet in the end, I look at what I did and I am often stunned. I never could have done a piece like that without those daily benchmarks. It’s funny, becoming an artist, I always thought I was choosing a life outside of corporate America. Yet, here I am telling you that I’m basically an Amazon Fulfillment Center employee. Well—that’s how the sausage is made.

How do you approach making a large-scale project?

It’s probably true of all tasks in life—the journey of 1,000 miles. All of this gets into that deeper zen answer about the daily practice of painting. There’s something really beautiful about going to the studio everyday and taking a little at a time. About seeing the story of my entire life reflected in the iterations of the daily. If I looked at the trajectory of my paintings, all produced one day at a time, in a myriad of moods, I could see the course of my entire life. That’s a wonderful thought… Did you know there are a ton of worms in an acre? That’s a wonderful thought, too.

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