Recently on Instagram I discovered a creative kindred spirit named Marian, who is also known as “Miss Mustard Seed.” Using the hashtag #indexcardproject, Marian and two of her friends posted little plein air landscapes that they had painted on index cards, and welcomed others to do the same throughout the month.

If Miss Mustard Seed sounds familiar, it’s likely because she is also an author, interior designer, and blogger. She has her own paint line and products (Mustard Seed Interiors), and has been featured in CountryLiving.com, HGTV.com, Women’s Day, Better Homes & Gardens Decorating Ideas, BobVila.com, NBC, and more. While painting en plein air might not be her number one defining craft, she does admit that she’s “pretty much always in paint-splattered sweatpants.”

We invited Marian to share her #indexcardproject experience with you in the following guest blog post. Of her own blog, she says, “I write this blog so that those who read it will feel braver and more inspired when they finish a post and close the browser.” Cheers to that! ~Cherie

An Index Card Project for Painting Outdoors

by Miss Mustard Seed

The idea started with three sets of vintage index cards. Page Ellis of @openfieldmercantile sent a text message to me (Marian of @missmustardseed) and Michelle Wooderson (@mishwooderson) asking if we were up for an art challenge. She found three sets of numbered vintage index cards dividers, two green, and one blue, and thought they would be an interesting substrate for mini oil paintings. Michelle and I jumped at the excuse to paint more and the vintage index cards were irresistibly charming and begging to become makeshift canvases.

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com

Page mailed out the sets of index cards, we each applied acrylic gesso to our cards, and committed to start the #indexcardartproject on March 1, 2019.

While the three of us were working in oils, we invited our collective audience to “play along” in any medium they wanted. There weren’t any rules or limitations on the style or subject. The point was to paint daily, small, and on a “throw away” substrate, so there would be freedom to play and experiment.

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com
Page’s work area

As someone who’s been pursuing oil painting for only two years, I was eager to play with colors, composition, values, and paint some miniature, no pressure studies of some of my favorite impressionists – Sisley, Pissarro, and Monet. My focus was going to be on landscapes as a way to practice until the weather warms, the fields turn green, and I can start painting outside.

I was speeding along initially, trying to keep up with the date on the calendar, but I started to slow towards the end of the project. I realized I was enjoying too much to rush through it simply to match the day with the number on the index card. The learning and studying felt like something to be relished and this project was never intended to be a race.

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com
My work area

So, what have I learned?

First of all, I learned that I need to allow myself to paint for fun more often. I typically sit in front of the easel, pressuring myself to make the time as productive as possible. I paint for my class assignments and I paint to sell originals and prints. I paint at the request of clients. I rarely paint just for myself, just for fun and I need to do that more.

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com

I also learned a lot about impressionism. I have read a lot of books and tried to put that acquired knowledge into practice, but making some quick and small master studies on these index cards has helped me to relax and trust that where I’m putting the color will eventually make sense to the eye. I don’t think I would’ve felt that free on a larger panel with the pressure to “make it good.”

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com

I have also been much more playful with color. I tend to hesitate to push colors too far, but on a little index card, I pushed colors in all directions. More vibrant, higher contrast, brighter, darker, lighter. I even added more white to my greens, which I was afraid to do before for fear of making them “chalky.”

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com

I also learned that this is a great way to paint even on days when I’m feeling stuck or less inspired. Just mixing some color and putting a few strokes on an index card gets my creative juices flowing. I now have so many new ideas for larger works and I can turn back to this project any time I need a spark.

#IndexCardProject - Miss Mustard Seed - PaintingOutdoors.com
Michelle’s work area

The best part about this project, though, was doing it alongside other artists. I have loved watching them experiment and play. Their work has inspired me as well!

Here are some of Page’s and Michelle’s paintings as well as other artists who joined us…

Search #indexcardartproject on Instagram to see more.

Even though the original project started on March 1, you could start your own #indexcardartproject any time!

Learn more about Miss Mustard Seed here, and share your comments about this painting project below!


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9 COMMENTS

    • Would you kindly respond to these comments. I also want to know the answers. Perhaps, PLEIN AIR, you can get the responses since you are responsible for publishing this article which I find quite interesting. As a painter, I want to know the “who, what, when, where and how come” to any instructional writing. I trust the responses will be made soon.

  1. Interesting enough when Iowa Artists Regional Competition took place just days ago my painting was characterized by the metoo movement by the juror, a 70 something male. I was appalled. I am a trained painter and educator who paints now in plein air and studio. It was a sexist comment by the juror. My skill in painting was not even considered.

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