In high school it was with wine coolers in the backyard. In college, maybe more like bourbon. Today it was a couple cups of coffee in Jason McHenry’s chilly Castro Valley garage, where we created paintings number 328,473 through 328,518. And those numbers are on their way to one million.

McHenry has been creating paintings like this since those high school days in the backyard, with a couple of buddies slathering paint, pastel, ink, pencil or whatever else on a grid of cards held together by painters tape. When the tape comes up, the cards separate into their own pieces.

Now it’s become the One Thousand Thousand project, which McHenry does with his friend Chris Dyer. Their goal: create one million pieces of original art…eventually. If he doesn’t get sick of it first. “It’s almost like a job now,” he told me. Sometimes, he’ll just feel like he’s phoning it in, having learned the tricks to augment or save a grid of cards. Sometimes he’ll get excited. It’s not often he’ll dislike a batch enough to throw them away, so his closets and drawers are full of paintings.

As part of South First Friday, Jason McHenry will be painting works for the One Thousand Thousand project in collaboration with harpist Anna Maria Mendieta from the Silicon Valley Music Festival, Feb. 7 at Sliding Door Company, 355 South First St., San Jose. His work is also on display at KALEID gallery.

When I showed up, McHenry took me on a brief tour of the house, recently inherited from his father-in-law, then out to the garage where he’d set up two grids of cards, one painted with some blue acrylics, the other pinks and reds. “Grab a brush or something. Get in there,” he said. The workbenches held paint tubes and bottles, beeswax, poster paint, pastels and pencils.

So we spent the next few hours painting and drawing, the conversation ranging from J.D. Salinger to model airplanes to creativity and immortality.

Now I’m definitely not a painter, but it didn’t really matter: “You gotta turn your brain off. Don’t be a darling about it,” he said.

So some teal on the pink, pick up that pastel—why not? Get out the ruler and the pencil, don’t worry about that poor crappy looking square in the corner. Paint it over in gold and umber. Don’t think too much—at the beginning at least. You want circles there, put circles there. They’ll get covered up anyway. Just keep the flow going.

At some level the project is about the number, just about pure creation: one million of anything is impressive. But as anyone in a creative field will tell you, sometimes the creation will be crappy. And that’s part of the process.

McHenry estimates 90 percent of his paintings turn out decent, 5 percent mediocre and 5 percent “totally stink.” He enjoys collaborators, but knows when to take over the painting. While the goal is quantity, the individual pieces get attention and minute edits towards the end. Some turn out beautiful, a combination of happy accident and purposeful painting. Some are unsalvageable, but they’re still a number, redeemed as one of the million. McHenry rated our batch “solid for sure.”

We talked a fair amount about the frustration of the project, how it can get tedious and overwhelming at times. But usually, he said, that’s just all hot air. McHenry emailed me later that night: “And I’ll keep going at this thing until I’m dead. I just know it. And in a lot of ways it’s smart money to bet on the fact that I hit the one million point before that happens.”

More of McHenry’s work can be found at