I want to kick off this new blog by talking about art challenges. After all, Inktober is just around the corner! I use art challenges to help me get out of ruts, keep me accountable, and push me to create work I otherwise wouldn’t.
But like any goal, it’s a fine balance between pushing yourself and burning yourself out. I really struggle with this! So, I wanted to write this post to get my head in the game for Inktober 2019. I really want to complete this challenge, but I also want to maintain a healthy, reasonable life during the month of October. This is basically a letter to myself to make sure I apply what I’ve learned so far! Hopefully it helps you too!
A good art challenge (for you!) should make you feel...
Are you excited about the work you’re going to make?! I sure hope so, because if you’re not, you’re either not going to follow through or you’ll be miserable while you do! Enthusiasm can take you a long way and drag you through those days where you “don’t feel like it.” Because there will be those days, and in order to work through them you need to believe in the work and maintain an enthusiasm for it that transcends the day-to-day execution.
I think many of us could be described as “deadline driven.” Is that you? I know it’s me! It’s impossible for me to tackle a long-term project without milestones and deadlines, and a driving belief that I need to deliver something to someone at a specific time. For some people, that pressure sucks the creativity out of them. But I often think that belief is really just fear talking. Time constraints (or really, constraints of any kind) force you to be more creative and not get stuck in the churn of making things but not finishing them. Plus, it’s FUN to see everyone posting their work and to join in by posting your own! You might even make some new friends!
3) Uncomfortable in a Good Way
An art challenge should push you to make something more or something different than you normally would. And when you get pushed outside your comfort zone a little bit, it’s likely that not everything you make is going to be “good.” That’s ok! Allow yourself to experiment and push the boundaries, and don’t worry about making everything “just right.” If you’re not learning something from the art challenge, what’s the point? An art challenge should help you push beyond preconceived notions of what you’re currently capable of.
But… What if I Don’t Want to FINISH this Stupid Challenge Anymore?!
Getting energized, being accountable, going outside your comfort zone... that all sounds dandy. But how can you tell if a challenge crosses the line from Healthy Challenge Zone into the Unhealthy Challenge Zone? It all comes down to why you want to quit. Here are some examples:
Did you see someone’s art on social media and you felt like it was 1,000 times better than yours? Not a good reason to quit. Keep going!
Did you over-commit yourself from a time perspective? Maybe reframe your parameters and keep going from there. (I am repeatedly guilty of this!)
Is the challenge no longer helping you grow? Are you no longer learning anything and just going through the motions? Are you so stressed that it’s impacting other aspects of your life? Maybe it’s time to walk away. There’s no point in forcing yourself to finish a challenge that’s not moving your art forward or otherwise negatively impacting your life. It won’t always be easy, but overall it should energize you not drain you!
I must admit… I have started many more challenges than I have finished, and I think the main culprit for this is not only choosing the right challenge, but also making strategic decisions about how to tackle it.
A Quitting Story x2
Well, I’m now a two-time #AnimalAlphabets drop out. This challenge is super fun. One animal per week following a specific animal theme for every letter of the alphabet. If you’re not already following #AnimalAlphabets on Twitter or Instagram, definitely check it out!
Last year they hosted an extinct animal series. I had just released a dinosaur picture book so it was right up my alley! I got through letter M, and stopped when the workload for my next book became too overwhelming. I simply couldn’t do it all. But it wasn’t all for naught. Some of the drawings totally worked and helped me develop some style tweaks. In fact, I just released a line of prints, mugs and throw pillows featuring my favorite extinct creatures!
Currently, #AnimalAlphabets is hosting a bird theme. And I thought, “Sweet, I love birds! Let’s do this!” But I didn’t create the right parameters up front... and I totally burned myself out. Look at these absurd plans:
Large print-ready size: 12” x 12” or 12” x 18”
All birds must be flying
It better be good because I want to make prints (HUGE RED FLAG HERE!)
Now, I didn’t write these out before I started, they were just in my mind. But what madness is this?! I immediately made each drawing too intense and time consuming! Neat idea, Sheri, but not for a weekly challenge. I got so caught up in making “good” drawings that I wasn’t pushing myself stylistically and eventually not enjoying the process at all. The good news? I’m really happy with a couple of the birds I did make (like the bee-eater below!). I could have reframed my parameters and kept going, but decided I’d be better served by refocusing my efforts on developing other skills and projects.
How to Finish: Establish Your Own (Healthy!) Definition of Success
Technically, I jumped into Inktober 2017 without a plan. The evening of day one I stumbled across an image I loved and decided on the spot: I’M DOING THIS. I think I was thirsting for tactile, traditional drawing after months and months of nothing but digital illustration. So, while it wasn’t planned in advance, I did decide on some parameters to keep things reasonable time-wise and to keep things exciting and challenging enough so I didn’t get bored or burn out. The parameters were as follows:
One 2.5” x 3.5” ink drawing per day.
No pencil sketches. Just ink.
A spontaneous subject matter.
These parameters were important. Not only to keep me focused, but they also forced me to create a definition of success that wasn’t based on the subjective quality of the work. Not all of my inktober drawings from the 2017 challenge are gems, but some of them are! And it was incredibly satisfying finishing one of those tiny drawings every day.
What are your art challenge stories? What worked? What didn’t? Share in the comments below!