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Without going completely crazy
Art challenges… Seems almost like an essential on an artist life, right?
But it has taken me some time to figure out certain things about art challenges to help me tackle them without that “fear”.
Well, maybe it isn’t fear exactly. It’s that in our minds an art challenge comes accompanied by stress, burnout, pressure, self-doubt… – All those beautiful things forever present in an artist life.
Let me tell you something:
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can enjoy an art challenge.
And you will if you start listening to yourself more.
Think of this post as your pep talk before taking part in a challenge.
Yes, there’s tips and a bunch of things I’ve learned in the past 7 years – where I’ve been taking a good bunch of art challenges. However, this is not a “recipe” to be able to finish an art challenge but a series of things that will help you find the best way you can approach it.
Let’s dive in!
INTRO: An example
Before I go into the tips I feel like I should introduce you to a challenge I’m currently taking as I write this.
Hopefully, that’ll help illustrate it and serve as a starting point for you to find what works for you, as well as an example for certain concrete situations.
Also, I’ll use it to give the post some structure and order. As I’ll follow the order of the steps I take.
So, I found this art challenge for the first half of December and I was really excited to give it a go:
I draw a lot of girls but I barely draw lingerie even tho I’d love to do it more.
Thus, I feel this will help me get – just a bit – out of my comfort zone, refresh my women anatomy a bit and, I also get a chance of trying drawing sexy/pin-up style ladies!
SET AN INTENTION FOR THE ART CHALLENGE
Even if it’s small.
Just a quick reasoning like the one I just did up there is enough to guide you through the challenge.
Know what you want to achieve.
What you want out of it.
It helps to motivate you, to keep you on track. Whenever you feel tired, you’ll know that you have a reason to keep going, more than just for the fun of it. – not saying that’s wrong either!
It can be something as small as “refresh my knowledge of women anatomy” or something as big as a product (zine, calendar, print series, Kickstarter…). As you can see, it can be a product, a personal objective, anything really!
Writing it down sometimes helps with your focus. Especially if you’re the kind of person that likes to write stuff down in a journal or to keep you accountable.
This will only take a minute. And it’s probably on the back of your mind already!
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARATION
I found really early on that the more you prepare for an art challenge, the less stressing it is later.
Not only that, but you’ll have better results.
However, there’s a downside to this as well: you might get doubled stressed. Aka, you’ll get burned out earlier.
So, I’m always looking to find that sweet middle point. Here’s my philosophy about it that has worked till now:
Start as soon as you feel comfortable and are able too.
No pressure, no need to get crazy. Just start making small decisions.
I feel the more pressure you put on yourself, the earlier you’ll start getting stressed. So: small steps – or as you feel like doing.
Most times, we know at least a week before the prompts & info about the challenge. That’s enough time to lift some workload from your shoulders later in most situations. No, you don’t need to start a month earlier for it to work.
Yes, there’s been times that I start thinking about “my intention” and other small decisions a month in advance. But it wasn’t intentional, there wasn’t any pressure. That’s why I think I came up with better ideas.
So I don’t really recommend you start that early, but you do you! If you feel that’s best or you know you need to – maybe in certain deadline situations – then go ahead.
GOOD AND BAD DAYS
I’m going with the premise that you have some sort of theme or prompt list. – Mostly cause it honestly helps me a lot to stay inspired.
If this isn’t your case, as I stated, adapt it to your situation. There are little nuggets of wisdom that might still be useful in different cases.
Inevitably, there will be ups and downs during an art challenge.
However, there’s a thing I’ve realised helps to still make the most of those “good days”:
Find those prompts that make you excited even now (before you start).
And find those that don’t. At all or not too much. (make two categories if needed)
Bad “Prompt” Days
Sadly, these last ones will probably be most of your “meh days/pieces”.
Consider if you can – or want to – combine them, swipe them with others, skip them or simply dedicate less time to them. (Don’t be afraid or ashamed to do this. “Purging” these days ahead of time is what has kept me sane through a lot of my recent art challenges)
Maybe in some projects you won’t be able to, but it’s still good to keep it in mind for those where you can. Or just to save you some energy.
If you go in knowing you don’t like it much, makes it harder to get the best out of it.
I know, sometimes these prompts push you out of your comfort zone and end up turning out great, but in my experience, that’s like a 30-20% of the times.
With this, I don’t mean to discourage you. It’s just something I’ve realised over time by participating in art challenges, so it might help you too.
Identifying the good ones also helps because you know the ones you want to be the “star” of your collection of drawings.
It’s universally known that if you’re excited about it and have a great time creating it, the result will probably be better. – & you’ll probably be more willing to give it more time too.
So, take advantage!
Get those favourites off to a great start by starting sketching them early & searching references. – Not that you shouldn’t do this for the rest.
In most challenges, this favourite prompts are what keep me excited and motivated all through the challenge!
Finally, for those days in between, feel it out.
Sometimes you’ll come up with a great idea and they become a favourite. Other times they end up in the bad day pile. It’s also alright to drop that prompt – even the very same day you’re supposed to do it – if it really hasn’t sparked anything in you.
Here’s the point where the small initial decisions finish. Now we start taking action!
These were really simple steps so far, right?
But somehow, at this point, I already feel much readier to tackle the challenge. What about you?
Here it’s time you consider if you really want and realistically are able to do the entire challenge. Look at your calendar, previous appointments, workload, your current routine, etc. Does it really fit in?
If not, it doesn’t mean you have to fully give it up. It’s completely fine to adapt it! – as I said before; combine days, skip some, whatever helps.
I feel this is a good time to consider this as you already have an idea of what you want to do, so it’s easier to estimate the workload.
INSPIRATIONS & REFERENCES
Alright, after all these decisions, we start to get serious.
Now we have a clearer picture of our challenge.
By this point, I usually already have a visual idea of what I’m planning to do. Maybe because inspiration hit me or I went looking for it. – helloo Pinterest!
Whenever an idea like this challenge comes to my mind & I don’t have inspiration or knowledge enough to tackle it I start a reference board on Pinterest – here’s mine for this challenge. For a week or so I collect lingerie images that I like & fit some of the themes. And ideas come floating by as I go!
Again, this is another process that I do sort of mindlessly without much pressure. – Maybe five minutes before bed I’ll scroll through Pinterest in my phone a bit to see if I find something.
Then, it’s good to also have a medium you’d like to use already clear.
I think this time I’m going with digital art cause that’s what feels most comfortable to me lately. I’d love to go with watercolours but I feel a bit clumsy with them lately (been using them very little) and I think it’s only gonna bring me extra stress.
If there’s an art style, artist, or something you want to get inspired from for your project it would be good if you decide on them now & start gathering some references as well.
Now, I’m not copying any of them, just grabbing inspiration from their styles/colours/stylisation, poses & such!
From here on its time to get your hands dirty!
Start your sketches & thumbnails.
If you can have a thumbnail for each piece that will be perfect, even if it is really rough.
However, it’s also fine if you can’t do them all. Just try to save as much time as you can beforehand, this will help the process be smoother later.
I find that if I have time to do 1 or 2 full pieces beforehand and 70% of the thumbnails, I already made half of the challenge a breeze to get through. This also helps me get a bit of a jumpstart in case something gets in the way later.
Just so you see that all is adaptable, I found that in some cases, there’s also different paths to start ahead that also help that’s not thumbnailing. It was the case of this challenge for me (this is why I love helps to have a personal project as an example, I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise).
Instead of thumbnailing I did pose studies. A good bunch of them!
From photos, drawings, sculptures.
Then used one those studies as a base for the pose that fit the best with that prompt & what I had in mind. This saved me so much time from having to study poses & think of them later!
FEEL GUILTY ABOUT STARTING EARLY? Just Don’t…
I used to feel like it was cheating to have a couple of pieces done ahead of time. At first, I even hid from social media my planning/thumbnailing process, believing that was cheating, too.
But then I found out, about 80% of artists do it as well! – I’m making up the percentage, but just know that I heard from a LOT of artists that they start ahead. Sometimes they have half (or full) of the challenge done ahead!
So why should you feel like it’s cheating?
Let me tell you, a challenge will have its benefits in your work even when you start ahead. It might even have more!
You do have more time to plan/learn/experiment if you’re not stressed…
And, if you’re not convinced yet, let me tell you one last thing: In any challenge, there’s a major social factor. And I mean “social media” factor. We do it in a time frame to be a part of a community (most times) and hold ourselves accountable.
But if you have something to post every day of the art challenge, isn’t your job done? Aren’t you doing the challenge just the same?
It’s practically impossible that we’re all available all the time, any time for a challenge. Or that we don’t run into an inconvenient – or several...
So, please, don’t believe you have to work like a horse to be part of a challenge.
*Note: I do realise challenges like The 100 Heads Challenge (10 days) are based on being done in periods of time. On those, you might want to stick to the time frame but you can still adapt it in other ways. For both the 100 and 50 Heads Challenge, I only counted for those 10 days the ones I was able to draw, not consecutive days.
BENDING THE RULES… SAY WHAT?
I learned with time that even if an art challenge has its rules, they don’t always have to apply the same way.
Yes, the creator of the challenge put on a set of rules. So, what? They probably set up the rules for themselves, adapted to them.
These are guidelines, nor something you need to follow to a T.
There not set in stone.
So, believe me when I say that no one is gonna care if you set your own set of rules based on the official ones.
And if they do, who cares? – these would be annoying trolls that don’t have anything to do with their lives…
It’s like when people said you couldn’t do Inktober digitally, did anyone stopped doing it? No, and even the creator supports it!
Even the creators of the art challenges sometimes break their own rules, timeframes, etc.
ABOUT THE TIMEFRAME
Are you gonna follow the timeframe required or create your own?
Just as I keep saying, it’s perfectly fine to adapt it.
Even if a challenge is set for a specific date, does it really mean you can’t do it late or at another moment if you really want to give it a try?
The only thing you might be missing if you change the timeframe – too much – is the community part of the challenge (and maybe not always). I know, that’s one of the good parts. Both to discover & connect with artists but also to expand your social media reach.
But if you’re really interested in a challenge, does this really matter?
If I’m really looking forward to it, it doesn’t matter to me. Not that much, anyway.
Keeping up with my example, when I decided to tackle the lingerie challenge I already knew I wasn’t gonna be able to keep within the time frame.
Not a chance.
So why stress myself about it? I really, really wanted to participate, so if I could only do 2 pieces in the timeframe and the rest later, that’s good! – and that’s more or less what ended up happening, but I don’t really mind!
AS YOU GO THROUGH THE ART CHALLENGE…
- …You might get tired. Burned out.
It’s okay to take a couple of days off, take a breather.
If it gets really bad, you can always quit. It’s your choice. But, hey! This doesn’t mean you should feel like a failure for it.
- …Acknowledge what you achieved, what you learned.
I’ve quitted more than one challenge, and you know what? I’ve never regretted it.
For example: read about my failed 2019 Inktober here.
At first it seems daunting but if you feel like a weight as been lifted of your shoulders, then it means you did what you needed.
- …You will not like everything you create.
You probably learn more from the pieces you struggled with that from the ones that went smoothly.
- …And you’ll feel – at least a bit – tired by the end of it.
Please take a break for a week or so. We are not machines, we need to take care of our bodies & minds.
Aaand that’s it!
As you can see, my process it’s pretty much about making small decisions ahead of time with no pressure on. – And adapt it to yourself as much as you can and want.
But this doesn’t only it helps you to stay organised. It also gets you to focus on the challenge, builds your anticipation and helps the creative process. At least that’s what I’ve experienced!
And you’ll be surprised how much this – even though it seems little – helps.
And of course, these small choices, decisions & actions save you a lot of time and headaches later!
All in all, I feel the best benefit of this process for me is that it has turned the pre-challenge period to a really exciting, creative and happy time that continues through the art challenge! (at least until you’re close to the end and you’re tired!)
I would love to hear your thoughts about this article on the comments! And feel free to add any other tips you have to tackle art challenges!
If you want to follow along with my Lingerie Challenge, I’ll be updating my Instagram here @patri_p_p – just have these 4 pieces so far but there might be more when you read this!