Meeting the Art Challenge

The word “challenge” conjures up a lot of different connotations: a dare, a provocation, an opposition, a task, a problem. An Art Challenge contains many of these; it’s a kind of dare to yourself, a provocation to make more art, an opposition to the part of you that never finds time for it, a daily task that must be met and problems solved.

I’ve been doing art challenges for a few years now — can’t seem to stay away from them, though I’ve sworn off a couple of times! I’ve done several 30-day challenges, finished some, had to abandon a couple. I’m just winding up the 100 Day Project, and the Zooly Art Challenge, a month-long animal-drawing challenge I started with Melody Peña in July of last year, is coming up again; we’ve also been running a weekly Zooly group since last August. I’ve done Inktober for the last 3 years, the Opus Practice Challenge twice, and did Hourly Comic Day this year.

clean Hi res art muse 7.jpg

One of the features of an art challenge is accountability: posting somewhere every day, even if it’s just showing a friend. This was the first drawing for a self-imposed challenge, my very first, soon after I started my blog.

Art challenges are a good way to jump-start flagging inspiration, develop a daily habit, warm up for other work, or take you out of your comfort zone. Many people use them to create a body of work or a book. I’ve done all of those, and each challenge is different for me, depending where I’m at in my life and work schedule. I’ve learned a lot of stuff, both about art and about myself; I’d like to share some of these things, as well as my favourite pieces from various challenges.

“The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” — Orson Welles

First things first, when starting a challenge: decide on your parameters. Give yourself at least a couple of restrictions: medium, size, support type or sketchbook, style, subject matter, prompt words — all good places to start. I’ve used all of these: for the Zooly Challenge it’s primarily subject matter (animals); for the first Opus Practice Challenge I did little cartoons to illustrate the prompt words in a small Moleskine Japanese Album (style, prompts, medium, size, sketchbook); for Inktober last year I did same-size drawings, all in ink, for a spinoff Quadra Cats book (size, subject matter, medium). I always feel more secure when I’ve decided ahead of time what I’m going to do.

inktober 2017 4.jpg

For Inktober 2017, I decided to do 5.5 x 5.5 inch drawings, ink only, with the subject of “Felines of the Galaxy”. I was only able to do 20 days out of the month, but it was enough for a little comic zine. I tore my paper ahead of time, and since the materials were simple, I was able to carry it around with me easily.

Prepare: Gather up your materials ahead of the start date. Gather your reference material ahead of time. Make a space to work and declare it yours, if possible. If not, keep all your stuff in one place, maybe its own special bag or box, easily accessible. If I’m not doing the drawings in an actual book, I like buying one of those black portfolios with the plastic sleeves to keep the drawings in. 


For the Opus Practice Challenge 2017, I wanted to make a lot of sketch cards, so I tore offcuts from the watermedia paper I use for my comics into little pieces ahead of time, and made a little  kit to carry around with me.

Finding time in a busy life: Break down the task into manageable segments; for instance, sketch on one coffee break and ink on another. Find little pieces of time that you’d otherwise be idle or doing something expendable (like looking at Facebook). Hide: go to a coffee shop and turn off the phone. Ignore the internet notifications. Go to your work space if you have one, close the door. This is your time — defend it! You can even set one of your limitations as a certain amount of time, and set a timer.


During the first Opus Practice challenge I did, in 2016, I often fit in a little quick cartoon as a break from doing my webcomic. My limited materials parameters for that one were: a pen, and a blue and red pencil.

Don’t wait for inspiration to hit. That’s what prompts are good for, to set you off on your creative journey; another limitation that liberates. If you have trouble thinking of subject matter, use the challenge’s prompts. If you don’t feel imaginative on a particular day, just start doing the first thing that comes to mind with the prompt. It may end up being more exciting than you had expected once you get into it!

inktober 2016 10.jpg

I was having trouble thinking of anything during Inktober 2016 for “broken”, so just started doodling and egg, and… this happened. This was in another tiny Japanese Album; and it is one of the ones I didn’t finish because I had deadlines for other work.

Don’t be perfectionistic. Allow yourself the freedom of mind to be imperfect. It’s only about practice, it’s only paper (or whatever you’re using), and the purpose is to get better, not to create a masterpiece. You get points just for showing up, how cool is that!

100 Days 11-12.jpg

I showed up, got the points. I reeeeeeealy didn’t feel like drawing on day 11, and just wrote the text. But I had a lot of fun doodling in colour on day 12!

A challenge can be used to develop ideas for later, too. It forces you to think fast, and not get too precious about the paper you’re covering.

100 Days 6.jpg

Character sketching for the next Quadra Cats book in my 100 Day Project sketchbook.

Challenge yourself to learn something, to do something new. Is there some technique you’ve always wanted to try, or get better at? Jake Parker, who started Inktober, did it to make himself practice inking. I’ve used the 100 Day Project to do something I’ve never managed to do: fill up a whole, dedicated sketchbook without flitting about between loose sheets of paper, as well as experimenting with some drawing techniques I haven’t used before. I’m considering a limited-medium challenge for this year’s Zooly (not telling yet because I might chicken out).

Easter bunny.jpg

I’ve been experimenting with gouache and other media I haven’t tried before for the Zooly Weekly Challenge.

Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day! This is one of the most important things I’ve learned. Just pick up on the next day and go on. Thinking you’re going to “catch up” is a recipe for procrastination, and before you know it, you’ve got an overwhelming amount of catch-up to do and it’s stopped being fun. Just accept that some days, life might intervene; forgive yourself, and relax. The challenge is for you, not for anyone else, and stressing and guilting about it negates the purpose of making yourself a safe space to make art. An art challenge is not a competition!

INktober 24.jpg

I only made it to day 24 in Inktober 2016, but that’s 24 drawings I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been doing Inktober! So I count that as a win.

Set your own expectations. One thing I liked about the 100 Day Project was that I realized that I could choose to make it something I could do on a daily basis. I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew (Life! I want it all!) so I took a really hard look at what I felt I could manage at this time without undue stress, and rejected most of the grandiose schemes I’d come up with as being too impractical to fit in with my daily life. 

100 Days 1.jpg

The 100 Day Project was monumental in terms of time; I needed something simple and flexible to let me get all the way through it.

I’m really glad I kept it simple, and even though a couple of times I really didn’t feel like drawing in my sketchbook, and I missed a couple of days just due to life stuff (so my challenge has now got 2 days added to the end, not doubled up with two drawings in a day), the simple parameters allowed me to not feel overwhelmed. I’ve now reached 86 days of drawings and that sketchbook is getting really full — many of its pages are wrinkled from wet media and it won’t even shut any more! They’re not finished, polished works of art, but I’ve posted them all whether I liked them or not. Some will be useful for later work, some are just for keeping my hand in with daily practice. It’s the action of doing something every day that’s the important part.

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I doubled up a 100-Day sketch with Junicorn for this one; I wasn’t officially doing Junicorn, but I did a few just for fun. This will probably become a more detailed drawing or painting for a print.

I hope this is helpful if you decide to take on an art challenge. If you do an internet search, you’ll find that there are art challenges for all kinds of interests. All levels of experience are generally welcome, and I find people incredibly supportive. Generally there is some kind of procedure and location for posting your creations; Facebook groups, Instagram and Twitter tags are the most common. Inktober (October) is probably the most famous, but there are many monthly challenges in other months: MerMay, Junicorn, Dinovember are some to look for. Most challenges have daily prompts, which you can use or ignore; there are also year-round daily challenge groups, particularly on Facebook, that give a prompt in a certain realm of interest (medium, illustration, subject matter). 

Bactrian Camel 1.jpg

One of my faves from Zooly 2017. When I need reference, I use internet sources (viewed on my iPad, usually), my own photos, swipe files, & sketches, and models.

If you’re up for a challenge, like drawing animals, and would like to improve your skills by doing it daily, here’s where I plug this year’s Zooly Art Challenge  — come on over to our page on Facebook and check it out! You can post your work there in each day’s thread, as well as on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #zoolyartchallenge. Here’s our prompt list for this year:

Zooly 2018 prompt list.jpg

How about you — have you done an art challenge (or many)? What was your experience? Do you know of any good challenges that you’d recommend? Please comment below!


4 responses to “Meeting the Art Challenge

  1. I did a 100 days challenge this year! At the end of December it seemed a lot of people I knew were posting about doing one of some sort or another, so I thought “well, why not?” I decided to focus on portraits, because while I’ve done okay ones in the past, I’ve been out of the art habit for a long time and i knew my ability to get proportions right was in the toilet.

    I wound up taking a portrait class because of it. I got super frustrated about halfway through because most drawings weren’t coming out right at all, and while I could see they were off, I couldn’t see how to fix them. A friend managed to find a class that actually wasn’t during my work hours and I decided to go for it.

    Now I’m thinking I should keep working on portraits, and see if I can’t get into doing commissions one day…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! That’s a real 100 Days success story — thanks for telling me about it! I’m impressed that it motivated you to take a class. I was actually considering doing faces as my project (not portraits, more like for character design) but felt really daunted by it. Maybe I should take a cue from you and take a class.


  2. I love participating in these art challenges. They were a big part of what got me making art again after a long, unproductive period of burnout and uncertainty. Inktober is probably my favourite, just because I love using ink! I am participating in your Zooly challenge this year bur I decided to make it just for me, and I’m not posting all my drawings online. I just needed a break from the public eye for a while! But I will post the ones that turn out really well. 😉 Sometimes it’s hard to find time what with my full-time day job but I should always have at least 5-10 minutes to spare in a day, no excuses.

    Next I want to try this 100 day challenge you have been talking about…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It _is_ sometimes hard to find time! Even for me, with a so-called flexible schedule, it’s sometimes hard to fit it in or find energy. I hear you about not posting all drawings — that’s one of the things about this 100-day challenge that I think has been warping the experience a bit (I’ll be talking about that in another post soon). Only posting the ones you really like seems like a good compromise. Best of luck in trying the 100-day challenge — I’ve really enjoyed it, and it sounds like you are more than ready for it!


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