For the month of September, I created a 31 day art challenge #folklore2drawmore, because I was struggling with creativity and needed a push in order to learn more about myself and my practice.
If you want to learn more about the contents of the challenge head to https://www.instagram.com/katiegrayart/ to see the prompts. I will delve into the insights that I reached during this challenge, which may be simple things that you could already very well know, but was truly uncovered for me during this process of drawing everyday. I tried to refine it down to the main themes rather than how each point specifically relates to my practice, so it can have a broader application to any artist, in case someone else is struggling.
Starting a challenge with the right intentions is incredibly important to gain the most value out of the experience. Try not to start a challenge without an objective you want to achieve during the creating. This is super important for gaining insight into yourself and what you want to convey with your creative practice as a whole, otherwise the challenge will simply become just another chore. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, but it should be there so you are encouraged to persevere and prevail with the challenge otherwise you’ll likely end up with 31 pieces art you don’t like, or drop it without completing it. (Also on a side note, producing an artwork a day is difficult and sometimes stressful, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are doing it for yourself) Think of a month challenge as a creative boot camp. It's here to help build positive habits and push you to the max, but there’s no point jumping into it if you have no intention behind it. It’d be akin to flailing your arms about hoping to get an arm work out, with no real understanding of what arm muscles you actually want to work out or how to go about activating those muscles. (I know, why am I bringing up exercise in an art reflection, its gross. But mental gymnastics is much easier to explain with the physicality of tangible gymnastics).
The process of waking up to an intention you have set for yourself gives you a goal that can be seen as achievable, without the daunting task of deciding what you want to make in the moment. Our brains, or at least mine, tend to thrive off anticipation. Knowing what’s to come, gives me space to think about how I want to approach it before attempting it. It also gives you the space to step back from the work and assess what went wrong, what worked well and how can you improve on tomorrow's drawing. I find that the time limit really helped me break away from spending countless hours on a work, only to find a hate the final product, and not being able to properly reflect on the process as it was a huge chunk of time that all merges together in my mind. There also a sense of freedom in the fact that its inevitable that some works are going to end up more terrible than others, but you haven’t spent more than a day on, so the benefit is not solely in the result but the learning achieved through seeing a piece through to its conclusion.
To follow are the six most important things I learnt during this challenge, which I will go into with more depth. However below will be the dot pointed version, in case you just want the brief version. 1. Uncover your true why and create a personal art criteria.
2. Learning the difference between resistance and the need for rest.
3. Have a place to log dream projects so you can return to them when you have time
4. Incorporate intentional practice and have a safe space for ‘ugly’ work
5. There’s no right way to create and trust the process
6. Remember to exist as a human
1. Your why and personal art criteria.
I think a question that isn’t addressed enough is, what is your wider purpose for making art? What do you want to be doing with your art long term, not simply project by project?
I feel there is a great sense of unknowingly following whims of creation because it's so focused on the here and now, but never addresses the wider context. That's not to say that you don’t learn during hyper focused projects, but more so it lacks to address what happens after the project is done and what does it say about your practice as a whole. I think going into a project, the first thought should be, what are my values as an artist and what am I hoping to achieve through making this in the wider context of my practice. Rather than what I want to express right now and how I want to convey that.
For every piece it’s important to go back to your core values; the why of creating art and assess the piece currently. Does it have the core of everything I want my art to be? Does it meet my personal criteria? It's so easy as an artist to forget the whys, especially due to the magnitude of art we have access to because of the Internet and getting caught up in other people’s work. Then, you just start creating for creating sake. Because you feel you have to show up, otherwise how will people know you exist as an artist? There’s definitely value in showing up, but it has to come from a place of genuine passion for your practice not for the sake of others or what you think others want you to make. And this will change as you grow as a person and artist so its important to reflect upon it regularly.
2. Resistance verses the need for rest
These are two very similar states of mind and it can often be hard to know which is which. They both feel very similar in experience. Yet both need such difference solutions. Learning the difference between resistance and need for rest is tricky and really it all comes down to really knowing yourself as a person. Resistance to making is simply when your mind needs to be pushed to get into the flow state of creating. Often this occurs because either you haven’t made something in a while which creates friction and you need to warm up, or because you don’t feel particularly motivated to put in the work it takes to create something well. Like anything, try to remove as many obstacles as possible to make easing into creating easier; like playing your favourite music or making your favourite hot drink, as a self awarded gift for showing up for yourself even though it is hard. The other is creative exhaustion, when you are experiencing burnout or your creative cup is empty. You need to refill your creative cup with experiences, inspiration and simply rest to give your body and mind a break. Pushing yourself in this state can lead to a prolonged burnout so make sure to check in with yourself and ask, is this resistance or do I need a rest? If you need rest, take a break. Often we get caught in the trap of needing to be productive all the time, but you’d be surprised at the good a break brings to your creative practice. Give your brain a chance to ponder. Because the mind wandering is when the best ideas creep out.
3. Working on dream projects and ideas
We tend to get ideas and longings for that wonderful time to work on dream projects whilst doing something else. Try as best you can to write down those ideas in the moment so you can return to them when you finally do get that precious creative time. It is of great benefit for when you acquire time to make, to have your ideas ready to go, that way your brain doesn't need to do mental gymnastics to think 'what do I want to make' and then stress because you can't think of anything worthwhile in that moment and the precious time gets wasted. Or worse, you rely on being inspired by other art that can result in work too heavily influenced by another, rather than a process of sharing your own voice. I highly recommend making a #creativecompassjar (a term coined by Rebecca Green), full of your ideas and dream projects and have it somewhere in the space you create. You can read Rebecca Green‘s bulletin no. 5 (http://myblankpaper.com/blog/2020/7/23/checking-the-compass) to get a more in depth process and reasoning behind why this is a great tool, and how the idea came about on her blog. On that note, having a challenge with a list to follow in this instance was so good for my brain to be able to focus on improving as there was no decision fatigue before starting the artwork; as the idea was already decided. That way I could focus on research and inspiration gathering whilst brainstorming ideas. Then my brain was relaxed and excited to start the final. And it could do the same for you if you go into it with clear intentions.
4. Incorporate intentional practice and having a secret sketchbook
Incorporating more intentional practice and studies into your practice is important to better draw from imagination and be able to problem solve quicker when something looks off in an illustration. It is also a great way to warm up before starting the day’s creative endeavours. Like any muscle, the brain and hand need a bit of a stretch before jumping into a full on workout. Remember not to over-complicate the process of creating and just draw how you draw. Don’t force a process that doesn’t work for you but don’t be afraid to try new ways of creating because you might discover other processes that work just as well. Also keeping a secret sketchbook can be super helpful. I know for me when I'm trying to work something out (composition, layouts, anatomy etc.) my work is extremely unpleasant. But there’s so much value in the ugly work in order for you process where you are and where you want to go with the work. It’s also super important to have a safe place to make ugly work that is just for you, with no external pressures. Remember that what you see posted on Instagram is the end result of an artist’s efforts. It bypasses the struggles, repaints, process and everything in between. The artist Fran Meneses talks about her ‘ugly sketchbook’ quite often in her Youtube videos (https://www.youtube.com/c/FranMeneses/videos) and its super validating to hear that even professional artists need to work through the process of drawing the same way we all do, so definitely check out her content.
5. There’s no right way to create and trusting the process.
There’s no right way to create, the process can change and it's super important to listen to your intuition and follow it, for the steps that need to be taken to achieve what you want. For example during this challenge sometimes, I loved sketching. Other times I struggled to get it right with lines so I would paint a silhouette first. Sometimes I would pick a palette first, other times I would just wing it. It all depends on you that day, and the work that is being created, so listen to your gut, it often knows before your brain can process it into logical thought.
Something that is imperative for me to continue to unlearn during this process was not being too precious with my art. What I mean by that is, draw that same line over the last without easing it. Make the page messy. Get the ideas down. And if its not working, don’t be afraid to redraw it. Being too precious with the work leads to stagnation and lack of life within the piece. Let the drawing form but don’t be afraid to change something, no matter how far you are in the process. Trust your intuition if you think something's off or could be better, because most of the time it’s right.
But try to keep the balance and don’t rush it. Trust the process. Remember all art goes through ugly stages, so try to discern within yourself between when a work is simply going through an ugly stage or when it needs to be reattempted. Try not to be afraid to experiment with your work and push your skills because that's how growth happens.
A podcast I love to listen to whilst creating to stop me from overthinking and getting excited about my work is Creative Pep Talk by Andy J Pizza (https://www.creativepeptalk.com/links/). Highly recommend checking it out, as there is so much value in the podcast for creative people. It delves deeply into the creative process, so if you’re into this reflection, you’ll love what he has to say.
6. Remember to exist as a human.
This goes back to elements addressed in point two however it is just as important. Remember to exist as an alive sentient human being, even when creating. I find it's so easy to get stuck in the creative process, which is awesome and being in the zone is amazing. However, it's so important for your health to take proper breaks in between creating. This is something I am still learning and suffering for when I don’t. So please. Remember. Stand up and stretch. Drink water. Eat something! Shower. Go for a walk. Talk to someone. You physical and mental health will love you for it. There’s no art without the artist so take care of yourself!
Now, I’m currently not working with clientele, and I don’t have a substantial following on social media. However that doesn’t make me or you, if you are in a similar position, any less valid as an artist. I think is very easy to get caught up in the algorithms of social media and reflecting negatively of ‘but why haven’t I achieved ‘X’ yet?’. But I think it’s important to remember the wider scale of things. And put yourself first. I think the most important thing is to make ‘good’ art, whatever your definition of that is. I know a lot of the advice out there goes contrary to what I’m about to say, however I think its important. I don’t think is sustainable to a lot of artists to create art to a high standard at the magnitude the algorithms require. The algorithms want us to be posting now, daily, engaging, liking, and endlessly scrolling. Although this reflection is based on a challenge that had me creating everyday, it was with the intention of personal growth rather than posting. The intention is key. Take the time you need to produce something you are happy with. Take the time to experiment and play outside of social media spaces. This may not get your social media traffic, however I can guarantee you will feel a lot happier with yourself and your practice as a whole. Which I think is wholly more valuable.