[Oh yeah, I have a Tumblr for my art now. So far, the only social media(ish) platform I don’t hate.]
I always enjoy my self-imposed art challenges, and this was no exception! Here are some of my thoughts about the experience:
The art skill I was focusing on was posing characters and rendering magical effects (as well as rendering in general: you know, shading, highlights, and all that).
I could definitely feel myself getting better and more practiced at anatomy and perspective, so I started trying more challenging poses by the end. The perspective on the soaring girl (bottom right) nearly defeated me.
For the magical effects, I learned that less is more. Especially in terms of colors, weight, and blending. On the first few days, I slathered color onto overlay layers and then overworked them with the smudge tool. Then I ended up erasing a lot of it when it didn’t look right. On the later days, I chose my colors and brushes carefully and blended just enough to retain interesting patterns in the brush strokes.
I chose a theme of recovery and replenishing oneself, probably because that’s what I needed. All my characters were fantasy girls/women, inspired by YouTuber LavenderTowne’s penchant for personifying concepts (and foods, planets, devices, cryptids, etc.) as cute girls.
And lastly, the illustrations form a bit of a story when put together, as in the gallery above! I drew them out of order, because I was deciding the parameters of the challenge on the fly. As is my wont with projects like this. I drew the first illustration, then chose the theme, then decided on the number of days of the challenge, and only came up with the title on the last day.
Line art by the author. The flat ends of leaves are where I snipped off a taste.
One afternoon, I reached into my spice cupboard to find that one clove in the bulb of garlic I’d forgotten had grown a bright green sprout.
I planted it to grow as microgreens. According to a friend who knows these things, the correct way to plant it is actually to separate all the cloves and put them in a dish of water. Even with my inexpert planting in soil, each clove shot up a shoot, just like the first. I nibbled off the flavorful tips.
I call them ‘portraits’ because I was determined that the plants be represented in detail, as a subject. They would not be simplified into an artful tangle of foliage, as one does in landscape painting. I would draw every leaf and branch.
The garlic plant featured late in the challenge because it had more leaves than some others. I waited for a day when I had time to do them all justice.
At first, capturing all the detail seemed insurmountable. The leaves passed behind each other, casting sharp shadows from the afternoon glare from the window.
From doing these drawings a few days in a row, I knew that sense of impossible complexity would pass. I just had to pick a leaf and go from there, and remind myself that this had worked last time.
Even shapes that look too difficult to draw can be tackled, one nibble at a time.
I was craving art time after a particularly busy (and analytical) period, so I decided I’d make digital plant art for 10 days in a row.
When I made the decision, I’d already been drawing a few plants in the style I planned. The change would be to do the drawings consecutively, as part of a 10-day challenge.
Additionally, I would screen-record my drawing process and post it on YouTube each day. So, this 10-day challenge was also the launch of my YouTube channel.
I jumped in without too much planning, beyond shelving my other projects to make time, and looking around to make sure I had approximately 10 plants available to draw.
From there, I basically took it day by day.
Looking back, it was a decided success! Here are the 10 awesome things that came from it.
1. I was able to quickly develop and hone a new art style
When I started this challenge, I had just begun experimenting with a new vector line art style* that was quite different from any of my past work. I was excited to see where I could take it.
By drawing in this style for 10 days in a row, I was able to improve on it from day to day, and let it sink into muscle memory.
Since doing the challenge, the style has become one of my staples for digital art. I can now dip back into it easily because it’s so well-practiced.
* In the iPad app, Vectornator. My review of the app is that it’s pretty decent and I continue to use it. Sometimes their updates make features worse. But I still enjoy the core functionality and feel of the lines. (Not sponsored.)
2. I learned what it’s like to satisfy the art craving
Generally, it’s hard for me to find enough time to do all the art I want to do, between my other projects and hobbies. I usually cycle between projects, making sure to come back to art often enough to feel balanced.
Even so, I frequently end an art session wishing I could do more, but other projects demand my attention.
In contrast, these 10 days of drawing were just the right amount of art-time. I wasn’t sick of drawing at the end, just pleasantly tired and pleased with all the work I’d done.
The experience showed me what it was like to fully satisfy the art craving when it arises, and to move onto other pursuits not because I have to, but because I’m actually in the mood to.
Now, I know what to aim for when I make space in my schedule for an art series. There is such a thing as ‘enough’ art time! (Until the next craving, of course.)
3. I got a clearer intuition on how long an illustration takes
Along the lines of the previous point, it’s hard to anticipate how long a drawing will take, and that can be a barrier to getting started.
I don’t have a great sense of time in general, and I lose track of the clock completely when I’m absorbed in art work.
Since this challenge involved screen-recording myself drawing, I could just look back at the video length to know how long it took. And since I did that for 10 days in a row, I got a sense of the average time I need to finish an illustration. It came out to 40–50 minutes for this type of illustration.
Having this foreknowledge meant I could start a drawing even in the middle of the day, with a full schedule ahead. It’s safer to dive into an art session with the reassurance that you will resurface within an hour!
4. I completed a cohesive illustration series in a short time
After the 10 days, it was satisfying to look back on the series of drawings I’d made. Better still, I could now use them in my other content.
In the months after the challenge,
I used my drawings as feature images in blog posts.
I turned a few of them into wall art for my apartment.
I put them in my portfolio and in galleries on my website.
I can do that with any of my art, of course. But for me, this was an unusually rapid and efficient way to make an illustration series.
5. I got over the hump of setting up my YouTube channel
I’d been meaning to make a YouTube channel for a while, but this challenge (and the excitement on the first day) got me over the hump of setting it up.
On Day 1, I got my personal YouTube channel ready for the public by deleting old comments, archiving old videos, adding a profile photo, etc. None of this took long, and I didn’t overthink it because I was eager to get to the drawing challenge.
I also raced through the set-up steps of making the videos. I installed video editing software, made (rather bad) title cards, and collected royalty-free music to use in record time.
The process of editing and uploading videos felt unfamiliar and difficult on the first day, but by day 4, it was a piece of cake. Cramming the learning curve into a short time made it easier to get past.
I also learned, for future reference, that it takes me about an hour to edit and publish these videos.
6. I solidified my YouTube channel’s niche and tone
The tone, music, and visuals I chose for my plant videos were quite different from my other platforms — lighter and more cheerful. It felt odd and unlike me at first, but much less so by the last day!
I was able to confirm that — yes, I do like posting this type of video (called ‘speedpaints’), and I’d like to continue to go in that direction.
And I got past the stage of having an empty-looking channel. With 10 videos on there, it looked mature and ready to show to people.
7. I felt like I was really seeing my plants for the first time
Something happens to me when I draw consistently. It changes the way I see. Colors and details pop more, and I appreciate more of the beauty around me.
That goes double for when I draw nature, by deepening my connection to the Earth and living things.
I’m often grumpy when I can’t get out to natural spaces for hikes. Looking carefully at the plants near me was a good reminder that you’re never cut off from nature, even indoors, if you look for it.
I ended the challenge feeling much calmer and appreciative of my surroundings. Even in the mood to try some interior decorating.
8. I learned about how I like to work
The success of this project got me thinking about structure — how much I need, and how much is too much.
In the past, I’ve worked completely free-form, with hardly any structure at all. I thought this is what I preferred. But it made it hard to finish things, which was frustrating.
At other times, when I’ve tried to create rigid daily habits or follow public challenges like NaNoWriMo, the structure completely cramped my style.
I need to be able to flow between projects (and areas) according to my natural rhythm. That means, if I’m going to do the same activity every day, it needs to be for a short time.
For a lot of people, 10 days isn’t a long challenge. Thirty or hundred-day challenges are more common. But for me, it was the perfect length.
This challenge demonstrated that I can create structures that support my particular work style.
9. I gained insights about 10-day challenges, specifically
This wasn’t my first 10-day challenge, but it was my first successful one. There are a few things I did differently this time that made it work, and convinced me to keep using this format in future.
The first thing was that I didn’t just draw everyday — I published every day. Each day of the challenge created a completed piece, and there was no follow up needed.
In the first 10-day challenge I did, I wrote a response to a writing prompt every day, but I didn’t publish. While I did succeed at keeping it up for 10 days and I got a lot of writing practice, I still haven’t edited and published any of those pieces, as of time of writing. It’s been over two years since I did that challenge.
In contrast, this time around, when I got to the end of the 10 days, I was done. I’d succeeded. There was nothing more needed to complete the project.
That was important, because I was tired and ready to do something new! I didn’t want the challenge to create more work for myself at the end.
Also, by repeating the full publishing process so many times in a row, I had ingrained every step in memory. Even now, I am comfortable making a full video in a few hours because of all the practice.
10. I built confidence in my ability to follow through
Until the last day of the challenge, I was in suspense as to whether I’d actually do 10 consecutive days! When I got to the end with an unbroken streak, it was a huge confidence boost.
As I’ve mentioned, structured projects haven’t always gone well for me. And even when I do finish them as planned, they don’t always have the effect I hoped for.
Not so with this one!
I’d learned a new skill, launched a YouTube channel, and done what I said I’d do.
All reasons to believe I could do it again!
So, those were the 10 amazing things that happened when I drew plants for 10 days in a row.
If you are thinking of doing a self-imposed creative challenge, I can’t recommend it enough. Remember to tailor it to your particular work style, and make it just difficult enough to be exciting! I find that even a challenge that doesn’t push me to my limits is still helpful, since it provides consistency I don’t otherwise have.
Every now and then, I get the art ‘bug’ and do a whole flurry of art back to back. It makes a nice break from the intensely verbal and analytical activities I spend most of my time on. So, most of my art is organized in series with all the art I did close together.
My artwork explores nature and fantasy themes, usually in the media of ink, watercolor, and digital. I like to experiment with sustainable art supplies. It’s an interesting microcosm of sustainable supply chains more broadly.
Here are some of my art series you might enjoy:
The Oceans and Sunsetsseries. The only series I did in acrylic on canvas, where I was teaching myself wispy, opaque cloud effects. I’ll revisit acrylic someday, especially when I get my hands on some biodegradable ones.
The Leaves and Foliage series (#1, #2 and #3). I did these in botanical ink on watercolor paper. Painting them was a calming and meditative experience, especially painting the intricate foliage.
The Watercolor Travel series (part 1 and part 2). Watercolor paintings I did either while on vacation or afterwards from vacation photos. Either way, a wonderful way to soak up extra details and enjoyment from a trip. I recommend trying it.
The Plant Portraits series. A 10-day challenge of making digital line art of plants in my house (beginning, update 1, update 2, gallery, YouTube playlist) . This series was a lot of ‘firsts’ – my first YouTube videos where I showed the behind the scenes of making art, (nearly) my first time using this particular line art program, and my first-ever drawing challenge.
The Nature Girl series (#1, #2, #3, wrapup). A short series in fountain pen on hemp paper. A few adventurous girl-characters that emerge from their natural surroundings.
The Fantasy and Natureseries. A month-long challenge where I worked on digital paintings, including concept art for my novel. You can watch the behind-the-scenes and hear about my novel-writing progress in the YouTube speed-paint videos that go with them.
The Atmosphericseries. Digital paintings I did in response to various prompts from art communities, trying to capture the feeling of cool air, early mornings, stretching one’s arms, and of course, coffee.
The RecoveringMagicallyseries. A 7-day art challenge to draw magical characters around a theme of recovery and replenishing oneself, probably because that’s what I needed.
Expect more series to come as I cycle between my favorite art media, try new ones, or dig through my sketchbook for ideas to give a refresh! If you’d like to hear about them when they come out, you can sign up here.
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