Making Time for Art & Creativity – Half-Year Review & Lessons from #makingarteveryday

A while ago I wrote a post about the lessons I’ve learned over 100 consecutive days of drawing during the #makingarteveryday challenge, created by Lisa Bardot. I’m proud to say I’ve been keeping up my commitment to the daily challenge and have continued to create small, digital pieces on a daily basis.

I’m finding it somewhat mind-blowing that I’m already another 81 days into the challenge as of June 30th. Just shy of 3 weeks of another completed 100 day project. Half a year. 181 drawings.

I’m taking a moment to commemorate that event, celebrate and give myself a little pat on the back. This is the first time I’ve been so consistent about my drawing and this period of time has marked some of my biggest artistic growth ever, a complete new learning of the medium of digital drawing, and the most I have ever learned within a comparatively short period of time about my own creative process.

Interestingly enough, around the 100 day mark when I wrote that article, I experienced a big shift in my style, became very comfortable with the ProCreate app, and moved away from drawing mostly from reference to creating my own unique pieces and becoming playful about my art again. I wrote more about that in my post “Turning Points”.Around that time, I shifted to a very limited colour palette, honed in on some favourite brushes and started creating illustrations in a pretty consistent style.

Currently I feel I’m slowly shifting into a new period again. I’ve started opening up my palette to include new colours (yay, blue! – oh the possibilities!), and am starting to experiment with new, softer brushes.

I don’t feel I’ve learnt any particular new lessons about my creative process since that last post other than reaffirming what I’ve already learnt over and over again. Since then it’s been mostly pushing the boundaries of the colour palette I chose, to see how far I could take it, and getting more creative about interpreting the prompts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still learning a ton! But it’s more about how the colours interact with one another, what looks good together, playing with blend modes for subtly different effects and overall exploring different techniques and methods.

Instead of new insights, I thought today I’d talk a bit about some of the most crucial aspects of such a long project – making the time for drawing and staying consistent and motivated.

Before You Start

Before starting, it might be helpful to get clear on WHY you are committing to this project. Long term projects like this often build strongly on delayed gratification and incremental improvement over time, which can make it hard to stick to long term because results are not always immediate.They pay off big-time in the long run though as that incremental growth builds into something substantial.

What is the ultimate goal? What will you gain from the project? Will it make you happier? Will it benefit your work? Will it help you support a cause you’re passionate about? Are you working to improve in a certain area of your craft? Are you just curious to learn more about your creative process or want to make creating a daily habit? Keep that Why in mind as part of the bigger picture to keep yourself on track. You can even write out your thoughts and refer back to them to stay motivated on days you’re not feeling it.

For me I find journaling about the process often helps me reflect on what I’ve learnt overall and keeps reminding me of the big picture role of this project.

For me there are several long term goals:

  1. Learning digital drawing from scratch and becoming confident in creating in the ProCreate App.
  2. Pushing me to draw things outside my comfort zone on a regular basis.
  3. Building a daily habit of creating.
  4. Increase my overall skill level as an artist and illustrator.

Because this project is meant to push me out of my comfort zone and keep me trying new things, I am conscious that this means I’m not always having fun. That helps me weather the difficult days and do the work anyway. Which brings me to…

Getting into the Right Mindset

One thing I hear over and over again from struggling creatives is “I’m not inspired. I just don’t have any ideas.” So they don’t even sit down to do the work. As a designer and illustrator, I’ve had to learn to be creative on demand. This is totally possible, it’s a matter of training, and of practice. You don’t have to be inspired to create. You have to be willing to show up and do the work required to get to the finished piece, whether you’re inspired or not. Inspiration often only shows up when you’re actively engaged with your creative work.

Another thing is that people stop the process when “it’s not fun”. Sometimes, if that phase drags on it’s fine to accept that a project isn’t working for you and pull the plug. But oftentimes “it’s not fun” is just another way of saying “it’s too hard”. And while creativity is often playful and flowing, sometimes it’s just plain, annoying hard work. It means you’re pushing the limits of your skill or what you believe is possible. It means your brain is having to adapt to something new and that makes it uncomfortable. Your brain does not like being uncomfortable. So it tries to stop you doing what you’re doing. That does not however mean, that what you are trying to do is necessarily wrong. It just means you’re entering the stage where it becomes work, and often where you are about to learn something new.

Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. It is a natural part of the creative process to be uncomfortable some of the time. When you push through that discomfort and create anyway, the rewards are great on the other side. Be uncomfortable. Allow that critical voice in your head to natter away and tell you you’re useless, and then go do the work anyway. This is what separates the professional from the amateur.

Know that you will hit discomfort along the way, and talk yourself through it. Discomfort does not mean you’re doing it wrong. It often means you’re doing it right and that growth and learning are just around the corner.

When You Start, Start Small

If you start training to be a runner, you don’t start off with a marathon. (You know, unless you’re a nutcase like David Goggins.) A 365 day project is a gigantic undertaking, and that can be incredibly intimidating.

My advice would be to start reaaally small. Even smaller. Start with 5 – 10 minutes of drawing a day. Start with 3 minutes a day if you feel you cannot do more. Skip checking emails or social media first thing in the morning and do a quick little doodle instead. It doesn’t have to be good. You don’t have to share it with anyone. You’re not being graded. Commit to those 5 – 10 minutes. No more. But try and get those minutes in, even if you’re not feeling it, even if you have to cram it in just before bedtime, even if you’re not inspired.

You can make that time, and when you show up to the page consistently, magic starts to happen. Gradually, as you strengthen the habit of daily drawing and start to get into the flow of things, you’ll likely find you’ll naturally start taking more and more time to draw for some, or even all pieces.

On days you’re totally not feeling it, go back to the 5 – 10 minutes. Commit to whatever your minimum is and on your worst days, go back to that minimum commitment.

The important thing is not to create great work every single time. The important thing is to build a consistent habit of daily creating. That means showing up even when you don’t really feel like it and affirming to yourself through your actions that this is the kind of person you are. Once that habit is established, it will often start to evolve and grow simply because you show up each day. When you show up, inspiration starts to show up too.

Planning

I am currently on a 1-year South East Asia trip with my boyfriend. We are moving to new places at least once, frequently several times a month, and doing a lot of sight-seeing and activities. On top of that, I’m still doing some work in my design business, so this isn’t just a holiday with tons of leisure time.

One of the absolute key ingredients for me has been planning. When the prompts come out, I copy them down into a list in my phone with little checkboxes beside them for me to tick off when each piece is done. I just use the notes app on my iPhone.

I read through the list, see if any of the prompts spark any immediate inspiration and take down notes. I try and gauge a little bit on which days I’ll have plenty of time, and on which days I’m going to be short on time. If I already have “big plans” for any of the prompts or I think I’ll take a long time to come up with a solid idea for one of them, I’ll do them on the days I have plenty of time. Prompts I have a fixed and easy idea in mind I’ll put on days where time is tight. Yep, I juggle my prompts around as I feel like it, I don’t stick to the exact timeline of the challenge. It’s more important to me to create daily, than it is to follow the schedule exactly.

If I know we’re heading off the grid for a few days or we’re set for a long flight or full day of travel, I make sure to download any reference material I might need in advance. That way if I’m stuck without internet, I have the reference saved to my iPad or phone, and am set to get drawing.

Check your schedule. What are difficult situations that might arise during the challenge? Vacations? Holidays? Relatives visiting? And how can you prepare so you can still complete the challenge despite those situations? Getting up early? Staying up later? Not watching tv one evening? Doing a quick doodle in the toilet while hiding from your kids?

It might also be an idea to plan to fail. If you absolutely, 100% think there is a day there is no way you can do the drawing, just let it go. Maybe you can plan to make up for it later along the line, or the days before and do multiple drawings in a day, but honestly I often find it’s easier to just move on to the next project and not play catchup, which leaves you feeling like you’re always behind. You can always try and catch up on a day you do have time. You can also put strategies in place for what you’re going to do if you do miss a day. It’s not the end of the world. It is quite important though to not miss two days in a row. If you jump right back in as though the missed day never happened, you reaffirm the habit of daily creating and that the missed day was just a blip. If you miss two days or more in a row, you start to weaken your habit and that can derail you really quickly. If you have to miss a longer period of time for any reason, it might make sense to actively schedule it in. Maybe you can miss the week, but tack that week on at the end of the challenge. But after that scheduled time is up, make sure you get back to the daily work.

Don’t fall off the bandwagon if you miss a day, commit to not letting things slide just because you broke your streak. Just jump right back in the next day. As you get used to creating daily, this gets so much easier, because the habit is already there and likely even something you look forward to a lot. It’s more important to build the daily habit than it is to complete each individual piece.

Schedule it In

Designate a fixed time for creating if possible. The best, as with many things, is often in the morning. For me on our travels this hasn’t really worked though, as we often set off to do travel activities in the morning and don’t get back until (late) afternoon. My drawing time is mostly the 1 – 2 hours before bedtime. And in this case, if I’m not done with my process, I’ll often stay up a little later to finish. Not ideal, but I am fiercely committed on this one. If you don’t manage to finish a piece, don’t worry. It’s okay. I have several pieces I didn’t finish, that just didn’t work out, and I let it go. I have no intention to finish them, but I still tried and learned something in the process. Some pieces are also more involved and I just cannot complete them in that time window, so I’ve even spread some pieces over several days, while giving priority to the prompt of that given day first. That way I don’t feel I’m lagging behind.

If you regularly don’t finish pieces that are well within the scope of your powers to complete, you may have a habit of not finishing. In that case, it might make sense to not let yourself off the hook and make yourself finish a few pieces even if you don’t love the results. Over time you’ll build the habit of finishing what you started, and you’ll get better at achieving results in a shorter time-frame.

Make it Visible, Collect Inspiration, Remove Roadblocks

Make sure your supplies and tools are ready to go. I find what helps me a lot is leaving my tools out where I can see them. I always charge my iPad overnight so it’s ready for the next day and make sure my apple pencil is charged as well.

If you’re working in traditional media, lay your tools out in the place you’re most likely to see them the night before and make sure they’re easily accessible. Leave your paints out, charge your devices, prepare your canvases in advance. Set reminders if you need them.

Keep a list of ideas. Carry a notebook, sketch out thumbnails and write down any ideas you have that will help you create pieces later to minimize the problem of “I don’t have any ideas”.

If you find other activities get in the way of creating, try making their triggers less visible. Do you slip into a Netflix binge instead of picking up your pencil? Put your laptop away after use and leave your art supplies in its place instead. Block websites that you default to to certain times a day using a website blocker so you don’t go browsing instead of opening Photoshop. If it helps your creative habit, leave it in a highly visible place. If it works against your habit, hide it or make it hard and annoying to reach.

Get Creative about your Art Time

Sometimes there just aren’t big blocks of time when you can relax at home with your drawing supplies. So get creative and make the most of odd minutes here and there.

Carry a notebook to jot down ideas while you’re out and about. Carry a sketchbook, or put ProCreate Pocket on your phone and doodle on your commute or when you would normally be checking social media. Maybe you can carry a tiny watercolour set and complete a small piece in your lunch break. Make art with your kids. Create all your pieces on post it notes during boring meetings. See what creative ways you can come up with to create your daily pieces, and let go of the idea that your challenge has to look a certain way.

Committing to guiding principles such as “Progress over Perfection” or “Create First”, might be helpful, rather than sticking to rigid rules such as “I have to create a finished 20” x 20” drawing every day and I’m only allowed to use a black fineliner”.

I know these challenges have rules and sometimes it can be beneficial to stick exactly to them, particularly if you want to refine a certain skill of yours, but if it’s more about building the creative habit, guiding principles may be more powerful than rules. Creativity has a habit of changing and evolving, and it’s great if your art can do that too while you’re working through the challenge.

Stay on track by having an accountability buddy or joining a community

This is one thing I love about the #makingarteveryday challenge! Lisa runs a really great facebook group for people in the challenge, and it can be a huge confidence boost to share your work and get feedback if you feel ready to share.

Either way, it can be nice to see others traveling on the same journey as you. If groups aren’t your thing, you could instead hook up with a friend and commit to the challenge together, then hold each other accountable. Maybe have a zoom date so you can both work together and keep an eye on each other to make sure you’re doing the work.

One thing to note – don’t compare your journey to anybody else’s. Everyone is at a different stage in their art journey, everyone has a different style, people might be going about the challenge differently, people have varying amounts of time to commit to the challenge. People who are already artists might have a lot less trouble committing to the challenge than someone who is a novice just beginning to draw. I have been drawing since I was a kid and sometimes draw for work, so I don’t have the added hurdle of having to learn drawing from scratch, which is a big challenge in itself. If this is you, don’t worry. Just do your best. Keep your eyes on your own page, and don’t judge the individual pieces. Instead, look back over your work every month or so, and you’ll likely see some big improvements. Value the journey and what you learn on each piece, rather than the pieces themselves, which are basically your training ground.

Develop a Default

This isn’t a must, but something I’ve found very helpful for myself. When I honestly have no idea where to start a drawing, I default to drawing monsters in some sort of interaction with the prompt. You might draw a witch. Or a dog. Or a mermaid.

Whatever it is, it should be something that is fun and easy for you to draw, something you can pull off reasonably confidently. Then try combining it with the prompt. That way you have an initial jumping off point even if you feel stuck on the prompt, and you might come up with some surprising results. And if you end up not drawing the prompt – hey, you’ll still have drawn something. Unless you’re doing paid work for a client, it doesn’t matter so much what you draw, it only matters that you draw.

Free Up Time

So many people state lack of time as the reason they don’t do something they want to do. Most people also waste a lot of time that they could be putting towards those things. Phones are a huge time-sink nowadays. Reclaim your time by installing the moment app and taking their challenge, or taking Kristen Kalp’s excellent email course “SPACE” to reduce your phone consumption. Consider ditching your TV/netflix/favourite game time during the course of the challenge. It might feel like a sacrifice, but lots of things in life require a tradeoff. Focus on creation over consumption.

Don’t wait for inspiration

It’s great if you feel inspired a lot and only draw when inspired. But ultimately, inspiration tends to show up later than you do. So if you find you’re lacking ideas, show up anyway. Start before you’re ready. Sit down and doodle until something happens and you get an idea. Never wait for inspiration to show up. Do the work, and inspiration will follow. Or not, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll have created something, and something is better than nothing. Something can be the starting point for a new attempt with the knowledge you gained from your first try. Nothing leaves you facing the blank page again with nothing new to show for it.

Conclusion

Creating daily is a marathon. It is a huge project, it can be very overwhelming and it’s so easy to feel like you’re falling behind. I hope some of these tips will help you get started, get motivated, and stay on track during your own process. Let me know if you have additional tips for fellow artists embarking on a long-term art project.

What creative project are you committing to? Was this post helpful to you at all or do you have any other concerns or questions you’d like to see addressed around this topic?

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