Studio Saturday: Art Challenges

Studio Saturday is taking a short break this week. Please enjoy this post, portions of which were previously published on our sister site, Artist’s Network! ~ Jeannine

Taking part in art challenges is a big trend —really big—and there are so many fun and interesting ones to take part in. A great challenge starts tomorrow: Inktober. This annual challenge to create an ink drawing a day in October was started by artist Jake Parker, and it’s grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with thousands of people taking part and sharing their work on social media. I participated last year and plan to do the same this year, and I hope you do too. This challenge had a profound effect on me, and you should be prepared to amaze yourself.

Art challenges may seem daunting, but they’re much easier than they seem, and the rewards are incredible. What you get out of them far outweighs what you might think are negatives, such as not having enough time, or the right set up, or the necessary materials. This will benefit every part of your art practice.

Part of my inspiration comes from the article “Collage a Day” in the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine by artist and creativity coach Robyn McClendon. She challenged herself to create a collage a day for a year, and said, “This 365-day project has made me more prolific, and I am never at a loss for ideas.…The practice encourages the desire to try new techniques. Because it wasn’t at all intimidating, I felt like I was playing, and just enjoyed the process. The idea of making mistakes didn’t exist.”

Art by Robyn McClenon, photo by Sharon White Photography
Robyn McClendon challenged herself to create a collage a day for a year, and wrote about it in Cloth Paper Scissors. (Art by Robyn McClendon, photo by Sharon White Photography)

When I took part in InkTober last year, I saw my work—and my mood—improve. Even if I didn’t love what I drew, spending just a bit of time during the day to slow down, focus, and create something was kind of miraculous. And at the end of 30 days, I saw a considerable improvement in my work. Considerable.

If you can draw, great! If you can’t draw, that’s great, too! You can doodle, make marks, create designs—anything you want. This year, I’ve decided to work with ink and a dip pen. I love the look, but the pen is harder to control than an artist’s pen or marker, and my goal is to feel more comfortable with it.

Here are some tips for joining in a challenge. Even if you don’t create every day, you’ll still achieve more than you thought possible:

Get your gear in order. Having supplies at the ready means having few excuses not to create. You’ll tailor your supplies to what type of challenge you’re going to do, of course, but think about what you like to work with the most, and what makes sense. For example, if you plan to do art journaling, you might choose an ink pen, plus a few shades of acrylic paint, some collage scraps, and acrylic medium. I tend to use a lot of supplies for my art journal pages, but narrowing down my choices was freeing—I had fewer decisions to make, and more time to create. Having less to work with can also force you to flex those creative muscles as you mix paint colors and discover new ways to use ephemera.

Change up your supplies every week, or every couple of weeks, to keep things interesting. Also, it can’t hurt to throw in a few new supplies here and there, either ones you’ve been wanting to try, or those that haven’t been used for a while. Keep everything in one place, like a shoebox or plastic bin, and put them back after using them. This is my pared-down traveling art kit, which includes ink pens, pencils, a water brush, and a view finder:

Supplies for art challenges
You don’t need a ton of materials to take part in an art challenge. In fact, having fewer supplies may make you more creative!

The substrate you work on for art challenges is important as well. If you like paper, make sure it’s appropriate to what materials you’ll be using, and that the size is comfortable. Mixed-media or watercolor paper are great general papers to work on, and sketchbooks and journals come in all shapes and sizes, or you can make your own.

You can absolutely incorporate mixed media for the InkTober challenge. I think of my drawings as great starting points for art journal pages to work on later. That way, I’m not under pressure to finish a page there and then; I can go back and add paint, markers, ephemera, etc. Here, for example, is a pen and ink sketch I did while out and about:

Pen and ink sketch
Sketch now, add to it later!

Weeks later I went back and added watercolor, washi tape, a scrap of a paper bag, a stenciled label, and a new non-waterproof ink I wanted to test out:

Mixed-media ink sketch
When I went back to this sketch later, I went all mixed media on it.

Set a time. You know your schedule best, so if there’s a time every day that works best for sitting down and creating, stick to that. My schedule is different every day, so I think ahead about what time would work for the next day, and do my best to stick to it. Committing to that time requires some discipline and occasionally re-prioritizing or juggling things, but it’s never more than a minor inconvenience.

Find a place. A studio is not a must-have for taking part in art challenges. A corner of the bedroom, a spot on the couch, or your favorite café will do just fine. If you’re looking for the right space, follow Barbara Roth’s suggestion from her article “Cozy Art Journaling Corner” in Pages magazine, Winter 2015, and find a comfortable spot in your home to work. She wanted an area that was inviting enough to keep her away from the computer so she could focus on art journaling. She set up three areas in her house, tried them all out, and discovered the one that allowed her to be the most productive and offered the best view.

To be successful with art challenges, find a comfortable location to work.
Artist Barbara Roth tested out various spots in her home to determine which was most conducive to creating art. (Art and photo by Barbara Roth)

Be kind to yourself. One thing I learned from taking part in art challenges was not to beat myself up if I couldn’t make anything that day. Life happens, and sometimes it’s just not possible. Remember, you’re not competing with anyone, including yourself. You’re engaging in a challenge to try to improve your skills and make art a part of your daily routine. Skipping a day here or there isn’t going to have a major impact on anything. So plan ahead for the next day, and keep going.

You may need to learn how to silence your inner critic. You’re not going to love what you make every day. Some days you’ll adore it, and other days you’ll want to burn your work. The ups and downs are completely normal and happen to everyone, but don’t let the bad days leave you feeling so defeated that you don’t continue. Tomorrow will be better, I promise. Think progress, not perfection.

Share and share alike. Many people who take part in art challenges like to share their work on social media. This is not a requirement, and yes, ultimately you create to satisfy yourself, but I recommend doing it for a few reasons: I believe sharing artwork is part of being an artist. What good does it do to create in a vacuum? I’ve shared work I knew wasn’t great, but it was my best effort at the time, and I put it out there. I never got a negative comment, but if I had, so what? Sticks and stones, as they say.

Sharing artwork on social media for art challenges
Sharing your work on social media can seem scary, but it’s a great way to find a like-minded, supportive community.

I love looking at other people’s work, so much so that I can easily disappear down an Instagram or Pinterest rabbit hole if I’m not careful. I feel inspired and joyful, and it makes me happy knowing that there is a strong, supportive community of creative people out there who want to chronicle their work and their process, and be part of the dialog.

Take a look back. One of the most fun and rewarding aspects of art challenges is looking at your work over time. During a challenge, never compare your work to what you did the previous day; instead, assess how your work has evolved over time. That’s the exciting part, and that’s what will inspire you to keep going. I love seeing the progress I’ve made, and the times I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone have paid off.

I hope you’ll consider taking part in Inktober! We’ll have lots more ideas and inspiration for you, so be sure to join us again here, as well as on Instagram (@mixedmediacps) and on the Cloth Paper Scissors Facebook page. In the meantime, these art resources will get you energized about the fun to come! (Inktober was created by Jake Parker. “Inktober” and its logo are trademarks of JP Creative LLC, and are used with permission. For more information, go to

Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe
Joanne Sharpe shows you great ways to use ink pens to doodle, letter, and draw in Doodle Art and Lettering with Joanne Sharpe.
Art Journals On-the-Go video with Jacqueline Newbold
In the video Art Journals On-the-Go, Jacqueline Newbold offers techniques and tips for creating anywhere.
Start Journaling: An Art Journaling Workbook
Start Journaling: An Art Journaling Workbook, lets you learn and create in one book!


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