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  • Writer's pictureSarah Loutfi

They Seem Scary, But Creative Challenges Advanced My Art

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

That time of year where creative challenges for drawing and writing are reigning over us is upon us now. I know this will not be the first blog to address creative challenges, nor (I'm sure) will it be the last. I knew immediately this blog post was going to be about how I personally use creative challenges to get myself further in my development that I was last month, or the month before that all the way to the year before that.

As I said in my last blog post, this time of year allows for me to pause and reflect on the year that has past. I started taking my art journey seriously about two years ago. I recognized even then that I wanted to tell stories with my art, but not really knowing how. Through practice and continuing development, I began to see what I could think of as my brand and my trajectory moving forward. Creative challenges have been, and are continuing to be (Surprise! I'm doing one right now!) a huge move forward for me on my creative journey.

Very recently I've been streamlining what I want my brand to say, define what I do as a creative and maybe help some people with thoughts and wonderings along the way. I can't help but thank the many trailblazers who have done this before and paved the way for me to get to this step and get on my own soapbox to say what I think is important on this journey of self-improvement out loud.

With the advancements of social media and all the wonderful things it brings, like an audience who can find work they really resonate with, it can also bring about unnecessary pressure and a constant feeling of 'less than'. When art starts to feel like it has become a bit of a spectator sport or like you're some kind of live performer doing tricks for a crowd, it becomes harder for me to separate what I need from what I think the crowd wants. It became so important for me to take a step back and really think about what I wanted from my art. I reframed creative challenges to suit what I needed, and that's what I hope to share with you all today.

Without further ado, let's get to the meat of the article.

#1 - Creativity Fluorished Within Constraints

Theres probably nothing worse than sitting in front of a blank page after a fairly intensive day of work and all the things that come with a day-to-day lifestyle and just not having the imagination left. I, for one, could putter for a solid half an hour trying to figure out something, only to chase a trail that doesn't lead anywhere. When I've only got two or three hours at the end of my day, this pause can be debilitating and I leave feeling like I've accomplished nothing.

This is where prompts help. Unless you want to be a part of the community that is running the challenge, they don't have to be from this year or this month or anything. Just find any list that can help get you on the path to accomplishing something. This didn't put me in the same 'game' as any of the 'big players', but it did get me on scoreboard at least.

The prompts got me thinking about what to put on the page. Even if its exactly what the prompt says and I haven't gone anywhere creative, extracting the information, filtering it through my brain and putting it on a page is the first step. Other times though, it can lead to something bigger, inspiration for a bigger project or the availability to level up on a skill. Those once in a while moments are more than enough to stoke the fire and keep me moving.

#2 - Schedule Setting

Can I get a raise of hands from everyone who struggles to schedule their free time? Can't just be me right? Even harder when you have to hold yourself accountable! But if you have the dedication, you can make the time work for you!

I know that after an eight hour day at the office on a computer, making supper, and refreshing with a dog walk, I only have about two good hours before I have to wind down for bed and do it all again the next day. I am not a morning person (for medical reasons, not just because I'm a night owl) and I desperately need at least eight hours of sleep, so for me that time is not negotiable. But here's the thing... to tell the stories I want to tell, I have to log the hours, I have to put in the time, I have to be learning however I can.

This means listening to podcasts in the day, thinking thoughtfully on my lunch walk about how I can squeeze in that little bit extra, it means dedicating my weekends and evenings to this project, and trying to figure out if there are any responsibilities I can pass off to my husband, whom is also balancing a lot with both work and school.

For some people, a free-for-all system works. For me, its a sure-fire way to nose-dive into something not productive. Creative challenges offer a built in time constraint to completion. This can help me focus on the task at hand and not let me fall into the trap of letting things slide. I use creative challenges as a way of truncating my time. "I have a two hour window to finish a piece, or start a piece... what can I accomplish realistically in this time?"

If I let it, the time constraint actually grants freedoms: "Realistically, I can only get a rough pencil test done in this time", "realistically, I can only get a line drawing done in this time", and "realistically, I can only get thumbnails done to explore this area". When I accept that I only have so much time to form an idea on paper, I let go of the expectation that everyone on social media is expecting a finished piece. This pushes me forward on my own, without the weight of the community's expectation. It doesn't mean I can't share that progress, but I might chose not to until the idea is better formed.

Either way, it puts me on a track where I'm producing work daily and that will serve and help me be a better artist.

#3 - Efficiency

I know I'm not the best artist. A lot of that comes from a lack of serious practice. Creative challenges issue a time constraint to produce work. I can chose to take the prompts, time, and schedule I've developed to get better at an area I think is weak in my own work. For example, I could get better at understanding anatomy so spending the time in a creative challenge to advance my artistic ability in that area would probably be wise. The more I do, the faster I get.

This is especially important for animations because the name of the game is simplify, simplify, simplify the image... and produce, produce, produce multiple images.

Speed and accuracy come with practice, and being under a deadline can amplify the steps I take in how I story tell with images. The dedicated practice in one area will help to accomplish more in the scheduled free time later!

#4 - You Can Hack ANYTHING

The creative challenge itself doesn't have to be reflected in the image itself. You can hack it for your own reasons. If the prompt is slimy... sounds like a texture challenge to me. If the prompt is dinosaurs... sounds like a lizard/bird anatomy study month to me. The list goes on and on.

Some of the ways I've hacked challenges in the past:

- Push the boundaries of my style (Exploratory)

- Produce work consistently (Develop good habits)

- High focus on one area of work (Efficiency)

- Work within deadlines (Set schedules)

- Use the challenge to grow an audience as organically as possible.

#5 - Log Those 10000 Hours!

The creative challenge itself doesn't necessarily lead to you logging time, but what it does do is set you up to work consistently, and that habits allows you to log hours. They say 10000 hours of study should make you a master. I don't know if it is true, but I do figure it's a good starting point. I figure in the last two years I've logged around 2000 hours of work and study to get to where I am today (this obviously doesn't include time I've spent before taking on art as a serious project). That means I still have a long road ahead of me, but it's attainable, and I see progress when I look back, and really that's what matters to me.

On top of that, I've seen enough progress that I'm ready to start developing my own stories.

If you really want to take art seriously and are committed to making the time, I think that hacking creative challenges and logging that time are essential to getting a foothold in the door.

In closing, I'd just like to reiterate that while creative challenges can seem daunting, they can be really fun and have a deeper more meaningful impact in your life.

Do creative challenges in a way that lets you have fun exploring, helps take you to the next level and, of course, serves you in your path forward because those are the most important things.



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