Should you do an art challenge? + Mermaid drawing process video for Mermay

Published by Nela Dunato on in Art, Creative process, Nela's Art Chat, Tips for creatives, Video

I’m starting a new video series called “Nela’s Art Chat” in which I share tips for artists/creatives on different topics of interest, while showing a time lapse of a drawing or painting process. It’s like a podcast, but it also has a cool visual you can watch! I haven’t recorded or shared any videos in 3 years (!) so it’s a pretty big deal for me to get in front of the camera again. I hope you enjoy the first episode, and come back for more. My goal is to publish 2 of these per month, but I’ll be out of town for a bit so it may just be one episode in May… We’ll see.

Inktober, Mermay, Drawing August, 100 days project, 36 days of type… there’s no shortage of art challenges, and many of us are asking ourselves “Should I do one this year?” If you’ve never done an art challenge, in this episode of Nela’s Art Chat I give you some of my tips on how to decide, and how to prepare if you do end up doing on. You’ll also be able to watch a time lapse of my ink mermaid drawing from start to finish! (Drawing is sped up 10x-20x times depending on the section. In reality it took a couple of hours.)

The beginning of the recording is a little faint since the pencil lines are too light to be picked up properly by the camera. It gets more interesting once I get to inking!

Your can subscribe to future episodes on my YouTube channel.
I’d appreciate your likes and comments, because this shows YouTube that it’s quality content they can suggest to more people.

Listen to audio only:

Tools used in this drawing

(Amazon affiliate links, I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.)

Finished drawing

Click to see the larger image in my sketchbook gallery:

Mermay 2019 day 1 mermaid
Mermay 2019 day 1, ink on A4 paper. © 2019 Nela Dunato

Video transcript

As I’m recording this drawing, it’s May the first – and this is my first MerMay drawing. MerMay is a challenge where artists draw mermaids every day during the month of May.

You may have heard of Inktober, Drawloween, Drawing August, Art Every Day Month, NaNoWriMo and other month-long art challenges. There’s 36 days of type, the 100 day project, and even the 365-day project which predates all of the others. If you never took part in such a challenge but are considering it, I’ll share some of my experiences and thoughts to help you decide if this is the right thing for you right now.

I participated in a couple of art challenges, and only finished a few. I think taking part in such a challenge requires planning, self-reflection and being really objective about your circumstances. Just diving in headfirst into a challenge may not be the best thing to do.

I’ll start first with one of the key questions, and that is whether the challenge is a right fit for your personality. Some people naturally do well when they have group accountability, and some don’t. If the idea of daily prompts sounds more like a chore than fun, don’t do prompts. I never did prompts, not even my own. Working in a single medium or on a single theme for a month is enough of a constraint for me, I don’t need someone telling me what to draw every day. Maybe you like that, maybe it removes the issue of “not knowing what to draw”, and that’s cool. Whatever your approach is, own it.

Gretchen Rubin, a blogger who I believe also has a YouTube channel so you can look her up, invented a model called the Rubin Tendencies. These are 4 personality types that deal with commitments in different ways: the Upholders, the Obligers, the Questioners, and the Rebels.

1. type Upholders say they will do something, and they do it. They don’t need any outside accountability, and they’re less likely to procrastinate than others. If you’re an Upholder, you don’t need a challenge, you probably already draw every day just because. Or maybe you make a challenge of your own when no one else is doing it, like Sean McCabe who said he was going to write a book in a month, and then wrote it in 3 weeks. Upholders, I envy you. You’re a rare jewel.

2. type Obligers need outside accountability, so group challenges like these are a great way for them to create art consistently. They’re the sort of people who will always do client work on time, but will let their own personal projects aside. If you say to your followers that you’ll be doing this challenge, you’ll feel bad if you let them down, so that will push you to create and publish something so you don’t look like a flake.

3. type Questioners will do something if they see a good reason to do it. Like, if you tell them they need to practice anatomy so their character drawings look more believable, they’ll do it. They just need a little extra motivation, and they’ll never agree to doing something that seems useless. I would expect that Questionners would look up a video or a blog post like this that explains the benefits and the pitfalls of art challenges to help them make a decision.

4. type Rebels are people who struggle with any type of commitment, inner and outer. I’m a Rebel, and I’ll give you an example from my life. I took piano lessons as a kid for 6 years, but a few years after starting I got bored, didn’t practice at home, my teacher scolded me for not practicing, and I wanted to quit. My parents didn’t want me to quit as soon as things got hard and thought this was a good lesson in following through. Then a few years later, the price of the piano lessons went up, and my parents said: “We thought about this, and we don’t think we can afford these lessons anymore. You wanted to quit anyway, so now would be a good time.” And I got flustered and begged them to keep me enrolled, I promised that I’ll practice every day and complete my classes. And I did! I got serious, I practiced for an hour every day and made real progress with my piano skills. That’s the Rebels for you – tell them they can’t do something, and they’ll want to prove you wrong. We’re very easy to manipulate :)) Rebel’s tendency to do the opposite of what others want them to works against us when art challenges are involved, and we’re more likely to quit when it gets difficult, because we don’t care about outside accountability and what our followers will think.

If you recognized yourself as one of these Rubin types, this might give you an idea of how you would respond to an art challenge. If you don’t know which one you are, there’s a quiz online you can take, and there are some tips for your type on how to stay committed on Gretchen Rubin’s website, which I linked in the description.

The other very important aspect is what is going on in your life, and what kind of a commitment can you fit in? Maybe at the moment it’s not the right time for a challenge. If you’re switching jobs, moving apartments, preparing for an event, traveling for work, or you’re just burnt out from working too hard, don’t make your life even more difficult than it needs to be. Fear of missing out makes us do things that aren’t in our best interest. The great part with these challenges is that they happen every year, and there are multiple challenges per year, so if you miss one of them, you can do another one.

Be realistic about how much time you can spend each day on your art, and are you able to complete the kind of artwork you’d feel comfortable sharing online? For example, my daily commitment this entire year is 15 minutes per day, that’s the minimum. But I don’t share my 15-minute doodles on social media because they’re not very good. 15 minutes is not a lot of time. When I enter a challenge with the intention of sharing daily, I need at least an hour to make a rough sketch, fine-tune the line work and render it in the medium I chose. Sometimes I can do it in 30 minutes, but I’m really slow and an hour is better. So, do you have an hour, or two, or three, depending on how detailed you want your work to be? If you don’t, you won’t enjoy the challenge, trust me.

The third issue with challenges is planning ahead. You need to plan what you’ll draw and when you’ll be drawing it. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation every night when it’s half past 11 and you haven’t done your daily drawing, and you don’t know what to draw.

First, decide when you will have your daily drawing session – whether it’s in the morning, getting up an hour earlier and doing it before your regular work, or during your lunch break, or after dinner… Set a recurring event in your calendar app and let the notification remind you when it’s time to settle in and draw. Have all your stuff prepared on your desk, sit on the chair, and start drawing.

What will you draw? If you’ve decided to use other people’s prompts, then you have a starting point, but I’d still recommend to collect your reference photos and doodle some ideas for your poses or scenes before you need to do the actual drawing.

If you’re drawing without prompts, I’d suggest doing a couple of idea-generating sessions before and during the challenge, and always have a list of at least 3-4 ideas so you don’t find yourself “uninspired”. The idea generating sessions can be just writing down stuff, or making thumbnail sketches of scenes and poses. Just write or doodle any idea you come up with, so you have plenty of ideas to choose from. This method helped me a lot in art challenges, or when I needed to complete a sketchbook for an art show. Again, collect references in advance when you have more free time, so you can focus on drawing.

Lastly, choose your theme and medium carefully so you don’t get bored with it halfway. During the Art Every Day Month in 2014 my theme was “Month of Fairies”, there’s a video with my sketchbook tour of that challenge you can check out in the description. I was drawing a lot of fairies anyway, so I didn’t expect to get bored and run out of ideas, and I didn’t. I often draw mermaids too, I’ve made over a dozen mermaid sketches and paintings by now (there’s a couple in my sketchbook gallery), so I don’t expect to get fed up with mermaids quickly. I could draw skulls all month long, no problem. Maybe there’s something you love drawing so much you can never get bored, and a month long challenge can push you to think of new concepts instead of going just with the most obvious ones. It can be pretty healthy for your development, but also to finally finish some of the ideas you might have thought of before, but didn’t get around to.

Overall, I think art challenges can be beneficial, but I wouldn’t recommend going into them just because of fear of missing out. Really weigh pros and cons for your situation at the moment. And if now is not a good time, don’t worry, you can do it later, there wil ll be more of these challenges, and really, just take good care of yourself right now. If you’re burnt out, don’t challenge yourself—get better first.

If you decide to pursue an art challenge, I wish you the best of luck!
And if you want to see how my #MerMay is progressing, follow me on Instagram @nelchee, or on my Facebook page Nela Dunato Art & Design where I’ll be posting my updates.

Thank you for watching, and see you in the next episode of Nela’s Art Chat!

Mermay final update

If you want to see how my own challenge went after I did this video, I shared it in the post Mermay 2019 – How it went & what I learned.

Spoiler: I will never do a challenge again :))


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon or Jackson's Art Supplies. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

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