5 lessons a 30 day art challenge taught me

This week’s video is all about sharing my gouache painting process videos for the first ten prompts of the 30 day challenge that I just finished while talking about the five lessons I learned from doing this challenge. You can also watch on and subscribe to my YouTube channel. There are subtitles available, and the transcript is below if you prefer to read (though you’ll miss the illustrations!). I’d love to hear what you think, so leave a comment here or on youtube, or email me. Sign up to my email list as well for more at www.aratidevasher.com

00:00 Introduction
00:41 Materials
01:15 Improving Skills
04:49 Embracing Imperfections
07:47 Daily Motivation
10:58 Activating Imagination
14:07 Content Creation
17:42 Summary
18:34 Bonus Tip
19:15 30 Day Challenge Tips
21:03 End Comments

Transcript:

Hi everyone, I’m Arati Devasher, welcome to my studio! I’ve spent most of January doing the 30 day challenge with Ohn Mar Win. Every day, I used one of her prompts to do a small gouache painting in my sketchbook and I posted it to instagram. Today I’m going to share with you the process videos for the first ten prompts and while I do, I’m going to speak about the five lessons I learned while doing this 30 day challenge. I hope that it will inspire you to do your own 5, 7, 30, 100 or even 365 day challenge, yourself. Don’t forget to watch all the way to the end for my bonus tip and if you do like this video, please do click the like button, so that I know you enjoyed it. Now let’s get started!

Here are the materials that I’m using in this video. My Seawhite of Brighton A4 sketchbook with all-media, acid-free cartridge paper.  Dr PH Martin’s Bleed Proof White for some highlights. My Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache paints in a stay wet palette with a rag.   Assorted brushes from various brands.  Derwent Inktense pencils. Faber Castell Polychromos pencils and a Caran D’Ache non-photo blue pencil for sketching, with a kneaded eraser. I will link [list] everything down in the description box below.

Now that you know the materials I used throughout this challenge, let me start by telling you the first lesson I learned, which involved these very same materials.

Lesson 1 is that this 30 day challenge has taught me more about my materials and my style. It seems so glaringly obvious, but really wasn’t, to me, going into this challenge. Strange, but true, nonetheless. Though I have had my gouache paints for years and make art with them regularly, painting daily brought forward lessons I hadn’t, apparently, already learned, even though I have done art challenges before. The limitations of quick-drying gouache, the difficulties of blending it smoothly, waiting for it to dry completely and set before using pencil on top are all things I already know from using it for a while… and yet, painting a small sketch in under 20 minutes made me re-learn these things that might seem obvious, but aren’t.

It was a little frustrating to have to sit for five minutes watching paint dry, but as I progressed through the paintings you’ll notice that I get better at painting one piece while the other dries, and then, working on layering pencils on the dried illustration as the previous one sets. So, I learned to be more patient with the gouache and the whole process, to take my time and not rush it, even if it was only in my sketchbook.

And then, I learned more about how I use them, what gouache does for my drawing style and how I colour my illustrations, using paint as the base and adding pencils and line work to bring them to life. Not only that, it brought home to me why I draw the way I do, the decisions I make each time I set my pencil or brush or pen to paper, and why I like a piece and dislike others.

Recording my process added even more clarity as I watched it back later. It even brought me to the understanding that I really, really love gouache more than any of my other materials, but that it has limitations and perhaps mixing other media with it in the future, such as watercolours or acrylics, might be a good experiment to try.

I should also say, here, that I found the 30 day time limit an ideal one for me. I’ve done 7-day challenges before, and I felt that I was just getting to know my paper, pens, paints and what have you when the challenge ended. So that’s something to keep in mind if you choose a shorter length of time. That said, a few days were indeed a bit of a squeeze, despite not being too productive the rest of the day, and perhaps next time I might choose to do a prompt every other day or so. But I’d definitely do more than 2 weeks in length. The longer challenges aren’t for me… 

I like manageable, bite-sized chunks of time, and planning a year in advance is too unpredictable at the best of times. I may do several 30-day challenges one after the other, or stretch one over a 60 or 90 day period too. In the end it’ll turn out to be a year-long activity, in the guise of short challenges that aren’t overwhelming. And if, at any point, I need to take a break, I can do so without feeling guilt at having ended a challenge early. It makes for a simpler, less stressful creative life.

Lesson 2 was rather slower to seep in; doing a 30 day challenge taught me to embrace imperfection. Despite the fact that I was working in my sketchbook and that these were meant to be really quick paintings, the eternal perfectionist in me was nitpicking and second-guessing almost from the very moment I put my pencil to the page. I was thinking and overthinking and rethinking each and every step. Perhaps it was the fact that prompt 1: dragon fruit was something I had never drawn before, or even seen in real life, nor eaten. It’s always easier for me to draw things from my imagination than to find a reference (or three in this case) and then draw it based on an amalgamation of these.

Let me put in a side note here, to say that I find it extremely difficult to draw something from a reference and nearly always get into difficulties when I try to do that! It’s simpler for me to look at a bunch of images and then go off and draw what I think I saw in them. It’s more my imagination’s interpretation of an object than an accurate or specific representation of it. Does that make sense to you? Either way, apparently it is how my weird creative brain works best.

So that’s what I did. I let myself draw and however it turned out is how I posted it to instagram… warts and all! There are several pieces I’m not super happy with, and others that I’m ecstatic about. Let’s just say that letting my drawing be and not tweaking until kingdom come was one of the best lessons this challenge taught me.

I learned that ‘perfectly imperfect’ is a thing, and that it’s utterly glorious. Drawing wonky lines due to my trembly hand and dropping odd blobs here and there seems to me, now, after these 30 days, to be a joy to look at. It’s part of my style and I shall be embracing this in my work, henceforth. I love the rough look it gives, the earthiness of it, the evidence of the craft and skill that’s gone into it.

If, on the other hand, I were aiming for the simple beauty of an ideal image, I’d consider myself to be a painter rather than an illustrator, I think. Colouring within the lines of a drawing was applauded as a child in art class, but if there’s one thing I’d tell my younger self, it’s to try painting outside them – not only is it freeing, but it also becomes a unique piece, unlike that of everyone else.

I enjoy the slight stylised feel of the illustrations I made during this challenge… while still retaining some level of realism. It makes it more personal to me. All of my own fragilities and imperfections are thus reflected in my illustrations, making it as much of a key to my personality as any portrait that might be taken of me. What do you think? I’d love to know.

Lesson 3 was an obvious one, at least, after a few days. A short daily habit, limited in its scope, lifts the spirits and brings satisfaction. This was an essential one, given the year we have all had, and the way this new one looks to be going! I, like many others, have had a creative slump, a lack of inclination to “keep going” as we have all “kept going” in 2020 in the face of everything. To have a year start hopefully and then drop down off the charts and yet to have hope for the future has been somewhat – and I say this ironically – of a horrendous rollercoaster, that I, personally, would really like to get off of, and go hibernate in a warm cave somewhere…

Needless to say, this is not likely to happen, but spending that time each and every day, to make a piece that brought me the satisfaction of having completed another day, another prompt even if it wasn’t a ‘perfect’ piece, was intensely rewarding. Focusing on the little moments, making sure I sat down at my desk each day, creating a little bit of art, helped me. It also made me feel gloriously accomplished, despite the fact that I didn’t get very much else done each day. I wasn’t productive except for this one thing that I kept up with, no matter what. And, having to post on instagram kept me accountable for the daily task.

I think that if I had set myself a greater challenge of creating a ‘finished painting’ each day, I would have been more likely to fail, to not complete the challenge, and feel even worse about things than I already did. It made a huge, dare I say profound, change in my outlook on life. I am re-energised, thinking of ways and means to draw more and to utilise the drawings I made in this challenge in the form of new products for my shop, too.

If you’ll pardon my French – it has kickstarted my arse into gear. Now, I wake up each day somewhat energised to make more, create more, and add more into my creative life. This is not to say that I actually DO it every day! But, for now, feeling that creative urge each morning is what gets me up and about and fizzing with (some) energy. It’s limited energy, I’ll grant you, and general life admin takes up a lot of it. However, it’s definitely more than I have had in the last 9 or 10 months, and, well, I’ll take it, mate!

And the best part? Not just the making but the whole journey was SO MUCH FUN! I really enjoyed sitting down, refreshing my paints with a spray bottle of water, opening my sketchbook and losing myself in that drawing, emerging like a butterfly from a cocoon, fresh as a daisy. It was almost a form of meditation… A state of mindfulness where my whole world was the book in which I was drawing and at the same time far more than that as I opened my mind and my imagination took flight beyond my little home.

Lesson 4 is another obvious one, but more important to me than perhaps all the previous three. My imagination is stimulated when I step out of my comfort zone and take risks. 

When I first looked at the 30 prompts in this list, I was rather enthusiastic about it. I love drawing food (and also thinking and dreaming about it, not to mention eating it!) so the first ten days were no problem… all fruits and vegetables, even if some were unfamiliar to my drawing hand. I could do my research on google images and Pinterest and see what they looked like as a guide, and then draw them from my own imagination. But then there were prompts… like insects, flowers, animals! Whaaaat! I almost panicked, but then my brain seemed to go into overdrive. It just took those prompts, and ran with them.

As you’ll see in future videos, I turned those subjects into topics of interest for me. Flower prompts turned into a teatime theme. Animals were represented as iced biscuits. I brought my love of food and food illustration into this challenge, into a space where it did not previously exist. And that was, as Oprah says, the ‘a-ha’ moment, when I realised that a prompt list is just that. It is not there to be interpreted in a literal manner.

I should perhaps say that I am a fairly basic, literal person and just don’t get subtlety…  I even take jokes at face value, often leading to certain family members (who shall remain nameless) leading me on for days without telling me that they were joking about something that I had been convinced was an actual fact! Lols. Not so ‘lols’ sometimes, of course, like the time when I believed for a whole six weeks that women’s elbows were hinged differently, only to be set embarrassingly right by a doctor friend, but this just explains why I sometimes get freaked out by prompt lists that have unfamiliar subjects or – even worse – concepts in them. I was pretty literal with the last challenge, but feel like I’ve stepped out of that grid a little this time. I hope that I’ll have the courage to keep doing so, given that it’s brought so much benefit already.

I, like other artists, I suppose, have pet hates, topics or rather subjects that I dislike drawing, probably because I’m not very good at them… but then, I’m not very good at them because I never practice drawing them either! It’s a vicious circle that I ought to do something about. But, if my experiences of “the year from hell” in my own life 2012, and this past year, 2020, have taught me anything, it’s that life is way too short to do things you dislike just because you ‘probably should’. If you genuinely want to improve on those specific things, then, yes, you really should go for it and practice, but not out of a sense of obligation to – well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Whom are you trying to impress with your improvement? Only yourself, if you have an aim that requires you to improve in a particular direction…. Otherwise, it can all shove off into the ether and you needn’t worry yourself over it!

Lesson 5 was a biggie. Creating art on a daily basis like this makes portfolio and content creation easier. Ideating on a small scale makes ideas burgeon in your head, spilling forth like bubbles when you’ve shaken the bottle too much. Since the pandemic started, I’ve lost almost all my book design work, as I’m sure a lot of other designers have. In fact, I know of in-house designers who have been furloughed too, so that makes it all the more difficult for the freelancers like myself.

As they say, where one door closes, another opens… the lack of work created more time for me to draw, to work on long-deferred personal projects for which I had previously had no time – such as finally starting a YouTube channel, updating my shop with new prints and products, and small bits of organisation for my studio, which is in my home. However, creating illustrations was hard for a while… I found it difficult to make myself stick to a project and carry it through… I’d lose focus halfway, move to another to regain some clarity, come back and then hop on to something else again.

This challenge has given me a different way of doing things. It’s interesting, however, that when I did my last 30 day challenge back in 2019, I ended up creating “finished” illustrations that I turned into prints and cards and even a calendar. This project, on the other hand, has created more of what 

I would call “spot illustrations” that could be used in many different ways, not just combined into art prints which is primarily what I sell, but I could also venture into stickers… or they’d look great as patterns on paper or fabric, and I could even turn them into many other products; the list is endless. 

Recording my process, of course, has provided content for my videos. I’ve got hours of recordings, not all of which I will subject you to, you will be glad to know.

Posting to instagram, as I’ve said before, kept me accountable, but also did something I hadn’t expected. It brought me feedback on what people liked… very often, that was the paintings that I felt ambiguous about. Making my challenge public and visible to people also fed into what I’d been doing for the past few years, based on the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. Only by showing my work could I gain feedback about what other people thought of my work. Only by putting it out there each and every day, no matter my own feelings about liking or disliking it, could I get completely impartial information about how my work affects other people.

Isn’t that, after all, the point of art? To evoke a reaction in someone who sees it? What would be the point of my creating so much content for others without ever releasing it to them, to comment upon either positively or negatively. Either way, I was making, and that was the important thing. And I shall continue making in this manner through the rest of this year.

Perhaps, at the end of 2021, I’ll do a summary of my thoughts on where this led me, and revisit all the 30, 60, or 90- day challenges I may (or may not!) have done. Even thinking about this is prompting me to go trawling instagram for more prompt lists to follow. Perhaps I should do They Draw and Cook’s 21 days of Good Health… it might be a good one to do every other day, making it a nice 30 to 40 day project, if I skip the weekends. And then, through the year, there are always new prompt lists that come up for Munchy May, Inktober, Gouache-vember, Craft-mas and so many more.

All in all, learning this stuff seems a pretty decent start  to a year that might not be the best we’ve ever had. In summary, here are the five lessons doing the 30 day art challenge taught me…

One. To understand one’s materials and  illustration style better, a daily practice is essential. 

Two. Embracing imperfections, by incorporating them into my style, is both a challenge and a joy. 

Three. A daily habit lifts the spirits and brings satisfaction: keep it short and sweet. 

Four. The imagination is stimulated when you step out of your comfort zone and take risks. 

Five. Creating art on a daily basis like this makes portfolio and content creation easier.

As a bonus, the last and perhaps most important thing I learned was mind-blowing.  

I had ideas even when I didn’t think I had! 

This is certainly connected to having one’s imagination stimulated and woken up, of course. Having to come up with a concept every single day for a prompt that perhaps did not resonate with me was a serious problem, and yet I came up with an actual, workable idea for every single one, and very often turned them on their heads so they’d work for me, rather than my being enslaved to the word’s literal meaning. I thought I knew myself, but apparently not! What a surprise!

So, if you’re going to do a challenge, think about the lessons I’ve learned. Take them with you into your experience, learn even more and come out all the stronger for it. Your choice of challenge might not even be art related. You could do this with anything creative including writing, learning an instrument or designing a project that you’ve been thinking about for a while. Or, daily physical exercise might be your thing… go running, swim in fresh cold water, get fancy with a skipping rope. If you haven’t any time to set aside, incorporate your challenge into your daily life by doing something as simple as cooking a new recipe for your main meal every day. Make it as simple or as complex as you like. But in the end, all you need to do is keep up with it for however long you choose. Like I said in the beginning, you can do a 5, 7, 30, 100 or 365 day challenge, and have fun with it every single moment that you’re in it.

Now, if you stuck around to listen all the way through to this point, thank you! Please do leave a fun, art-related emoji in the comments and we can have a little chat! I’ll see you again at the end of this video.

Hi again! I hope you found this video useful, and that you enjoyed it. Please comment down below and tell me whether you did your own challenge, what you thought of mine, or what you thought of what I thought about mine! If you did like the video, please do click the like button, it really helps me out. Thank you for watching and I’ll see you in my next video. Bye!

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