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Starting a creative challenge (and finishing it)

Does this sound familiar? You wanna draw / paint / create more and decided to join a challenge. You're finally will become that person that actually reaches the finish line. There's plenty of inspiration to get you going 'cause the internet is overflowing with challenges. 30 day challenges, Fill a sketchbook challenges, Inktober, March meet the Maker, Draw this in your style, 100 days challenge and so on. You picked a challenge, your art supplies are ready, you are ready. Let's do this! But a few weeks in and ... you're already running behind.

Trust me, I've been there. I've considered many challenges, started several and completed exactly: zero. Well, maybe 0,02. The best I did was finishing 26 alcohol markers portraits during Inktober 2020. Which also helped me to launch my online courses, so it was successful after all. But still I didn't manage to do hundred percent of the challenge (which is 30 days). The second best I did? About 50 little portrait sketches of the 100 heads challenge in 3 years. Sounds okay? Well, the official challenge is 100 portraits in 10 days. Yup, days. Not years 🤣.


And yet here I am, trying another challenge. But I came prepared this time. Let me explain what I'm planning and why I think this time I will finally finish a complete challenge!


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So what's the challenge?

This all got kickstarted by the video of YouTuber and graphic designer Campbell Walker a.k.a. Struthless. His videos often touch on subjects like mindset, creativity and productivity, and I love his style. To give himself a kick in the butt to create more consistently, he created the Alphabet Superset: "A blueprint designed to set your creativity on fire over 6 months using the alphabet". Or simply put: make something every week for 6 months, starting with a different letter from the alphabet.


Why does this challenge feels different?

Well, I like his plan for a number of reasons:

  1. The time frame Instead of making something every day in a short amount of time, it's about making something once a week over a longer period of time. Which is way more manageable besides my normal workflow.

  2. The theme/scope Besides the Alphabet - which serves as a framework - you set the whole scope of the project yourself. Wanna make a weekly blog about art hacks? Go for it. A Tiktok drawing video a week? Great plan. By setting a project that totally fits my own workflow, preferred medium, regular output and interests, I think there's a much bigger chance of succes.

  3. The preparations Campbell provided several worksheets to fill in before starting this projects. Which really is a deep dive into your motivation, the constraint you're setting for the project, the output requirements and the rut rules. Rut rules? Yeah, tactics for when future-you gets stuck. Personally I know a big time-sucker in my week is screen time. This project will be an extra reason to trade scrolling time with painting time! Another risk is prioritizing payed / client work over my creative time. It helps to think about all these things beforehand, so I'm more alert when these habits kick in. By also setting limitations (like choosing one medium, one theme, one type of outcome), once the challenge starts all your time can go into making instead of making these decisions.

  4. The realistic planning The thing I liked best in the first worksheet is the advise to 'plan for your busiest self'. We often overestimate the time our future self will have. By planning what is manageable in the busiest weeks, we're preventing setting ourself up for failure (again :). Campbell also scheduled a few pause weeks in between, so you have time to catch up or have a breather if you need to.


Okay, get to the point, what's your project?!

For the next six months I'm painting one gouache portrait a week on the Pantone cards and post the result on Instagram. Since the alphabet is the framework of this challenge I'm picking the cards by alphabetic color names.


Now why did I pick this as a challenge?

  • Over the past few years there are two challenges that were always on my wishlist: the pantonechallenge started by @bigbluetang and 100headschallenge started by Ahmed Aldoori. But as mentioned before, these challenges are big (100 Pantone cards to paint) and fast (100 portraits in 10 days). So I'm using this new challenge to kickstart and combine them! I hope once the first 26 portraits are done, I'm in the flow to finish the rest. But if not, all's good as well, at least I finished the Alphabet series.

  • Best chance of succes? If you're passionate about something! I didn't even have to think twice to know that this would be my challenge. First of all because I love love love color and second of all because I love drawing people. I will never get bored of either one.

  • I've been wanting to make a new online course about gouache portraits for a while now. But I keep putting it off because I want more practice myself first. This project is the perfect preparation to upgrade my gouache-game! By the way, if you're new to gouache or looking into the different brands, this previous blog is a good read for you.


Why another challenge? Why not just start painting and see where it goes?

Great question! Well, as I mentioned: I keep putting off practicing. This challenge gives me an extra reason to prioritize creative time, even in the midst of the busiest times. With this consistent practice I also hope to speed up my painting process. One of the reasons that first attempt of the 100 heads challenge took me so long was the fact those sketches took me about 3 hours instead of 30 minutes (I wasn't used to drawing people yet). And because I wasn't consistent, I kinda forgot what lessons I learned in between. The more consistent and deliberate your practice is, the faster your skills will grow.


Also I just really wanna feel the accomplishment of finally finishing a challenge :).



Any other plans?

Of course my head was already making big plans. 'Too many ideas, too little time' is the story of my life haha. So to start with I'm aiming low with this one. The minimum is one painted gouache portrait a week, make pictures and post them on Instagram. I will film the painting process though, but not post it every week. This way I will keep the weekly time small for now. But I'll have the extra content at hand if I want to use it (later), for making Reels, YouTube shorts, Patreon videos or as content for that online course. Once I finished this project, maybe in the future I could sell the original paintings, make prints, turn them into a zine or maybe even have a little exhibition somewhere (did I already mention I had plenty of big ideas)?

So, back to making it small:

  • I've already picked the cards and colors.

  • I've prepped them with transparent gesso, so the gouache sticks to the (otherwise too smooth) surface.

  • I've got a folder of reference pictures set up at my Google Drive, which I mostly got on royalty free websites like Unsplash and Pexels.

  • I'm preparing the pencil sketches upfront and won't record that part if I don't want to. That way I can easily sketch on any location and not just at my studio.

  • I'm setting a timer to 30 minutes for each sketch and about 1 to 1.5 hours for the painting. It'll keep me from fiddling over details too much. I do hope to speed up the painting over time to an hour max.

  • I will use a fixed palette of gouache with limited colors to simplify the workflow.

  • I will try to paint every Wednesday morning (I hope a dedicated day will also help me) and post the result no later then Friday.


What materials will I use?

I know you all wanna know, dear reader, because this will be a repeated question on Instagram ;). So here's my list of supplies*:

*Most of these links are affiliate, which means I get a small percentage if you use them when buying the supplies. It won't cost you anything extra, but it helps me to write blogs or share tips on Instagram. Shopping at Be Creatieve Shop? Use the code 'NienkeVletter' to get 5% discount yourself.


Will I succeed this time? Maybe I'll look back on this blog in 4 months (or 4 weeks ;) and laugh at my overconfident past-self for thinking future-me could really do this. But one of the reasons I'm writing this blog is for external accountability. The more people know about me doing this challenge, the more I feel the pressure not to let myself down. I know I'm a sucker for external accountability (this book is an interesting read about that by the way).

So keep an eye out for my weekly Instagram posts to see how the challenge is going!


PS Want to join the challenge, but do it together? Come join my Patreon community! I'll share more behind-the-scenes there. We'll also do a Zoom painting session with the Sketchbook Buddies in the upcoming months for sure.

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