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Recently I responded to a 10-day art challenge on Facebook and several of my friends and colleagues responding and joining in. Not everyone wants or needs an art challenge (perhaps their day-to-day work is challenging enough), but it got me thinking about what is an art challenge, and why do artists do it?

The answer may be different for different people, but for me, art challenges generally do one of three things:

  1. Force me over the “hump” of getting started
  2. Speed up my instincts
  3. Help establish a routine

Getting Started

This is a common refrain from many artists and students of artists I know. If you want to paint (or draw or whatever) more, sometimes a challenge will help.

Social media challenges like the one I responded to are all over the map, from creating artwork:

  • in different styles
  • of specific subjects (e.g., 100 heads)
  • in different media
  • in a set time period (one hour or 1/2 hour per work, or the entire month of March, for example)
  • using a different methodology (i.e., your left hand)

Speeding Up

Birgit O’Connor, my watercolor mentor, leads occasional challenges and paint-offs in an online private online (Facebook-based) painting group. For a recent paint-off challenge, about two dozen of us painted landscapes from a supplied photo in a timed (30-minute) session. I produced the landscape (pictured above), which may just be as good as anything I have labored over much longer.  The lesson? Painting quickly instinctively can be a road to success if you get out of your brain’s internal critic.

Establishing a Routine

The act of painting daily and continuing the effort helps grow an artists’ work. Consistent effort builds skill over time.

The website Daily Paintworks is a well-known example of an ongoing painting challenge. The goal of the website, as articulated by founder Carol Marine, is simply to paint daily (her book Daily Painting is also a worthwhile read for anyone interested in this.) While not all the art on the website constitutes “daily” output, the concept of daily painting certainly drives many of the artists who show and sell their work on its marketplace.

Pure Entertainment

Art challenges such as paint-offs are also highly entertaining for others to watch. I realized I was entertaining my friends in my own Facebook 10-day challenge, as much as I was challenging myself.

Late last year, I watched with great interest Eric Rhoads (well known for his year-long art challenge) challenged a number of leading artists (including Birgit) in different media  (acrylics, watercolor, pastel, gouache) to a 60-minute “Battle of The Mediums” challenge of a landscape from a photo. They all went about their tasks with gusto, and it was fascinating to watch the alla prima techniques employed by each.  Watch it yourself here to see who won!

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