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Art Challenges (and Why they Work)

Art Challenges (and Why they Work)

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!

Why Cows Make Good Models

Why Cows Make Good Models

I live in a very rural area, surrounded by small, family-run farms. Many of my neighbors also keep cows, so I am always driving by cows (and oftentimes groups of cows) when I go anywhere.

I ventured into painting them during an online workshop with Patti Mollica last year, where we ventured into a variety of genres.  And I discovered what great painting subjects cows can be.

There are several reasons for this:

a) They engage you the viewer with their own curiosities. When you photograph them or simply stand and look at them from, they directly meet your gaze. “What are you looking at?” they seem to say (and not always in the mildest of manners.)

b) They have these great, big masses, which make for great shapes in paintings. Whether painted alone or in groups, cows take up a lot of surface area.

c) And a cow can really hold a pose.

painting of a calf outside a bar

Acrylic (9 x 12″)

The Fall Landscape

The Fall Landscape

Fall is a magical time of year in Columbia County, and this year was particularly spectacular. For some reason, whether because of the rain or the temperatures, the colors of the trees lasted longer than most years.  It was a welcome respite from political news and pandemic anxiety to be able to drive and walk and experience the autumn landscape as long as we did.

I particularly enjoyed colorful walks by ponds in the area.

ooms pond through the foliage

View of Ooms Pond

reflections in a pond

Fall reflections






Geese Rule

Geese Rule

Geese rule the road – they do. These domestic geese at a local farm are always crossing or hanging out near, or on the road.  Once I couldn’t get them to hurry their crossing so I made the mistake of getting out of my car to “encourage” them on their way, and they took terrible offense.  As in, turned and chased me back to my car.

So, now I respect them – greatly. And love those long necks.


Tiny Worlds

Tiny Worlds

As I’ve ventured out this summer for sketching is that there is so much activity happening in miniature. You just have to stand still and look.

Like the butterfly above, which alighted on some echinacea as I was photographing my friend Marilyn’s beautiful garden this month. Marilyn, a landscape gardener, modeled after Monet’s garden, takes a lot of water (she and her husband put in a new well to accommodate its needs) and attracts a wide variety of winged creatures:  butterflies, bees, moths, and hummingbirds.

Ordinarily, my landscapes are of vistas and wider views, but I realize there are a lot of much tinier worlds waiting to be painted as a way of being appreciated.

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