My Experiences With Popular Art Challenges

If you follow a bunch of artists on social media you’ve probably seen a few in passing: themed ‘art challenges’. They are usually named after a specific month the event is taking place, for example Inktober, Junfae, Plein Airpril, etc. I’ve participated in my share and now MerMay has ended, I’m ready to share some experiences and learned lessons!

Back in January I stumbled upon the hashtag #creatuanuary, a yearly event on Twitter where people design a creature according to a prompt list every day during January. Being a creature enthousiast, I simply had to participate. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw something for all the prompts, though, so I just picked a few I liked the most.

vampire bat dragon

The prompt for this one was ‘bloodsucker dragon’. Many entries were combining mosquito or leech features with dragons. I thought it would be more interesting to look at vampire bats, not in the least because bat wings are traditionally the inspiration for dragon wings – studying them would help me draw better dragons in the long run too!

wolf bear creature

For the Tibicena (a demon in the shape of a large black dog with red eyes, hailing from the mountains of the Canary Islands), I combined the heavy build of a bear with more wolf-like hindquarters. I wanted to make the beast appear rugged and hardy to be able to survive in the harsh conditions of the mountains.

In the end, though, I was only able to bring three prompts to a finish. What went wrong with #creatuanuary is that I put in too much effort in each piece, which made them take too much time to finish in one or even a couple of days. In hindsight, that was probably also the case with the Inktober challenge last year, which I also didn’t manage to finish: I wanted each piece to be good, so I put in a lot of time, which I couldn’t keep up.

So for MerMay, I wanted to do things differently. I decided to a) not to use a prompt list or plan what to draw exactly ahead, but see where it will take me and b) try to prepare myself by making some sketches in advance. This turned out quite well: by making time almost every day to sketch and paint a little, I found myself creating little watercolour paintings which I could paint quite quickly and felt like small paintings rather than sketches.

I did prepare a list of interesting sea animals for inspiration, but that was all. I just let the drawings take me, and in the end I did quite some fish creatures that only vaguely resembled mermaids, but that was fine too! I found a way to create small pieces with little effort to keep up with the treadmill of social media, but most important of all, have fun with it!

It was a very good year…

I’m not exactly a Sinatra fan, but I thougth this would make a striking title to my yearly retrospection post, haha! It has hardly been a very good year in many aspects, but I feel happy and humbled that the pandemic hasn’t hurt me or my business financially!

I started this year trying to get a foot between the door in the board game industry, I contacted a lot of companies during January and February. I was even asked for a quote for Christmas themed puzzles. I attended OBJECT with fellow BNO members and had my first and last convention on March 7th and 8th.

Don’t look at my sleepy head, I was a bit nervous tabling by myself again! Too bad the convention itself was not too exciting either; there were very little visitors.

And then everything closed down in this year’s first lockdown on March 17th.

Right then I was in the middle of starting to work on a game prototype with Roofkat – I had visited him in Zaandam in February, a good two-hour trip from my house. The lockdown forced us to work via Skype, but it would probably been the same without it.

A lot of my fellow convention artists weren’t as lucky as I was; they depended on the income of events like Comic Con Rotterdam. And one by one they were all cancelled. Some set up a online equivalent: Stay Home Comic Con. People could join the Discord channel, watch streams and there was a website with links to everyone’s webshops. I participated in the stream too (woo, first time!) and I had 60 watchers at one moment! I enjoyed doing it, so I considered streaming on a regular basis, but I haven’t really picked it up yet. Maybe because I’m secretly too nervous for it!

Spring passed and the first holiday I was going to spend with my boyfriend was cancelled. I spend the summer mostly working, trying to enjoy the ridiculous warm weather whenever I could. But with everything live going online, I was able to attend conventions and events I never would have attended live, being too far for me to travel too. I made a lot more international contacts, which might help me in the future. That’s definitely a good thing that this pandemic has brought me!

Some other highlights of this weird year:

  • I made a mural with friends of Draw Club Rotterdam at a local culture centre! We were almost finished halfway March but didn’t get the chance to add the final touches until August. It has become a Frankenstein’s monster of different styles, but I’m quite happy with my dragon’s head!
  • I was asked to jump in and create some map illustrations and icons right before Godhood’s launch. It was great to work on that game again after a few years, so much has changed since then.
  • The game VR Giants, where I did level concept art for, had a very succesful Kickstarter campaign! I was able to share some things I made for it, hopefully more soon!
  • I participated in three zines this year: A Pok√©mon Snap zine, one focused on character design and a monster girl zine. The two last ones had very similar timelines which made meeting the deadlines quite stressful. I hadn’t expected to get in them both! Can you guess which one I rushed?
  • I also participated in the Artstation Keyframe challenge, but should have made more time for it; I was unable to finish it before the deadline. :/
  • And other cool things I’m not allowed to share yet, unfortunately!

Looking back, I definitely want to have another go at trying to get into board games. I think I’m limiting my options too much only trying to do video games. After all, there are plenty of board games in need of fantasy art too and in the end I just want to paint and draw fantastic creatures.