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Art Tip

10 Tips for Taking on Big Projects

The month of drawing challenges is upon us.  Whether you follow the official Inktober list, participate in one of the hundreds of other lists out there, or come up with your own thing, artists all over the world come together in the month of October to have fun and grow their skills.  If you’ve never taken on a daily art or multi-piece art project like this, it can be really intimidating (honestly it can still be even after you’ve done it many time).  

After participating in several Inktober challenges, the 100 Day Project multiple years, and a couple large local projects, I’ve gained a bit of experience with big multi-piece art projects.  I came up with a list of tips that might help if you’re thinking of taking on a daily art challenge.  As always, we’re all different and will find different things helpful – use the information that resonates with you.

1. Look at Prompts Ahead of Time

Most of the challenges have begun releasing their prompt lists throughout this month.  Take some time to find the prompts that you’d like to use.  They can be subjects that resonate with the work that you already do, or something outside your comfort zone.  You can pick and choose from multiple lists or even create your own.

One year I combined three different prompt lists into each day’s piece which turned out to create a really cool cohesive body of work.  Last year I did a cat theme that used the official Inktober prompt list.  

Inktober day 28 ink drawing challenge. Corner cafe booth with plate of fries, milkshake, and wrapped present. Morning glories visible growing outside the window.
Crispy, Morning Glory, Ribbon by Laura Jaen Smith, 6x6, Pigma Micron ink pens and Uni-ball Signo white gel pen
Ponytail by Laura Jaen Smith. Black kitten grooming grey kitten on pink blanket with blue background.
Ponytail by Laura Jaen Smith, 4x4, Pigma Micron ink pens and Derwent Inktense Blocks

2. Brainstorm Ideas & Find Reference Photos

Start thinking about the prompt list you’ve picked.  Brainstorm ideas of what you could do for each of them.  You could write notes or do tiny thumbnail drawings to plan them out.  Find your references ahead of time.  I generally draw from my own photographs for most of my main work, but you can also search for free stock images through websites such as Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. 

3. Prepare Surfaces & Materials

Are you working on a surface that needs to be prepped?  Add gesso to the canvases, tape off your paper edges, cut your paper down to size – whatever you need to do to get your surface ready to go.  Collect everything and have it together in one convenient place.  Same for your medium of choice – get everything ready and convenient to save yourself time searching for that favorite pen you love the day of.

4. Be Realistic About the Time You Can Commit

Before you jump into a project, consider how much time you’re going to spend on it each day.  Include the time doing the art, photographing it, and then posting it.  This might help you decide the scale of the project you want to do.  Maybe you have five hours a day to devote to something large, but maybe something small that you can do within a 15 or 30 minute time span would be more doable with the other things going on in life.

Would you like some quick tips for photographing your art to post?  Check out my post Tips for Photographing Your Art where I share some basic things you can do to help make your art look better online.

5. Find a Schedule that Works for You

Maybe you want to draw all the week’s prompts in one day and then post it daily.  Maybe you want to draw one each day and post it weekly.   Maybe you want to work a day or two ahead.  Maybe you want to compile all the prompts into one bigger piece.  Maybe you don’t want to share your drawings.  Maybe you want to do a blog post of all of them at the end.  You get the pick the schedule that works for you.

6. Prepare Your Posts Ahead of Time

Preparing what (and where) you’re going to post ahead of time will save time.  Is there a specific caption or script you’re going to use that you can write ahead of time and then copy and paste for posts?  You could get that ready to go.  Are you using specific hashtags (I think hashtags are kind of a thing still, right?)?  Pick out the ones that will work best for your work and the challenge you’re participating in.  Having those things saved into a notes section on your phone to copy and paste will save you time later.

7. Build on the Skills You Have

Start where you are and challenge yourself to improve.  A daily (regular) art challenge can be a great way to grow your skills through repeated practice.  It’s a good time to try out a new technique or do thumbnails for a bigger later project, or quick sketches of subjects outside your comfort zone.  When you look back from the beginning of the challenge to the end, you’ll be able to see progress.

If you’d like some tips or a refresher on different techniques for shading in ink and pencil, check out my post 4 Shading Techniques for Ink & Pencil.


8. Not Everything Has to Be a Masterpiece

Not every drawing needs to be perfect or even finished.  It’s easy to see the work that other people are putting out and get a case of imposter syndrome.  There are people of all ages and skill levels that participate around the world.  You only get a glimpse of their life in the post – you don’t see how long it took them, what their process was, or how long they’ve been practicing art.  Don’t compare your art to what you see out in the world, focus on your own progress from past work to what you’re currently creating.  If you’re not happy about a piece, take a little time to figure out what specifically you don’t like about it and what you can do to improve next time.

9. Ultimately You Make the Rules

You make the rules and no one is grading you.  You can adapt the challenge to whatever works for you.  You get to pick the size, the medium, how and when you do it, how much of the challenge you do, your prompts, and when (or if) you share it for others to see.  The best part about participating and sharing, is being able to meet other artists doing the challenge and cheer each other along.

10. Keep a Healthy Mindset

Taking on a big project is an awesome way to grow your skills as an artist and it shows a lot of initiative and dedication.  Celebrate what you’ve done!  Whether it’s 5 days or 5 weeks, every minute practicing makes you a better artist than you were before the challenge. 

Which tip did you find most helpful?

Are you participating in an art challenge this month?  Let us know about your project!  And now that I’ve shared these tips, I’m going to go take some of my own advice.  You can follow along with my project over on Instagram @LauraJaenArt.


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About the Artist

Photo of Laura Jaen Smith

Laura Jaen Smith is an artist who lives and works out of Horseheads, New York. Her inspiration comes from observing the beauty she sees around her.  After a decade living out west, she returned back to New York State and started seeing the same old places with new eyes.  She is most interested in capturing small moments in nature that might otherwise be overlooked.

Visit her shop or ask about available works.

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