A handful of years ago, a few friends decided to throw me an “art party” for my birthday. A big table was carefully arranged with watercolor paper, paintbrushes, and a wide variety of paint. I had looked forward to the celebration for weeks. So you can imagine my inner horror when, as I sat there at this beautifully stocked smorgasbord of supplies, I was hit with artist’s block.
I watched everyone around me begin painting — abstracts and florals. And there I sat… awkwardly staring at my blank piece of paper, paralyzed with fear. After all, I couldn’t just disappear into the crowd; this whole shindig was for ME! As the guest of honor, I knew all eyes were on me and whatever masterpiece I created. And I couldn’t think of a single thing to paint.
Fast forward to last month. I’m knee deep in the portfolio section of The Mastery Program and once again… artist’s block. Only this time, it’s not blank canvases I’m facing. No, no. This time, it’s hitting me smack dab in the middle of my pieces. My small studio is bursting at the seams with dozens of underpaintings that I simultaneously love too much to cover up and hate so much I’m about to paint over them. I’m second-guessing everything about my entire process, my entire temperament, my entire identity as an artist. I am STUCK. And all the while, with tears streaming down my face as I sit on the floor in anguish, I’m panicking that—yet again—I’m going to fail at something and not finish something I started and never be able to graduate from this program and never be a professional artist and… and… and…
Artist’s block can come in many different shapes and sizes.
It can hit beginners and professionals alike. It can manifest as a paralyzing fear of a blank canvas or as an inability to finish a piece towards the end of the process—and everything in between. No matter how long you’ve been painting, chances are the dreaded Artist’s Block disease will hit you at some point or another.
When this unwelcome guest comes to town, you don’t have to accept its tenancy. You CAN fight back.
And here’s how to do it:
The 100-Painting Challenge
Yes, you’ve read that right. ONE HUNDRED PAINTINGS. That’s what you’re going to make within the next three days.
Now, if you’ve got some compelling reason for why 100 paintings in 3 days just won’t work for you (like maybe some worldwide paper shortage or an appointment with the apocalypse tomorrow), then don’t worry — you can totally scale this down to 35 paintings in one day or even 5 paintings in 15 minutes. Ultimately… you do you. Just try to keep the same basic rules as the full challenge.
Rule #1: Keep it small.
We’re not shooting to create murals here. You’ll want to keep the size of your paper down to about a 5" x 7" to 8” x 10” kind of size. Watercolor paper works best for this challenge, but use whatever you’d like.
If you’d like to take some time to prep your surfaces by taping the edges before you start, go for it! Many artists choose to buy big sheets of watercolor paper and cut them down to a challenge-friendly size. Whatever you need to do to get yourself ready to paint without interruption or distraction, get it done before you start.
You’ll be using 33 of these on Day One, then 33 more on Day Two, and then finishing strong with 34 on Day Three. One hundred paintings.
Rule #2: Don’t think. Just grab.
Don’t try to plan out your palette or your materials beforehand. Just grab any paints, inks, sprays, brushes, tools, or whatever else is in your studio and spread it all out around your workspace so that everything is within arm’s reach. When the challenge begins, you don’t want to think about what it is you’re doing; you just want to grab something near you and paint!
You can limit yourself to a small handful of materials or go buck wild and pull out everything you own. Each approach comes with its own set of pros and cons. But the main point here is: don’t overthink it! Just get some materials and run with it.
Rule #3: The clock is the boss.
I know, this sounds counterintuitive. As artists, it’s imperative we frolic through the liberating meadows of Right Brain Land. This usually means forgetting time even exists. But for this challenge, the point is to have so little time to create that you don’t have time to be negative or stuck.
So, get out a stopwatch. Everyone has one on their smartphone.
Set it for 3 minutes. That’s it. That’s all you get for each painting. When this timer goes off, your painting is done. Set it aside. Let it go. Time to move on.
On to the next 3 minutes.
Ready… Set… PAINT!!!
Get those creative juices flowing as you race against the clock. The first few might be a little awkward, but fairly quickly you’ll find yourself really clicking and getting in a flow.
IMPORTANT: You need to be okay with the fact that these 100 paintings aren’t all going to be winners. In fact, a majority of them are probably going to be downright UGLY.
But that’s OKAY. In fact, it’s kinda the whole point.
You’ll be free. You’ll be loose. You’ll have gotten a lot of the stuck and ugly out of your system.
At worst, you’ll be able to flow and paint again. But if the experience is any better than worst, you’ll have discovered a whole new world of inspiration to draw from.
And then you won’t have to be like me at my own birthday party, drowning your paper in muddy paint because “galaxy” was the only thought your brain could produce. No matter how bad it gets, you’ll know you are perfectly capable of making a half-decent painting in three minutes.
Go forth. Make your next masterpiece.
Written by Julie Briggs