Fruits a Day in May – An Art Challenge Post-Mortem

Back in April, I was looking ahead at what I had lined up for Bunker Punks, I knew that I would be doing some character designs in the summer and character design is definitely not one of my strong suits as an artist.  I needed to level-up.

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I was at the library, wandering the stacks, and I stumbled across a book collecting Fruits magazine.

Fruits magazine is amazing.  Each issue is a collection of street fashion from Tokyo, ranging from hip to absurd.   It’s impossible to find a more eclectic collection of costume and character reference in one place.

I signed the book out and immediately did a couple of studies in my notebook.   I loved the format: spontaneous portraits, full body shots and the streets of urban Japan in the background.

I decided it was time to do some daily studies and to do it as an art challenge.

I’m a big fan of creative challenges.  Whether it’s game jams, daily sketches or writing a whole novel in a month, these challenges push your boundaries, test your ability and ultimately improve your understanding of the craft.

I took to facebook and invited some of my friends to join me and Fruits A Day in May was born.

What Went Right:

1. I finished the challenge.
The last big art challenge I did was a daily fan-art challenge over two years ago that I started with two friends.  They both dropped out by the middle of the month and I stopped shortly afterwards, ashamed at not being able to finish.

If nothing else, I needed to finish Fruits A Day.

Fruits A Day was not without its problems.  My logic board in my laptop died in the middle of the month, most of the participants dropped out within the first week and there were many nights where my drawing was uploaded at the wee hours of the morning, meaning the next day was going to be tough because I don’t sleep in anymore. (my daughter doesn’t care what time I was up to last night)

But I did it.  I finished the challenge.  31 days, 31 drawings.

May 1st

May 31st

2. Experimentation.
I’ve hated my own digital inking style since… well, forever.  I wanted to spent more time on my inks, try out some new things and find a groove that worked for me.

My favorite piece from the whole month was done late at night after 3-4 failed attempts.  It was finished in 5 minutes, maybe less.

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A personal favorite

It had an energy and edge to it.  I had drawn her 4 times and just deleted everything and then pounded this out.  This was a product of my frustration, but also my familiarity with the subject.

The drawings that followed over the next few days tried to capture the same energy, but ultimately they all came up short.

3. Drawing More Characters
One of the best pieces of creative advice I’ve ever received was from the super-amazing Cheol Joo Lee.  During an afternoon life drawing session at Relic, CJ told a friend of mine “If you want to get better at drawing hands, draw more hands.”  That advice has stuck with me ever since that day.

While looking for subjects, I sought out clothing and hair styles I’d never drawn before and had a blast drawing them.

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4. Amazing work from old friends

Two artists whom I love and respect greatly (and whom I don’t see nearly often enough), Marianne and Dave Cheong produced some amazing works and it was always great to see what they came up with.

Marianne

Marianne

Dave Cheong

Dave Cheong

What Went Wrong: 

1. People Dropped Out

Creative challenges are hard.  Everybody joins them with the purest intentions, but the attrition of personal and professional life take their toll and at the end of the challenge, I was the only one posting work every day.

I want to do Fruits A Day in May again in 2015.  I’ll spend more time building up to it, get more people on board early and build a community hub around it, so we can talk to each other.  The messaging/comments of Tumblr make it hard for everyone to support each other on those challenging days.  When you miss one day, it’s that much easier to drop out altogether.

2. Creative Exhaustion

I believe that creative muscles are just like real muscles:
When they are tired, they are weak or stop working all together.
When they are pushed to the limit, they rebuild themselves stronger.
When they are used regularly, they last longer.

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By the end of the month, I was tired.  I didn’t have much left in the tank.  While the last weeks worth of drawings were all good, but none of them were truly exciting.  The muscles just didn’t have any juice left in them to try something new, so I went with what I already could do instead of pushing my boundaries.

3. Not Enough Color Work.

May 2nd

May 2nd

My second favorite drawing was from May 2nd.  I still look back on it and smile.

I knew I wanted to focus on my digital inking, but I did so at the cost of experimenting more with coloring techniques.  It’s always nice to have a focus, but in hind-sight, I wish I had varied it up a bit more.

4. Drawing in the Evenings

As a stay-at-home dad and indie developer, I’m very protective of my work time.  During the 6 hours a day that my daughter is at school, I focus on work.  This is my work time and I value it greatly.

It’s also when I am most alert and productive.  I’m not a late-night-grinder.  My best work comes out in the mornings.

By doing Fruits A Day in the evenings, I was never at my best when I had the opportunity to do the most learning.

I often sat down to draw around 10PM, after getting home from teaching, watching a movie with friends or going to a meet-up, only to be woken up the next morning by my beloved daughter, who rises with the sun. (Which, for reference is about 5:30 AM right now)

My brain was tired and while it could produce work, it couldn’t do it’s best work and it definitely wasn’t in any shape for deep learning.

I’m not sure how to tackle this in the future.  The game I’m working on is always the priority and I want to give it the best hours of my day and I know Bunker Punks would have suffered if I had bumped it out of the way to work on Fruits A Day.

Something to think on for future challenges.

What’s Next

Fruits a Day was a great experience.  I definitely learned a lot, especially about rendering clothing and hair, as well as digital inking and I would definitely consider it a success.

I’ve already added a reminder to my calendar for next year, so barring the collapse of society, I’ll be drawing more Fruits in 2015.

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Will you be joining me?

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