A year and few sunrises ago, seated at the sunny terrace of a café, I was starting the first sketch of a long series. This step was the answer to many months of recurring questions “How can I improve my sketching skills?, What is actually my sketching style?, What is my creative process…?”. My challenge was certainly based on sketching, but it may as well have been about writing, playing music… or anything you love doing but just cannot get yourself to do as frequently as you wish.

From the CreativeMornings to the PechaKucha nights, I’ve always been impressed by people committing to their ideas, following their passion, with or without a clear goal in mind. After months of thinking about it, I was struck by the curiosity to start something new, explore and see what would happen.

A 365 sketch challenge is finally not so much about sketching, it is about dedication.

What does the challenge look like?

Here is the deal:

  • 365 sketches in 365 days
  • Subjects need to vary as much as techniques (if possible)
  • Stick to the daily routine as much as you can. Need a backup? Read next point
  • Catching up and anticipation are allowed, it’s called time management :)
  • Make it Yours, invent your rules.

This also means thinking about new ideas all day long. This is where it becomes so addictive, as it forces you to always be curious. And I promise, it will astonish you as you progress… So keep reading!

How to start?

Forget your new year’s resolution. Everybody starts something and then quits after a week. You need to make it more unique so it will last longer. I personally started on a random Saturday morning because … without having any plans for the day, my mind was free and the moment seemed ideal. As for most challenges, just starting was half the battle. The next challenge was to keep going by incorporating some excitement and rewards along the project. We will come to this in a minute.

Last but not least for the first weeks: don’t tell anyone yet, but keep it personal until you find your cruising speed.

1. The right setup

The first advice I would give is the simplest. Start by choosing some nice and good quality sketchbooks. I personally chose a sketchbook (from the Swiss brand BookBindersDesign!) for the quality of their paper, whether I was using pencils, ink or paint, and for the fantastic look’n’feel. Always at hand and anywhere you go, they will trigger your habit at a glance and should inspire you. The first page? Draw something you are comfortable with, something easy, something funny. That’s part of the game. As the weeks go on, you will naturally notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Finally, always have your tools (sharp pencil, piece of paper, idea..), in order to avoid creating excuses.

All you need now are ideas, and trust me, to come up with a new idea of a potential sketch every day is totally manageable and will become a habit.

That’s literally it. Nothing you can’t do. It can be as difficult or as easy as you like. It’s up to you.

2. It’s a matter of priority

Drink with friends or sketching…? Do both!

Don’t worry, it is a challenge, not a sacrifice. This daily activity needs to integrate seamlessly in your habits. Sure it might squeeze some other activities, but shouldn’t keep you from reading or meeting your friends if you like! Let’s rather admit that sketching will become the anchor of your hobbies.

To succeed the sketch of the day, you will need to make time for it, whether you feel more efficient drinking your morning coffee, or later in the evening after a refueling dinner. Nevertheless, reducing your sleeping time is not an option. You can alternate simple and more complex sketches in relation to how busy your week is.

To optimize my week, I decided to spend every Saturday morning at Anne&Max café (yes, another habit) to set up the coming sketches. Sipping coffee first, dreaming for a while before to scribble. Scanning my surroundings, my previous week, and looking for new ideas or themes, I tried to slot them in relation to my work and other activities. I sometimes knew what I wanted to draw the coming 5 days, when I had a busy week in perspective, yet sometimes I had no clue whatsoever.

What if something really important comes up? What if I’m not motivated enough? What if I skip one day, two?

The point is to create a habit without frustration, still maintaining a dedicated time for it. To be honest, I quickly ran into many roadblocks and found myself scrambling to improvise a way to keep up with the challenge. Winter was demoralizing in my progress; holidays were not that efficient either. Yet, I adapted my ideas and sketches, sometimes lowering my expectations to finish the sketch of the day and finally stuck to what I commited to!

3. Stay open

Do not stay in your cave, instead, go out, meet your friends, go to the cinema, to conferences, or create your Pinterest boards, scribble and take note of ANY idea that comes up (stupid ones are welcome).

By harvesting ideas, you will have a backup list of ideas, but even better: it allows you to continue thinking about them and to make links between two ideas. This is one of the keys to funny and smart sketches. Besides, why not being inspired by your previous sketches? For instance, make a story for three consecutive days, or reinterpret them.

Stay open to inspire your art. Go solo to polish your craft.

Don’t get me wrong, to draw on location is fantastic, around friends or in a park, but I noticed that some ideas require further explorations or time. In this case, embrace the loneliness, find a quiet place, your favorite playlist and dive into your idea. You might not want to do it every day, not even every week, and that’s fair. But once in a while, go the extra mile, you will be proud of it.

As I progressed into my challenge, it became clear to me that, from the idea of sketching simple things every day, the 365 challenge became more and more a means of exploring ideas. And this was exactly what kept me motivated throughout the challenge.

4. Magic moments of creativity are rare (day 204)

I remember sitting at my desk for one hour, doodling without being satisfied with the 15 ideas I came up with. You then have 2 options. Either you choose the least stupid idea and sketch it, or you step back and go for a walk. Don’t stare at the white page anymore, it’s only demotivating and you will accumulate negative thoughts until you finally give up. Not in your interest.

Something I liked to do when I found myself stuck with ideas I didn’t like yet, was to elaborate, diverge, and make links between the ideas that had come up. A visual brainstorming if you prefer.

Not a surprise, to develop an idea takes time.

When I started the challenge, I was sketching directly in my sketchbook. In the end I became more picky and I was mostly sketching the idea roughly first, before enhancing the draft and sketching a new improved version in my sketchbook. Did I fall into my own trap of perfectionism? That’s a possibility. But my vision had changed from the one in the beginning; I developed a deeper interest in embedding a specific meaning into my daily drawings. As my project evolved, I made more time to follow this new approach.

5. Keep it fun and share the progress (day 318)

Whether you intend to write, sketch, or play an instrument, start with something you like and make it easier for yourself.

  • Use your friends, ask them for ideas or play a game (“pick one keyword and one color”).
  • No time to properly scan your sketch? Use your phone, even combined with Photoshop APP!
  • Vary your technique in relation to your subject to convey different emotions. For instance, I took lots of pleasure animating some of my sketches. It became a new way to express ideas.

As my challenge gained interests from friends, I also thought that using Instagram would create an extra motivation (and create an official deadline) for me not to give up. In addition, during and mostly thanks to this project, I was given the chance to make a life-sized mural drawing in a café, to sketch in VR with TiltBrush, to create a logo for friends… Outside of my sketchbook, opportunities came to me as much as I looked for them. It was incredible to realize how new opportunities were stimulated from my original project. This was very challenging!

Day 365, Recap & lessons.

To recap these 365 lessons, I will certainly remember that:

  1. Creativity comes from the people you meet, the things you read and what you experience. Go out there!
  2. Habits. There are the ones you already have and the ones you will build. This surely taught me time management.
  3. Keep it realistic. Managing your own expectations is key to remain motivated.
  4. Ideas. They come, they go. It’s first about the quantity, then about the quality. Now I feel that I am moving more quickly through the brainstorming process, and I can go deeper with the idea I like.
  5. Be curious. This project forced me to look around even more.
  6. I discovered other ways to present ideas. Style matters to convey sharper feelings.
  7. In 2018, I got a sense of real accomplishment, by splitting a clear goal into 365 smaller steps.
  8. One sketch, one memory. Times 365.

Ready for your 365?

Feeling like writing? Playing more guitar? Getting better at illustration? Start by doing it for a month, try 6 months, extend it to a year… And you might create 365 lessons that will change you for sure.

As I am finishing this article, sitting in the same café, I realize how much I have learned this year. In the end, this project was a good excuse to read a bit more, visit more places, and try new techniques.

It was never about sketching itself. It was about challenging my creative process. And this year, I took 365 steps!

Product Designer