100 Days of Making

What I learned and how you can do it, too.


Creating for 100 days straight. When I tell people about this project or they see my feed on instagram, their questions are usually “Why?” and “What are you going to get out of it?” and “What’s next when it’s done?” My answers to these questions tend to be “I’m improving my illustration skills” and “I’m going to sell something with these printed on them eventually” and “I just enjoy a challenge”. While all of these answers are correct and follow a goal-oriented path, there’s also a deeper, less concrete reason: just creating.

Creative folks have an innate drive to make something, to evoke a feeling, to build something in order to solve problems — it’s a core trait in our personalities. It’s about putting something tangible out there for other people to react to, use, and enjoy. Projects like this are deeper than simply putting pixels to a page.

When I first heard of The 100 Day Project with Elle Luna and The Great Discontent, I was curious about the idea, and knew I wanted to give it a shot. The principles she outlines in her book The Crossroads of Should and Must are really great. It’s a quick read — I’d recommend peeling through it.

“What Is the 100-Day Project? It’s a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making. The great surrender is the process; showing up day after day is the goal. For the 100-Day Project, it’s not about fetishizing finished products — it’s about the process.” more info

After a shorter series of 30 illustrations last year called Daily Sonar, I’ve created 100 illustrations for Wallpaper Disco. Written below is an attempt to outline my process, share some learnings from along the way, and provide a few guiding principles for you to begin your own project.

Starting the project

Choose a subject

This is a really important piece. Be sure to choose something you really love and are passionate about. I remember something my fifth grade science teacher, Mr. Webster, shared with us when we were picking a subject for the science fair. He urged us choose something we were really, really excited about because he knew the novelty of the idea would wear off after a month or two, and we would only be able to rely on grit and determination to push through until the end. In my case, nightlife, disco, and DJ themes in the form of illustrative patterns made sense. I have a huge interest in music, and am even a bit of a bedroom DJ and producer for fun. On the design side, I really enjoy structured systems, consistent styles, and shape-based illustration. This held my interest for 100 days.

Define what you want to get out of it (or not)

Most of this is going to depend on your personality type. If you’re a goal oriented person that needs something to shoot for, it may be best to invent some incentives along the way. If you prefer things to be more open and goals make you want to throw up, keep things a little less structured. In my case, the overarching idea was to have a group of 100 pieces to showcase once the project was completed. It’s a very high-level goal, but I always imagined myself reviewing all 100 of these when they’re done and feeling a sense of pride after completing them (and I did!).

Consider setting a few rules

Flexible guidelines are the best here. Think of this as choosing a theme — it will help you along and remove unnecessary choice with each piece you create. Is there a specific medium you like to work with? Clay, paper, pixels? Maybe you want to create a very strict grid to follow if you’re a designer. Or — set no rules at all and embrace the chaos each new day brings (although this will be a much higher effort). Rules are good, but don’t let them paralyze you. In my case, I set a very specific grid, and color palette. The 150px by 150px square became my sandbox to play in with all 20 pre-chosen colors. I created most illustrations within this framework, but broke the rules for a few—some pieces required me to break the grid, or introduce new shades of colors to help convey the idea. If you’ve got a keen eye, you’ll also notice that there are 10 background colors that repeat in order 10 times over — it’s a bit quirky, but it helped me narrow focus for that day — some objects simply don’t look good on say, an orange background. Doing this removed even more choice from the day to day because the background color was already set. This system may be overkill for some, but it allowed me to focus on honing my illustration skills, and remove other unnecessary distraction.

Pattern system, pattern example, and color palette — all created with Sketch

Begin

Quit theorizing. Quit thinking about what could be. Quit complaining. Just do. It’s really easy to get caught up in the what-ifs without ever putting pencil to paper. Not everything needs to be set in stone before you begin — think of this as more of an iterative journey rather than a fully executable plan. Things can shift and change along the way. Being open to that change is what makes this project really great. In my case, the initial 10 days were very energizing, and it was great to see what other people had thought up for their projects since there was a greater group starting on the same day. After about 20 illustrations, I thought this would be cool as a website. After 50, I decided to create a few iPhone cases. After 100, I’m writing this and reflecting about what I’ve done, and how I’ve improved. I didn’t have any of this planned at the beginning of the project, it all happened naturally along the way.

Snazzy iPone case created with Society6

Doing the work

Embrace the consistency

There’s something special about doing something over and over again each day. I remember reading a comment on Reddit a while back about cooking scrambled eggs. The commenter mentioned how he ate the same exact breakfast every morning, preparing the eggs in the same fashion. He didn’t view it as a mundane task, rather, a journey of improvement through a repetitive task. Each day, he got better at preparing the meal. In my case, there was quite a bit of satisfaction here. Some illustrations took 3–4 hours sitting at the coffee shop on a Saturday morning — for instance, the Ableton push illustration (image below) — each element is precisely gridded out, and quite a bit of math was involved in getting everything accurate. In contrast, take a look at the peace sign, which I threw together in about 15 minutes after a late night of drinking. Each situation was unique, and the time constraint of one post per day helped push the project forward — happy to say I never missed a day.

Some illustrations took more time to create than others

Push through the resistance

You’ll probably run into resistance at some point. That initial spark of excitement is gone, and you’re in a creative rut. You’ll have “more important things to do” and “won’t have time”. The truth is, though, is that you need to make time. If Barack Obama has time to go lift weights and do cardio at the gym each morning, you can create one thing a day (and I don’t care how big or small!). Don’t think you’ll be able to? I believe in you. Simplify the project. Set aside time in the morning before your hectic day saps your motivation. Grab the “DO IT” chrome extension (with Shia LaBeouf) for a little extra push (and humor). Like Dwight D. Eisenhower liked to say:

“What is important is seldom urgent.”

Think about a marathon runner — the initial 13.1 miles are great, but once the runner is little over halfway, they have run out of their initial energy, but haven’t tapped into the reserve adrenaline that kicks in when getting closer to the finish line. This follows the “third lap is the hardest” mentality when thinking about a mile run around a track. Refocus can be useful here. In my case, I was most effective early in the morning. Later in the day, I would be burned out from work, and generally less motivated — find what works for you. I ran into a larger slump around day 60–75. The initial excitement about the project was gone. I had already illustrated all of my favorite ideas and was already digging deep to think of more. I went to see a couple of DJs play at Output and Mister Sunday in Brooklyn. I kept my eyes out for objects around the club I could include in the project. This refocus and distraction helped me push through that slump and inform new ideas.

Hone your skills and tools

You’ll start to notice yourself getting better at whatever it is your doing, especially later on in the project looking back towards the early days. Your process will improve, things will become more clear and obvious — repetition is the key to success here. In my case, I usually sketch out an idea very roughly with pencil and paper, then bring the idea into a program called Sketch. I picked up many tips along the way — some obvious, some not so obvious (I can cover this in another, more technical post if there’s interest). I found myself getting more comfortable with mixing and matching colors (something I’ve needed to improve for a while, as most of my previous work is muted and monochromatic), as well as pushing shapes and forms within the framework I’d set up.

Get Messy

Don’t worry so much about perfection while you’re working. Too often, time is wasted polishing something that isn’t even a good idea in the first place. Creating is one thing, editing is another. Albert Einstein once said:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

I hold this true to creative work. It’s all about the process and constantly improving it. While working in this messy state, keep in mind that things can always be cleaned up later. Think of it as a funnel — put ideas and executions at the top, and you can refine everything using the funnel to narrow and focus your ideas as time progresses. You’ll bring consistency to your work, spend less time polishing, and you can’t spell funnel without ‘FUN’! In my case, even though my patterns are very polished looking and precise, they weren’t always this way. I threw out many ideas that just didn’t quite work, and am actually a bit sloppy when creating things — both on paper and in design programs.

One messy Sketch document

Reflecting

Bask in the greatness of completion

Fast forward 100 days. High five to you! You’ve made it. You have 100 pieces fully completed. Take a look back on the weeks, and it will be pretty aparrent that you’ve improved. You’re probably faster, more accurate, and maybe a little bit tired of your subject matter. In my case, I’m feeling pretty good about the project. My skills have improved in form and color palettes, and it’s nice to have 100 completed pieces.

What’s next?

There doesn’t have to be a next — in the end, your skills have improved immensely, you have a great story to tell, and you’re another step in the right direction of leading a creatively fulfilling life. In my case, there’s the sheer satisfaction of creating, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to any monetary value — skills have been improved, and it’s hard to put a price on that. Next — I’m planning to hone my After Effects skills by animating these — follow along on Instagram for updates.

All 100 illustrations
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Visit wallpaperdisco.com to view all of the patterns.
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Fin

I hope this writeup helps clear a path for you to get started on your own 100 Day Project. I’ll leave you with a few other projects that have kept me inspired as I’ve created my own — make sure to check out their Instagram feeds for more! (links listed below).

Other awesome contributions to The 1oo Day Project