Schedule a Scary and Extraordinary Art Project

It’s scary to step up – to think bigger about what you’re capable of.

There’s very little motivation in the daily grind: check Facebook, post to Instagram, send a newsletter, write a blog post, work in studio. If you’re not careful, you’ll continue to go through the motions of life without doing something extraordinary for your art and for yourself.

©Joey Feldman, Vicious. Pen and ink on paper, 28 x 20 inches. Used with permission
©Joey Feldman, Vicious. Pen and ink on paper, 28 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

Give yourself a challenge that motivates you to get out of bed and into the studio every day. Take on a quest.

Anatomy of a Quest (with Examples)

According to Chris Guillebeau, author of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, a quest has the following elements.

1. A clear goal and specific end point.

Chris’s personal quest, which he accomplished in 2013, was to visit every country in the world by the time he was 35. A woman in his book that couldn’t travel as much as she’d like, cooks a meal from a different country every week to teach her children about other cultures.

2. Presents a clear challenge.

You can’t complete a quest in a week or even a month. Make something every day for 30 days? Most artists could do this. What about doing it for 1 year? Or a lifetime?

A quest would be along the line of what artist Kirsty Hall did for The Diary Project. For one year (2007), she drew on one envelope every day, inserted something secret inside, and mailed it to herself. All 365 envelopes remain sealed until they can be exhibited as a whole artwork.

In 2011, Kirsty filled a new jar every day with drawings, objects, and tiny pieces of art before going on a walk to “release an art jar into the wild.” She then kept track of who found which jar.

Kirsty Hall's envelope from The Diary Project
©Kirsty Hall, 30th September from The Diary Project. Drawing on envelope. Used with permission.

Kirsty, who calls herself a purveyor of mad obsessive projects, says, “I have discovered that I will do pretty much anything as long as it’s for an art project.”

3. Requires sacrifice of some kind.

Chris writes, “To pursue a big dream, you must give something up along the way.”

It’s impossible to have it all. We can build a little balance into our lives, but when your goal is quest-sized, you must make hard choices about what is important to you.

Photographer Thomas Hawk, featured in The Happiness of Pursuit, defines his quest like this:

I’m trying to publish a library of 1,000,000 hand crafted, lovingly created, individually finished and processed photographs before I die.

This big goal means he has to forego other activities. “It’s a constant tug-of-war between competing interests in my life. I deal with it the best I can and try to roll with the tension as best I can.”

Thomas Hawk photograph of box cars
©Thomas Hawk, Little Wing. Photograph. Used under the Creative Commons License.

4. Is driven by a calling or sense of mission.

“It is often expressed simply as a deep sense of internal purpose,” as Chris says. The people in the book are deeply committed to their quests.

You can’t begin a quest without being pumped to get going. You can certainly change the quest, but your chances of success are slim if you’re not excited about it, and if it’s not a little scary.

Chris cautioned us in his author talk: “The goal is to find meaning in the quest, not to succeed at any cost. If it sucks, give up.”

5. Requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal.

The tracking of numbers seems to be a valuable aspect of successful quests since numbers show progress.
Elise Blaha Cripe
For years Elise Blaha Cripe wrote on her blog  e v e r y   s i n g l e   d a y – sharing her art and creative business. She writes:

I love this entrepreneur life. I’ve signed on to it because it’s inspiring to be working towards a finish line that moves. If that finish line stops moving, I’ll know it’s time to pack up my desk and find a new career path.

Your Quest

So, what’s it going to be? Where is your next finish line?

As you go through your week, pay attention to what motivates you, especially if a few butterflies land in your tummy. Yep, it’s scary, so it must be worth doing.

I’ve helped many artists forge their paths and find clarity about their direction at our live workshops and I’d love to help you!

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46 thoughts on “Schedule a Scary and Extraordinary Art Project”

  1. I laughed at this. Here I am facing the enormous challenge of taking care of my mother with advanced Alzheimers. This more than eight year still ongoing experience has taught me that I can do anything. For caregivers the challenge is not inspiration but exhaustion. We don’t need more challenges, we need energy and confidence. The former is difficult sometimes but only by recognizing our caregiving accomplishments and celebrating them will we be able to gain this confidence.
    So how does this apply here? By accepting the challenge of caregiving a person with dementia, I have become able to succeed at the next steps of being a self-representing artist. I will be attending Art Biz Makeover in Golden Colorado and I know I will come away with clearer plans/systems/etc that I can implement to garner a real income from my art.
    I have dealt with the Department of Social Services. I should be able to confront my fear of rejection from anyone in the art field or simply interested in art. My work is truly excellent. I think artists need to accept the quality of their work before they can really be successful.
    My next finish line? You know, I really have to think about that. I see progressing, not finishing.

    1. I’ve thought about scary and extraordinary and I realized my biggest fear is approaching a curator or buyer and being told my work sucks. I don’t know why I had to think so hard about this given that auditioning when I was a ballerina was equally frightening. I did it though, so I can do this.
      Approaching these people with my work is what I am scheduling. This is exceptionally scary.
      Now I need to get said work organized so I can choose which pieces I want to represent either my growth or where I am going as an artist. My present focus does not yet have a sufficient number of pieces to show on its own.

    2. Wow Patricia, and here I’m in a dip tonight because of my financial situation and my constant struggle to keep head above water, how insignificant is my problems compared to your situation…
      Love to you… x

    3. Patricia, I cared for my mother for eight years too, from early stage to very advanced Alzheimer’s. I took a year off from my job near the end, but “made time” to do some art a few days a week. It was my outlet to do something for “me”. Now that she’s gone, I think I’m a stronger person. You never know how strong you are until you have to be. Good thoughts to you!

  2. This book inspired me – I even blogged about it and declared a quest myself. I am currently reading through the United States – a book by an author from every state – which I’m read alphabetically. I started with Alabama! I am going to declare another quest soon, still toying with other ideas – but I think it will involve and art challenge for the year 2015!
    I was so enthralled with the book – I have committed to reading The Odyssey!

  3. Chris’ book has been an inspiration to me also. For me, getting past my seemingly numerous “artists blocks” is a challenge. My quest: doing an outdoor sketch (w/color) everyday (almost).

    1. Almost was my tongue-in-cheek reference to a “Daily Painting” website where the writer does not require absolute adherence to a completed painting each day, but working on a painting each day. Kind of like “I’d rather be in the studio”

  4. I’ve been following an intuition to try a new medium. I’ve done some of the steps mentioned in the article, but I probably haven’t created an end goal. So far it is — see how things go! Today I’m considering scaring myself into a commitment to create something new for a small downtown exhibition in January. Yikes!

  5. The action I’m taking to scare myself requires putting myself and process out on front street entirely by planning to add a “HIRE ME” button on my website for “LIVE” painting requests. This is totally the opposite of me and the way I create. (Usually in solitude). Good Article.

  6. Ok, time to set an end date. October 31, 1915. The project has been on/off for several years, recently I’ve become excited by it again. I’m writing a coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of a flu pandemic.
    Now to go read this book by Chris (I’ve loved his previous).

  7. OK; I can make what I am doing already into more of a quest; and I have one day to fine-tune it a little. I love to do small work, usually in pen-and-ink. I will incorporate it into my collage/assemblage/mixed media paintings, but I like the envelope idea. if I don’t actually mail the work, I can still seal each piece in an envelope. Since collage is part of what I do, I can also cut up existing work (scary!!) and package it somehow so it becomes something entirely new by Hallowween of 2015. I can do this!

  8. It’s funny because in the post I left here last week, I mentioned how the project I am working on now is scary and that what I’ve discovered about myself is that I like scary. Scary makes me feel alive. I know I’m not the only one who is attracted to scary, and truly understand why someone wouldn’t like it, but how else can you feel your hearbeat (without reaching down and feeling your pulse)?

  9. Hi Alyson,
    Your post has inspired me to write to you about my “Colour Project” . In 2012 I decided to embark on a year long self directed project. I chose a colour for each month and then every single day for the whole year I did something in that chosen colour. I researched a little at the begining of each month and then made work samples mostly in textiles each day in that colour. Every day, through holidays, birthdays, sick days… I now have four large folders full of samples of a huge variety of techniques I had been wanting to try. I have blogged the process and results on my website. It was a big commitment. I still worked towards exhbitions during this time and some of these samples were made at 11pm when I remembered after a very busy day! One of the great things about the project was that it settled down my want to try every new technique or product that came along. I feel it really helped me to consolidate my textile practice.

    1. Catherine Parkinson

      I love your work. It is absolutely beautiful!!! I also love your quest. What a great idea.

  10. Lyna Lou Nordstrom

    Hi Alyson!
    What great timing! I have to think on that to formulate my project clearly. My first idea is that I want to create a new Solarplate etching each week or every two as I prepare for a solo show I just was awarded for Spring 2015. My theme is Family Values so I will be developing Solarplate etchings from family photos. I am very excited to have this goal to work toward for Spring!!
    Also, I am going to track down that book!
    Lyna Lou

  11. This post has been on my mind since I first saw it the other day, Alyson. You’ve confirmed to me that I need a quest. Enough dilly dallying! I have absolutely no idea what me next quest will be, but I’ll give myself a period of grace (until the new year!) to work it out! Thanks as always for your motivating posts.

  12. …I am taken by this concept. I need a quest. I do. Right now I’m plugging away at the marketing and preparatory demands of the upcoming holiday season. I’m anticipating commissions and sales, and none of that has the magic…the spark of creating, chasing, dreaming. Ironic, to be writing this on an artist business-focused blog! 😉 But GOSH I need a quest.
    I’m currently experimenting with creating interactive coloring/activity pages for adults. A way for others to tap into their creativity in playful exploratory ways. But even this “quest” is others’ focused. It’s not the same. I need an internal quest “just because I want it.”
    Time to stop rambling and go see what other commenters are doing for quests.
    Thank you for this post. It’s tapped into something deep in me. The adventurer, the explorer, the discoverer.

  13. I never really thought about a quest, but in a way, that is what I am doing. I have been a representational artist for 30 years. During and following some difficult years helping my husband through illness, I began to paint more abstract. The scary part is putting that work out there, having been known for so long for my realistic work. I am starting to feel more confident to show the abstract work and I see it starting to form a series. I see it continuing for at least a while. Strangely enough, I just titled my latest abstract last night prior to reading this. And the title is…”Quest”!

  14. Ok. You have me hooked. Starting today I will take one photograph a day of a closeup of my pottery process or something in my studio for one month.This is a baby step but we gotta start somewhere!

  15. I absolutely agree with this idea of setting big goals and quests.
    last year I decided to paint 50 paintings in 50 different public location in the quest to “Get myself out there” I documented my journey – all the up’s, down’s, opportunities and life changing discoveries and published it all in a book. This year I set myself a rather frivolous goal to paint 100 funky chickens add funny quotes and again publish my work in a book of “Chicken Wisdom” I have completed 30 of my chicken paintings (in-between commissions and more serious art projects) but I am determined to complete the challenge

  16. I love the quest concept. I’ve done 30 days, 30 faces and other challenges in the past, but it’s time I chose a new one. My first thought is 50 portraits in a year. If the subjects want the portrait for themselves, there would be no charge, but I would ask for a donation of $100 to a non-profit organization. I’ll let this circulate in my brain for a while. Thoughts?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Laura: I love this as a start, but my suggestion is to make it about more than numbers. Who else could you involve?

  17. This quest idea has landed quite on time! I believe “ man perished through lack of vision , and that perishing is not a body dying , but hope, excitement , interest, originality…. I have become bored with my art at frequent intervals and keep changing my style, I do think a quest will keep the experimental alive while allowing me to stay interested. I am creating a quest to walk every day with new awareness and paint a bird, everyday for 3 months, depicting my experience ( humorous, sad, tough, windy …) I will post on Instagram. Thank you for your brilliant gift

  18. Are you reading my mind? I have had the very same 4-6 projects circling my “big ideas” calendar for over 2 years. I am a master at putzing around and organizing every inch of the studio, without a thing to show for it beyond a organized studio. Ha! How to pick ONE idea and move forward?

  19. Pingback: Pushing Through Your Doubt - Selling Wholesale To Gift and Retail Shops

  20. Alyson,
    Why is your timing always so perfect? I was ready to give it up on July 2. Formerly, I had declared when I started ABS that I would do all I can to use my art to contribute a % of my sales to St. Jude Childtrn’s Hospital to help save the lives of children with cancer. As a former Hospice Nurse, this has been my burden for years.

    My artist daughter and family visited us from Seattle on July 3rd while I was in the ‘pits”. She went through my portfolios and scolded me to get back to painting the abstract art I was always successful at. So, I am taking on this challenge to get back that former art quality I had, and to keep my eyes on my goal to help babies who are suffering from cancer treatment. Thank you for that prompt Alyson, and also to my Su for shaking me to wake up and ‘do the work’.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Marsh: Oh no! I hate hearing that you were going to give it up. Use our community that you’re a part of to keep up the momentum. xoxo

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