Isolation creations: the 10 day art challenge

Credit: Rebecca Scott

Rebecca Scott
Culture Editor

Join Culture Editor Rebecca Scott as she attempts to ground herself in creativity when class cancellations have left her feeling directionless

With classes having now been cancelled for a while, the COVID-19 lockdown is feeling more bleak each day. It seems as though many students have fallen victim to a sleep schedule which can only be described as nocturnal – it’s a miracle if I leave my bed before 5pm at this point. And without the crushing anxiety of having four Moodle deadlines in one week, how am I meant to feel alive?

I, like many others, worry that this period of self-isolation will cause unhealthy coping mechanisms to rear their ugly heads once more – particularly if you’re back living with your parents again. Moving to university was, for so many of us, a catalyst for finally feeling okay. To have that suddenly ripped from beneath your feet, and be living again in the childhood bedroom in which you spent many adolescent nights tormented by your mental health, isn’t quite ideal. 

I’ve found that the best way to combat going back to that negative state of mind is to keep yourself busy – whether that be with re-reading the dog-eared paperbacks collecting dust on your shelf, lugging that out-of-tune guitar down from the attic, or sitting down for an eight-hour Tiger King session. Keeping your mind occupied with other activities is the best way to distract from a peripheral sense of sadness.

One means through which I’ve found some semblance of purpose is through a 10 day art challenge; while I’m far from a professional artist, I loved the idea of committing to something and seeing it through, as well as having something to point to at the end of each day as a token of proof that I actually left bed. So I pulled a list of 10 drawing prompts from the eighth wonder of the world, Pinterest, grabbed a pencil, and started on my merry way.

Day One – self-portrait

This one gave me the most grief of any prompt on the list. As I’m sure anyone who was debilitatingly self-conscious in their formative years can attest to, I don’t know what I look like. My sense of self-identity is so fluid and warped that the concept of having to illustrate a physical version of myself made me almost want to abandon the challenge completely. I obviously didn’t (though wouldn’t that have been fun), but the end result was still bizarre. It didn’t look like me. Now, perhaps I’m just terrible at drawing – a very real possibility – or perhaps I’ve spent the past 20 years disliking my appearance so vehemently that I refuse to recognise any version of it. I don’t quite have the money to finance the therapy required to address that, so we’ll move right along.

Day Two – animal 

Day two brought a quick change of species as I pencilled the humble giraffe. This was probably one of my favourites – I never usually draw animals because the proportions are so finicky that I rage-quit half-way through the initial sketch, but focussing on just the face proved to work a little better. I showed this drawing to my mum who told me that the eyelashes were nice, so we’ll count that as the day’s validation.

Day Three – landscape

After two summers spent painting four-foot-tall banners of landscapes (summer camp hits different), I wanted a step away from drawing mountains/hills/any other topographic variety, and so settled on drawing a view of the Boston Public Library’s courtyard. This one was a geometric dream – a lot of play with perspective, more straight lines than you could shake a stick at, and no shading or tones. Sometimes simplicity gets you the dub after all.

Day Four – seascape

Another day, another line drawing – I did this one during my government-approved cycle to a local beach. My hands were shaking like crazy by the time I’d finished because of just how strong and cold the wind was. Despite missing Glasgow like crazy, the one good thing about living with my parents again is the views of the Clyde and Argyll and Bute on our doorstep. Almost makes up for all my friends now living hundreds of miles away. Almost. 

Day Five – sunset

I’m aware posting a picture instead of, like, actually creating something is the cop out of the century, but to be fair I’d moved out of my flat in Glasgow with about five minutes notice and so didn’t have time to pick up any colouring tools. And I couldn’t do a greyscale line drawing sunset – I’m not quite that mentally untethered just yet. So I threw in a lovely pink-blue sky snap from when I was working in America over the summer and called it a day.

Day Six – flower 

The Gods above heard my yearning for a splash of colour and I miraculously found a yellow marker in my desk drawer. So for day six, I brightened things up by pencilling a daffodil and surrounding it with some Grateful Dead-inspired golden swirl shapes. It really brought some 1970s realness where I needed it most. 

Day Seven – front door

I’m assuming the author of this list was really encouraging you to think outside the box for this prompt – one door closes, another opens; love is an open door; step inside the front door of my heart or whatever. There’s for sure a lot of imagery to play around. But this was a hard day (one of the aforementioned ones where I didn’t get out of bed until dinner time), and so I stood outside at 11pm, did a total freehand of the front of my house with a biro pen, and called it a day. Coloured in the windows with my trusty yellow marker afterwards to brighten the drawing up (and because standing outside looking in always makes a place look more comfortable).

Day Eight – anything 

Having complete free reign of today’s prompt was possibly the worst thing that could’ve happened – I need to be told what to do at all times otherwise I have a breakdown. The trolley experiment was a nightmare for me. Anyways, I landed on drawing the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag after briefly hearing the eponymous Metallica song on MTV, once again making sweet use out of the yellow marker for the drawing’s background. I decided to replace the Don’t Tread On Me with the Vampire Weekend lyrics “I don’t want to live like this / But I don’t want to die” as a cry to COVID-19 and its lockdown. Enjoy your pandemic, you pathetic little virus.

Day Nine – space 

Another instance of a prompt holding an endless array of possibilities and my uninspired self opting for the most basic concept: a standard pencil sketch of Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. I did some background reading and found out the original photo was a candid taken by Neil Armstrong. I then spent the next two hours looking up Wikipedia pages about NASA missions.

Day Ten – a piece of art you like

One instantly came to mind as soon as I saw this prompt – The Goldfish, painted by Henri Matisse in 1912. I was disappointed that my lack of colouring tools meant I couldn’t do my rendition justice (not like I ever could have anyway, who am I kidding), so I settled for a quick five-minute pencil sketch. It’s hard to force yourself to stop working on something when you’re such a perfectionist, but it’s high time to learn that less if very often more – particularly when it comes to Matisse.

And so the 10 days came to an end. If you’re looking for something to commit to, I feel like this challenge is a really fun one, and isn’t too excessively long like some of the other ones floating around Instagram. It’s genuinely interesting, as well, to watch how your work ethic changes throughout the days – I spent almost three hours on my self-portrait on day one, but by day 10, was much more inclined to just sketch and focus more on the bigger picture rather than minute details. 

If you need something to draw your mind away from the pandemic and the accompanying endless stream of bad news being filtered straight to your phone, who knows – picking up a pencil and shading in a daffodil might just do the trick.


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