31 Paintings In 31 Days – Shall We?

(Updated September 2020)

Soooooooo….the decision has been made – I’m all in for the 31 pastel paintings in 31 days challenge!! It begins 1st October and goes for the whole 31 days of October. And I am hoping YOU will join me!! Come on over to the HowToPastel Facebook group and say ‘YES!! I’m in!”

The idea of doing 31 paintings in 31 days is actually freaking me out a bit.


The challenge means I have to put pastel to paper. Every. Single. Day. For 31 days.

This means figuring out how to fit pastelling in with everything else I need to do. Guess that means more is going to slip off the table. Sigh.

Seems like it would be best to have a plan. So this blog is to help us get ready for the challenge!!

Materials Preparation

It will help to have enough paper on hand, ready to grab on a daily basis. Since you may change formats as you go, it’s best to have at least 15 squares of say 6 x 6 inches cut as well as at least 15 pieces of 9 x 12 in or whatever size is comfortable for you. You may want to work large on occasion (or through the whole challenge!) but for me I know it will be best to keep it small. The thing is, you want to do one piece per day.

You may want to take this opportunity to try out different papers. Do you have a stash of odd sheets that you have been meaning to try? This is the time!!!

Also, you may want to work on unusual formats. Say you always work 9 x 12 in. Perhaps try squares. Perhaps try 1:2 ratio like 6 x 12 in.

Or whatabout those paintings that didn’t work out as well as planned? Why not scrub them down (with a bristle brush for instance) and work over the greyed surface?

And of course have plenty of pastels on hand! Again, maybe take this chance to try out different brands from the ones you usually use, or try colours not normally in your palette. (More on this below.)

Mindset for 31 paintings in 31 days!

I want you to think of this time as an excuse to explore, to try new things, to take risks! Amazing things can happen when unpredictability pushes its way into the picture. Or not. And that’s perfectly okay. Because it’s through the doing and the experimenting, that growth happens. And that’s what this 31 paintings in 31 days is about – to move your work forward and see where the experience takes you.

The paintings don’t need to be big, or finished, or perfect. The point is to get pastel on paper (or whatever – why not try canvas?) every single day for 31 days.

Let’s think of this as play! How about 31 playings in 31 days? It’s not about making perfect paintings. It’s not about making judgements negative or even positive. It’s about doing the work.

And doubt. That’s gonna come up for sure. That despicable little – actually, big – voice that may pop up and tell you how useless you are and why not quit while you’re ahead. Just acknowledge the voice and say thanks and then keep going until 1st Nov when we can all take a deep breath and celebrate.

Who knows, the habit may be integrated and you’ll keep going. Great! But for heavens sake don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. And the same goes for missing a day, or two, or five during the Challenge. Really. It doesn’t matter! There’s always the next day to put pastel to paper. So don’t sweat it. Just make a commitment to yourself and the rest of us in FB group that you’re going to go for this. Okay?

31 paintings in 31 days: "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." Orson Welles
(Quote placed over: Mark Rothko, “Untitled,” 1970, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 57 1/8 in, National Gallery, Washington DC, USA)

Some ideas to get you going for 31 paintings in 31 days

I think the idea of setting some limitations is a good one. It will help with the blank canvas syndrome – the ‘uh oh, what am I going to paint today?’ thought.

You might want to use the entire time to work with one subject – try it in different colours, in different formats, with different lighting, from different angles, in different contexts, with different brands of pastels. It could be as simple as a favourite white mug, or a bit more complex like a chair or sunflowers, or a real challenge like a self-portrait or ____  [you fill in the blank].

You could spend 7-8 days on one exploration. For instance, if you have different brands of pastels you could decide on 7-8 subjects and do each subject four times through the month each time using a different brand of pastel.

Or you could spend 7-8 days pushing your creativity with a small selection of colours which you change up each week.

Or you could pick a new subject or idea to investigate each day. Just make an ideas list, pick a new idea each day, select your pastels and paper, and go! Some thoughts are exploring Dogs. Or 31 self-portraits. Or 31 paintings with your non-dominant hand. Or what about using the Alphabet to guide you (A for.., B for…)? Or numbers?

Here are 31 ideas to get you started

  1. A monochromatic painting (use one colour in lights, mid and dark values – and only one colour)
  2. Self portrait
  3. A painting inspired by Wolf Kahn (or any favourite artist – doesn’t have to be a pastellist)
  4. High key painting
  5. Low key painting
  6. The book you’re reading (yes, paint the actual book!)
  7. Set the timer for 15 mins (or 10, or 5!)
  8. Cutlery
  9. Extreme closeup of something
  10. Do something inspired by the work of one of How To Pastel’s guest bloggers (just check the category ‘Featured Artists – In Their Own Words‘)
  11. A vase of flowers from an unusual angle
  12. Paint a subject in a colour that it isn’t (like a purple apple)
  13. Make marks solely inspired by the music you’re listening to
  14. A favourite place in your home
  15. Fruit with a bite out of it
  16. Your favourite flower
  17. The first thing you see when you wake in the morning
  18. A view of your garden or balcony or out the window
  19. An abstract inspired by Mark Rothko’s later pieces (play with blocks of colour!)
  20. Something that includes text
  21. Use colours you usually avoid
  22. Something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy
  23. Something that makes you think, ‘Why would anyone paint this?’
  24. Your pet if you have one and if you don’t have a pet, some of the animal life around you in nature
  25. An idea – e.g. peace
  26. Use randomly picked colours (from three values)
  27. A portrait of someone you love or admire in 50 strokes
  28. A nude (for online possibilities, click here.)
  29. A memory from childhood
  30. A scene from a trip you’ve made in the past
  31. Make marks you usually don’t – if you always use the side of the pastel, use the tip, and vice versa

So? Are you in? Are you going to join me on the 31 pastel paintings in 31 days challenge?? I do hope so. Like I said, it’s about putting pastel to paper, not about making a perfect finished painting.

Do you have ideas? Then please leave it in the Comments. Let’s build a library of suggestions!!

Come on over to the HowToPastel Facebook page where we will all be posting out daily work.

Oh, and because I’ve been wanting to do some LIVE streaming, I’ll be getting on FB Live every now and again to show you what I’m up to and answer any questions. GULP!

Until next time!

~ Gail

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28 thoughts on “31 Paintings In 31 Days – Shall We?”

        1. Iris I know what you mean! Good words those – courage and discipline. Good luck with keeping your materials out of the hands of your grandson 🙂

  1. I just completed a 30/30 Challenge for September, it was exhilarating! Not ready to do another challenge right now but hope you consider doing again next year. Painting every day really heightens your awareness of all the pastels you have at your fingertips and how they react to one another, to underpaintings, to a variety of papers. Best of luck to you and your many followers in this exciting October challenge.

    1. Thanks for your comment Karole -so encouraging to everyone who’s going to take up the challenge!

      I had originally thought of doing this in November or January but in the end I just thought ‘Get on with it!’.

  2. I’m in! My paintings probably won’t be posted every day but I need to do this. I’ve been painting flowers all summer and there is nothing blooming in northern Wisconsin right now. So I’m doing this challenge to get out of this slump and try new subjects. It’s going to be fun!

  3. It’s very tempting, Gail! I did that in January, 30/30 challenge by Leslie Saeta. I wanted to start getting back to the easel every day, after getting distracted after the holiday season, and it worked. I kept up for about half a month, then life got in a way, but it got me into working-every-day routine, so mission was accomplished. For me, it’s a great way to make a lot of color studies – I usually do that on about 5″x7″
    I’m still on a fence about the October though, it’s a tough month for me, a lot going on, maybe I’ll try anyway, I’ll just keep it very small format and quick, and maybe give myself no more than an hour, it might be a fun limitation to explore 🙂

    1. Lana I think you’ve got the right idea -small and a specific timeframe. Limitations really are helpful!

      The thing about life is it’s always busy and sometimes grabbing the opportunity when it presents itself is the thing to do. Remember the only pressure is from yourself and your self-commitment. No one else is going to judge whether or not you do this everyday. You’ve experienced the benefits of taking a challenge like this so I hope that will encourage you to join 😄

  4. Gail,
    I’ve never done a 30 day challenge , but I am going to do this one. I have a workshop I am attending in mid October so this will help get me warmed up for that too. I doubt I will post, but I have a friend who said she would hold me accountable.
    I am really enjoying your blog posts!

    1. Sally that’s great! It will be interesting to see how the workshop affects your work for the 31/31 challenge. Don’t be shy about posting but if you really don’t feel comfortable, you can just write a “I did it” under the day’s thread.
      And thank you 🙂

    1. Micheline, the challenge is over but yes, please feel free to do it yourself. I am hoping to make the 31 in 31 challenge an annual event so will be happy to see you with the group next year!!

  5. Thanks for this opportunity. I have seen these challenges come up before and was always going to start. Now I have and at the same time as your IGNITE! classes which I am way behind on.. thanks for all your time.

    1. I’m so glad you are joining us this year for the Challenge. It really is an amazing (if sometimes exasperating!) experience that can bring about momentum and growth on your artwork!

      Don’t worry about not getting to IGNITE! claases ….they are all there when you have some breathing room 😀

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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