Preparing For The Challenge: 31in31 Fast Approaches!

I can hardly believe we are approaching our 8th Annual 31-Pastels-in-31-Days Challenge. Imagine!! We’ve been doing this for EIGHT years! Wow. For some, this will be their first time participating in the Challenge so I thought I’d create a post about preparing for the challenge. You can use these 11 tips to prepare for any Challenge you might take part in whether it’s your own self-set one or an organized one like our October 31-in-31. The point right now is to get you well set up for a fabulous 31in31 Challenge experience!

Let’s get to it!

Embarking on a creative journey as ambitious as the “31-Pastels-in-31-Days” Challenge is an exhilarating and, at the same time, anxiety-provoking prospect. The goal of creating one pastel painting each day throughout the month of October is a test of personal dedication. 

To ensure a successful and fulfilling experience, it’s essential to prepare. Here are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success, from gathering the right materials to cultivating the right mindset. By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to take on the Challenge with confidence and a clear plan of action. Yeah!! 💪

Preparing for the Challenge: Four of my pastels paintings from the 2016 31in31 Challenge (Our first one)
Four of my pastels paintings from the 2016 31in31 Challenge (Our first one). Some available

Physical Preparation

1. Gather Your Materials 

In preparing for the Challenge, one of the best things you can do is assemble all the necessary art supplies. Consider carefully the amount of paper you will need (you have 31 days ahead of you!) and make sure to have it ALL on hand before the start of the Challenge. Staying with the same size and format saves a lot of time. For example, decide to work square and perhaps work on 6 x 6 in and 10 x 10 in.

An idea is to collect some of your unsuccessful paintings and brush off the pastel (you can even wash off the pastel if the paper allows). Then cut these to size. Repurposing paper relieves us of the preciousness we can sometimes attach to untouched paper!

And what soft pastels will you use? What about using a specific set of pastels? I’ve done Challenges that helped me choose the sticks to include in my Unison Colour 36-piece set.

You could decide to only use colours you never pick up. Or perhaps you’re determined to stick to a limited palette. In that case, choose the maximum number of pastels you’ll use and stick to it! (This doesn’t mean you can’t change colours between daily paintings – it means you can only choose x-number of sticks per painting.)

Give some thought to your materials NOW. Preparing for the challenge means ensuring you have an ample supply of pastels and paper to last the entire duration of this artistic marathon! This will not only save you time but also allow you to fully immerse yourself in the creative process without the distraction of needing to decide on what to paint with or restock. You want to avoid the frustration and disruption that can result from running out of supplies mid-month!! The plan is to eliminate any potential interruptions to your creative flow.

Preparing for the Challenge: An example from the 2017 31in31 Challenge - Gail Sibley, "Pula Rooftop," Unison Colour pastels on Pastel Premier Italian Clay, 10 x 12 in
An example from the 2017 31in31 Challenge – Gail Sibley, “Pula Rooftop,” Unison Colour pastels on Pastel Premier Italian Clay, 10 x 12 in. Sold.

2. Prepare Your Workspace

It’s really important in preparing for the challenge to make sure you prepare your environment whether it’s in your studio (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or a dedicated corner of a room. A clutter-free and comfortable workspace can greatly enhance your productivity and overall artistic experience.

Also imperative is to make sure you have everything at your finger tips. If you have to put everything away at the end of the day only to need to pull it out every morning, you’ll find this starts to become a barrier and an excuse not to get painting! Have your paper cut and at the ready. Make sure your pastels are at hand. If this is usually tricky to do because of a small shared space, ask others around for their understanding. Let them know the Challenge is important to you and that it will help you be successful if you have your supplies ready and easily available. Get them onboard for your artistic growth! 

3. Set Up a Schedule

The creation of a well-defined schedule that outlines when you’ll dedicate time to your art each day is paramount. 

Decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to the Challenge. Yes, be realistic!! If you think, I only can spare 15 mins a day, then commit to that. If you have an hour – fantastic! But make sure you can truly allocate that hour each day! Of course, some days you may have 15 mins, others, an hour.

Choose the time of day that works best for you. Remember, your art-making time doesn’t have to be at the same time every day but it can help. The thing is to put it all in your calendar before the Challenge starts. Create a timeslot for the 31in31 Challenge for every day of October. Whether you choose to paint in the tranquil hours of the morning, the lazy afternoon, or the quiet of evening, adhering to a consistent timetable will help you establish a rhythm and ensure you stick to your commitment. 

You need to strike a balance between your artistic endeavours and other responsibilities as life has a way of encroaching on this thing we call art. Again, this comes back to being realistic with time allocation!

Put it all in your paper or/and digital Calendar. These are daily immutable appointments!

Preparing for the Challenge: Three of my pastels paintings from the 2018 31in31 Challenge
Three of my pastels paintings from the 2018 31in31 Challenge. Sold.

Mental Preparation

4. Choose Subjects in Advance

Having a sense of what subjects you’ll paint is critical to a successful Challenge. It’s easy to let dithering and indecision get in the way of getting down to work. When you know what you are going to paint, you move into the work quickly. And that’s what you need on this 31-day stretch! 

Some ideas to help you choose your subjects. You might consider a word or idea prompt each day – make that list NOW. What about using the Alphabet as a way to think of your daily painting (a few letters short of 31 days but you can be creative!), or perhaps use numbers to guide you. You may consider exploring one or two subjects through the month. Or what about exploring a set of pastels or colours you’ve not used before. Remember that setting up certain restrictions can free your creativity! For more ideas on what to paint, check out the blog I wrote before our very first Challenge!

As you embark on the journey of this art challenge, it really is invaluable to preselect subjects or themes that will serve as your creative compass throughout the month. Craft a list of potential subjects or ideas that resonate with your artistic sensibilities. 

In preparing for the challenge, I love to have a sketchbook of thumbnails ready to work from. That way, so much of the hard work is already done!

Having this pre-established pool of ideas at your disposal minimizes the mental burden of daily decision-making which in turn means you get to painting faster.

    5. Process Not Outcome

    It’s essential to remind yourself that not every day’s artistic output needs to be a masterpiece. This can be hard but it’s uber important!! Focus on the doing, not the result. This about Pastel To Paper – make this your daily mantra!! 

    Embrace the idea that some days may mean sketches or simpler compositions. Setting realistic expectations ensures that you don’t succumb to the pressures of perfectionism, enabling you to stay engaged with the creative process and avoid creative burnout. (And this is a real thing in the 31 Pastels in 31 Days Challenge!)

    Embrace the ebb and flow of creativity, knowing that each piece contributes to your overall progress and development as an artist. That’s what the Challenge is aaaaallll about!

    Preparing for the Challenge: An example from the 2019 31in31 Challenge - Gail Sibley, "Straight Ahead," Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 6 x 6 in
    An example from the 2019 31in31 Challenge – Gail Sibley, “Straight Ahead,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 6 x 6 in. Sold.

    6. Break It Down

    One way to make sure you stay the course is to break down the period of the Challenge into sections. This could be four weeks for example. Each week, you congratulate yourself for having got this far and then perhaps move on to another subject or mini challenge you’ve set yourself.

    Perhaps the breakdown is into weekdays and weekends. Do you have more time on the weekends to allot to a larger more complex painting leaving the weekdays for shorter timed pieces? Perhaps your days are divided into times when you care for grandchildren or aging parents and these days you know you can only do quick work. This could be an opportunity to try working more loosely. Again, see how you can break down the days before the Challenge starts.

    Mental preparation for a Challenge is half the battle!

    7. Stay Inspired

    To fuel your artistic momentum, maintain a wellspring of inspiration throughout this challenge. You may do that by immersing yourself in a world of artistic stimuli. Consider following fellow artists on social media platforms, exploring local art galleries, or delving into books and documentaries dedicated to pastel art. Engaging with diverse artistic expressions and perspectives can ignite your own creative imagination and offer fresh insights that infuse vitality into your work.

    Creative stimuli can also come from outside the art realm. A daily walk can clear the mind and release creative ideas. Reading a novel can do the same. Social interactions with friends may be the break you need from art-making. 

    Make sure to plan these activities into your day before the Challenge begins. Will these activities come before or after your daily painting?

    Preparing for the Challenge: Example from 2020 31in31 Challenge - Gail Sibley, "Matching Reds," Unison Colour pastels on UART280, 5 x 5 in
    Example from 2020 31in31 Challenge – Gail Sibley, “Matching Reds,” Unison Colour pastels on UART280, 5 x 5 in. Sold

    8. Consider Journalling

    To maintain a record of your artistic journey through the Challenge, why not keep a dedicated journal or sketchbook by your side. Within its pages, jot down not only your ideas and concepts but also your reflections on each day’s experience.

    Documenting your creative journey provides a valuable resource for self-assessment and refinement. It allows you to track your artistic evolution, recognize patterns in your work, and identify areas where you can experiment and grow as an artist. It’s also a great dumping ground for any negative thoughts that pop up!

    If you decide to journal then make sure to have it ready to go before the Challenge begins! And have your chosen writing implement close at hand.

    9. Understand There’s A Rhythm To The Challenge

    This is the usual rhythm I experience: 

    First week – gung-ho with the energy that comes from accepting the challenge. We are in the stage of determined commitment!

    The second week brings a slower pace. That initial thrust has waned and keeping to the daily path gets a bit more difficult.

    By the third week, ohhhh the going gets tough, no doubt about it! This is the time where life starts to encroach, to demand your attention because yes, the Challenge means making shifts and sacrifices. One thing that helps me stay the course is seeing the work accumulate. It gives me the strength to recommit and keep going! Also, I keep reminding myself – this about pastel to paper not about brilliant work. A fast sketch will fill the bill!

    The final week, I can see the finish line. I get a surge of “yes-I-can-do-this!” energy. I’m not about to quit when the end is so close. The countdown begins and the elation of doing the work comes with it! We can see what we’re capable and can delight in our success. Because success is pastel to paper daily rather than some fabulous outcome. It’s lovely to have beautiful results for our efforts, and you will have those pleasurable successes but that’s NOT the purpose of the challenge. The purpose is to get to painting each day come hell or high water! YES!!

    I wrote about this rhythm after last year’s Challenge.

    Preparing for the Challenge: An example from the 2021 31in31 Challenge - Gail Sibley, "Time to Go - Dog Walker series," Unison Colour pastels on UART 320, 4 x 10 in
    An example from the 2021 31in31 Challenge – Gail Sibley, “Time to Go – Dog Walker series,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 320, 4 x 10 in. Sold

    10. Set Yourself Up With Rewards

    It’s easy to forget to reward ourselves! I know planning and doing this is not my forte but this year I’ve promised myself to get better at honouring my commitment!

    When preparing for the challenge, I suggest pre-deciding some rewards. They will help develop and establish the habit of daily painting. These can be small (or not so small!) daily rewards – how about giving yourself permission to sit and read a novel in the afternoon for 15 mins (I’d like that!) – or quarterly rewards (a movie date perhaps!). One fabulous reward at the end is also a great idea but be sure to drop in some small yes-I-did-it! rewards along the way.

    11. Accountability

    Preparing for the Challenge means finding ways to help you stick to your commitment. One of the best ways to do this is to make a public declaration to do the Challenge! You can do this by telling family and friends (and if you do, you need a way to check in with them or have them checkin with you) or let the world know by posting on social media. Then be accountable to your global community by posting your images! (Use the hashtag #31in31htp2023 so we can all see what you’re up to!) And of course you can post in the HowToPastel Facebook Group. We stop accepting new members through October but if you read this near the beginning of the Challenge, when you’re answering the entry questions, please put in CAPS – “I want to join the Challenge!”

    Accountability WILL keep you moving forward. And remember, don’t ever feel you need to apologise for something you feel isn’t your best work. The Challenge is about turning up every day to put pastel to paper. Posting your work shows this commitment!

    Preparing for the Challenge: An example from the 2022 31in31 Challenge - Gail Sibley, "The Breath of Thought - Gallery Goer Series," Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 8 x 12 in.
    An example from the 2022 31in31 Challenge – Gail Sibley, “The Breath of Thought – Gallery Goer Series,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400, 8 x 12 in. Available

    And Finally…

    As October fast approaches (it’s just around the corner!), you stand on the cusp of a remarkable artistic adventure. Preparing for the challenge means you are armed with the tools and mindset needed to excel in the 31-Pastels-in-31-Days Challenge. 

    Remember that this journey is not about producing artwork; it’s about creative growth, creating a painting habit, and pushing your boundaries as an artist. By preparing for the challenge both physically and mentally, you’ll pave the way for a month filled with inspiration, discovery, and accomplishment. And a reminder – this isn’t a race. It’s an opportunity to pastel, to go deep into your work, to truly be in your art practice. And, if you have to miss a day, give yourself grace to do so. And thenpaint the following day. Always recall the purpose of the Challenge…to get you painting regularly. It’s about pastel to paper.

    Embrace each day with enthusiasm, allow yourself the freedom to experiment, and most importantly, relish in the joy of creating art. Know that there will be ups and downs but you have it in you to push through. Your pastel paintings this October will be a testament to your passion, perseverance, and boundless artistic potential. YES!!!

    I’d LOVE to know if this was helpful!! And…are you going to participate in the Challenge this year?? Let me know in the Comments 😁

    Until next time,

    ~ Gail

    PS. To help you in preparing for the challenge, this post may inspire you. I wrote it after our first 31in31 Challenge. I asked those who participated in the Challenge to submit what they thought were the BENEFITS of doing the Challenge and I included them all in the post.

    You may also enjoy this post I wrote about exploring a single subject. And this one about working with a theme.

    Related Posts

    Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

    Take a course

    Like my Blogs?

    Do you like the blog?

    Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!


    18 thoughts on “Preparing For The Challenge: 31in31 Fast Approaches!”

        1. TORN
          I love this idea and it will help solidify my commitment to get painting each day.
          It will help me speed up and loosen up.
          Encourage experimenting with new techniques
          AND I already know what reward I would choose (buying a different brand of paper to try).
          I have some paintings that will take me longer than a day that I really want to focus on while I’m inspired.
          But bearing that in mind I can commit to at least a thumbnail colour study a day. OK I’m in. YES I would love to take part.
          Maybe I will surprise myself.

          1. YES!!! and YAY!!! Glad you’re in Melanie!
            I too have some more complex paintings to work on and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing – colour studies. The problem is it’s a commission so not sure I can show these. I’ll see as I go.
            Loose, small, pastel to paper – that’s what counts!!

    1. I will do the challenge. This is my very first one and will take lots of commitment to complete. But if it’s just to create something each day, be a color study or loose painting I will do it. And I want to post on FB page to hold myself accountable. October 6-9 will just be sketches in a sketch book as I am traveling. I have only been doing pastels for a year, I feel very unaccomplished. Always jumping what I want to work on or who to watch next on YouTube and then nothing gets on paper. To prepare myself I had thought I will have 4 themes and switch each week. Keeping the subject simple. First week Fruit, second week, flowers, third week sky and clouds and last week trees. What do you think of that plan Gail?

      1. Hi Christine, First of all bravo to jumping into the Challenge! Remember it’s all about you and your growth as an artist. This is an opportunity to really did into your pastels. It’s always easy to passively watch others teach and demo as you’ve said but it’s our own doing that moves us forward. Which is why the 31in31 Challenge is sooooo helpful. It can be scribbled sketches – it’s about pastel to paper. Daily. That’s it. It IS a commitment especially as we work around life – like you’re travelling. I’m visiting family these first few days and then next weekend which is Thanksgiving in Canada. But sneak away and make those quick sketches. That’s what I am going to do today!

        And yes, having a plan of what to work on is HUGE!! It’s easy to get to a day and when you don’t have any idea what to paint, let the day slip by. I like your plan! Now, think about what you might explore with each genre. Are you going to paint the same image (photo?) each day ie create a developing series? Or perhaps different ones? Get them lined up and ready to go for the week. This way each morning you get up and know what you will paint.

        You can do this!!

        1. Thank you for the words of wisdom. It is about doing for sure. And I am determined.
          I want to keep it simple so I will use one piece of fruit, but a different one each day. But great idea to line them up so I am ready. Flowers will have to be from photo as not many left live in the garden, but I will have them picked out.
          And I will do my best to do something while traveling , although 2 of the days will be 12 hours in a car, but the other 2 will be with family and they are supportive so I think they will enjoy me doing some pastels at their house

    2. HI! I’m in for this challenge. I teach pastel classes remotely for a college and I complete 5 per week so I’m challenging myself to have one done every day! Some will be studies and some will be small works. Thank you for this exciting event!

    3. Hi, I will join the challenge if it is OK to have a day where I am doing an underpainting for pastel the next day or spend a couple of days on one large painting?
      If not, no worries, I will have my own challenge to be painting or sketching daily this month. I have a lot of ideas and need to spend time daily to put pastel to paper. I want to experiment with different underpainting techniques. Thank you. Not sure where to post?

      1. Chris, really, it’s up to you. However, the purpose of the Challenge is to get pastel to paper each day and not worry about the result. That’s why we aim for 31 paintings through the month.
        Posting is in the HowToPastel Facebook group OR you can post on your own social media (Facebook? Instagram?) to keep you accountable. Remember to sue the hashtag #31in31htp2023 so we will find them 😁

    4. Hello Gail,
      I have chosen to do it on my own, having no Facebook or other social media. So it’s a commitment between me and myself. The ironing can wait! Have divided as you suggest into weeks. Last week was fruit, working in series. This week, trees. Next week??? I find it immensely stimulating. We get to use unfamiliar colors, try different papers, other techniques (alcohol..) make discoveries!
      And perhaps use these little formats can become a basis for bigger adventures.
      thank you for organizing this!
      Nancy Malard

      1. Hey Nancy, and how did that 1:1 commitment go? Did the ironing wait?? I sure hope so lol. It should always wait as far as I’m concerned 🤣
        I’m happy to hear the process is stimulating – as you say, it’s an opportunity to try out new ways of painting. I’m very keen to know how you made out because without external accountability, the going can be much tougher!

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Other Related Posts

    Headshot of Gail Sibley

    Gail Sibley

    Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

    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!

    Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

    Scroll to Top

    Welcome Artists!

    Online Courses

    Pastels 101

    Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

    Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

    Pastel Painting En Plein Air

    Art Membership

    IGNITE! Art Making Members

    Love soft pastels?? Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

    Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy