A Peachtober saga: pressure to feel happy while art-making, getting covid, letting go
October has come and gone, which means the most popular month to undertake a daily art challenge is over! I once again committed to Peachtober after last year’s successful run of duck paintings (read the recap for 2021 Peachtober here).
When this year’s prompt list came out I was already less than enthused. There were some words I vehemently wanted to avoid (mainly spaceship and robot) since I couldn’t think of how to interpret them abstractly, and I enjoy doing these art challenges to branch out of literal interpretation.
Nevertheless I trudged along, brainstorming ideas for each word and starting thumbnails. My overall goals for the month were to get better with gouache and create a cohesive series so that I could create a zine afterward. I struggled to come up with an overall theme, but eventually landed on “how to nurture yourself” where each piece would be paired with a self-care action to undertake.
Though I love my painting for day 1, the next few days were quite awful as I was still finding my groove and deciding how I wanted to illustrate. I put a lot of pressure on myself compared to last year, when I was just happy to have completed the day. Every inconsistency seemed glaringly obvious and I compared myself to other artists participating in Peachtober who were using limited color palettes and subject matter (aka a clear “style”). It was a bit silly since that wasn’t even my objective—a limited color palette for a whole month felt suffocating and was at odds with the goal of getting better at gouache!
Thanks for reading CYOO! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
By day 6, I had properly loosened up and was getting closer to my vision. Though there were some pieces I botched, I was pleased to find the process of painting less daunting by the day. However I found myself straying from the overall self-care theme. Sometimes it was a good limitation that led to fun results, but more often than not I thought of an idea I wanted to pursue that didn’t connect at all to the theme.
It was around then that I read this in Carson Ellis’ newsletter:
My very forgiving personal philosophy is that it’s always okay to set a creative intention and then bail on it, even in full view of whoever is paying attention to you on the internet. Some ideas are fruitful and great and I see them to their end. Some get boring and feel like a chore, and life is too short for unpaid art that feels like a chore.
I readily bailed on the idea of a cohesive series around day 13—I didn’t see the point of retrofitting concepts to fit the theme, and the self-care idea felt boring otherwise.
On day 16, I felt the first inklings of a sore throat. I thought it was just a cold and kept working through the sickness. On day 19 I tested myself before a scheduled checkup and discovered I had gotten covid (my first time!) My base instincts to heal my body took over and I shed all pressure and expectation to finish Peachtober. I didn’t care anymore, I wasn’t even having fun.
While on a call with my coach later that day, I talked about how distressed I felt while creating because I didn’t feel happy—and wasn’t everyone enjoying themselves and having a grand time making art? If I didn’t feel happy why was I even doing this? She asked me, “do you need to be happy while making work? Or do you need it to be meaningful? Those two are not the same.”
I felt a huge freedom hearing those words. So I could accept my misery as part of the journey to create something fulfilling? I didn’t know why this notion had been much easier for me to accept while writing than while drawing or painting—maybe because writers were always bemoaning the difficulty of the process. I crawled back to bed mulling over this and spent the next few days sleeping and reading (highly recommend Jennette McCurdy's memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died to break out of a covid brain fog).
Though I didn’t finish the month, I completed 2/3 of the month’s prompts (21 paintings total) and have 7 or so pieces that I really love! I see a considerable improvement in how I want to illustrate compared to last year’s project, and am really proud that I am drawing more people lately. I actually enjoy drawing people now when I was terrified of it a year ago. I’m hoping next year I can feel about landscapes the way I do about people (why are landscapes so haaard).
Undertaking a daily art challenge is always difficult; it’s even more stressful when it’s a buzzy one like Peachtober where the trap of comparison and pressure looms. It’s not always easy or fun, but the effort of showing up every day and gradually getting better is so worth witnessing.
If you also did Peachtober or any other art challenge this month, or thought about it and decided not to, I’d love to hear from you! And you can see all of my final pieces over on my Instagram. Thanks so much for reading 👋 P.S. USA friends, remember to turn your clocks back an hour for the end of Daylight Savings and to vote on Tuesday!
I'm all for knowing when to quit, only because I quit on some variation of Inktober every year haha! I'm accepting that long challenges like that aren't for me, and that being a spectator is what makes it fun. (I'd like to try Folktale Week though, a much shorter challenge where narratives (my fav) seem to come easier to me.) So impressive that you made so many Peachtober pieces!