Starting and completing a creative challenge can be the best thing you ever did. For example, for most of her life, artist Betty Harper has drawn Elvis Presley. In 74 years, she has drawn 20,000 images. “Since the pandemic, I’ve probably done almost a hundred pictures of Elvis,” she says. “It’s kind of relaxing. It’s like comfort food. You know the face so well.”
Harper isn’t the only person who finds repetitive creative rituals soothing. Christine Watson has written a haiku each day of the pandemic—so far, she’s approaching 300 days. And to do something therapeutic for himself after the 9/11 attacks, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut started drawing everyday. For over a year, I’ve written a note card practically every day.
There are well-documented health benefits to daily creative work. One of the most relevant is this, from The Journal of Positive Psychology: 658 young adults took part in a 13-day daily diary study and reported their creative activity and positive or negative affect each day. Through lagged multilevel models, the authors report that people felt higher activated positive affect and flourishing following days when they reported more creative activity than usual.
A daily creative challenge provides the balance that chaotic creative ambition needs to thrive. “Your creativity needs enough structure to support your freedom, but not so much that your freedom feels stifled,” says #the100DayProject facilitator Lindsay Jean Thomson when I interviewed her for my book There Is No Right Way to Do This.
Even though Beeple might be most well-known for selling a $69 million NFT, the daily creative challenge is part of his process as well. He has created a new digital painting every day and posted it at Instagram and Twitter for over 5,000 days. (In fact, the NFT is a collage of all 5,000 paintings.) Beeple started this practice when he saw another artist, Tom Judd, do a similar daily creative challenge. (Here’s an archived version of Judd’s project.)
Judd would describe his own challenge, “There was never any planning or preparation, I would just go at it whenever I had a spare moment in my day and had something I needed to write or draw.”
For Beeple, it’s simply become something that happens every day—like using the bathroom, or eating. In fact, his Instagram handle is “beeplecrap,” and his website URL is “https://www.beeple-crap.com/”. Perhaps Beeple knew instinctively of the Crap Art movement proposed by Tom 7.
A List of Daily Creative Challenges
In case you’re stumped for how you might be able to jumpstart your creativity in the direction you want, you can choose a daily creative challenge from this list.
“You aren’t just working on the thing you’re making right now, you’re also working on everything you will ever make in the future,” Hank Green once tweeted. It’s worth keeping this in mind: choose a daily creative challenge that will expand the possibilities for your future work.
General Daily Creative Challenges
You can use these flexible daily creative activities to strengthen, support, and energize your current field of work, or any other discipline.
After seeing Michael Bierut conduct the 100 Day Project with his class at Yale, artist Elle Luna started #the100DayProject. Now facilitated by author Lindsay Jean Thomson, there are nearly 2 million posts with #100DayProject hashtag on Instagram. Thousands participate every year. If you want to start today, this simple and flexible structure is one of the best challenges to get started with. (I write more about it here for Forge.)
2. The Isolation Journals
When the world locked down after the COVID-19 pandemic, author Suleika Jaouad started The Isolation Journals. While it started off as a daily journaling prompt (you can find the archives here), it has become a weekly creativity prompt that you can sign up for here.
When software developer Alex Kallaway wanted to improve his skills, he decided to program for an hour each day for 100 days in a row. The problem was, it was really difficult to do this after his day job. Kallaway decided to keep himself accountable by publishing this goal and journey online, with the hashtag #100DaysofCode. It worked! Seeing his own and others’ success at building a habit, Kallaway decided to expand this to the #100DaysOfX Challenge, an online community that helps participants learn how to implement a habit, take daily action, stay accountable, and celebrate progress. You can learn more about how to participate at #100DaysofX here.
Daily Creative Challenges for Visual Artists
“Draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time.” — Michelangelo
These structures for daily creative activities will be best if you want to strengthen your observation and visual art capabilities.
Each day, a bot at Sketchdaily uploads a new prompt to the community’s 1.6 million subscribers. If you want to participate, draw something, upload it, and link to it as a comment in the Reddit thread. You can also go through the archives by looking at Sketchdaily references here. Learn more about Sketchdaily here.
Started by illustrator Jake Parker in 2009, Inktober is a daily creative challenge to draw a prompt in ink and post it somewhere—either to social media, or simply to your refrigerator. Alternatively, you can also draw and post once per week throughout the year. Thousands of artists participate each year. Learn more about Inktober here.
6. 250 Box Challenge
Drawabox is a community started by illustrator Irshad Karim, and its 250 Box Challenge is “probably what Drawabox is best known for (and perhaps most reviled).” This exercise is designed to give you a clearer perspective and understanding of 3D spaces. Some Redditors have recommended drawing around 20 per day to develop the habit. Learn more about the 250 Box Challenge here.
The mission of r/DailyDraw is “to draw something every day, whether we’re feeling inspired or not.” While the Subreddit isn’t as active anymore, you can still participate and connect with other people doing DailyDraw at Instagram, with the hashtag #dailydraw, which has nearly half a million posts at the time I write this post.
8. Daily Watercolor Challenge
Artist Charlie O’Shields has drawn and sketched every day for over five years. In 2016, he started uploading daily watercolor prompts to his website. While it includes daily prompts, you can join in anytime and with whatever inspiration. The goal is simply to sketch and draw every day. Learn more about the daily watercolor challenge here.
9. 28 to Make
This course, designed to get you back in the habit of making, describes itself as “gently optimized for designers, illustrators, and typographers, but it’s for anyone who wants [to] give traction to their desire to create.” You can read the original project guide from 2016 here, or join over 80,000 students at the free 28 to Make class at CreativeLive taught by illustrator and educator Kate Bingaman-Burt.
10. Lunch Doodles
Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence animator and author Mo Willems started his Lunch Doodles program at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, for millions of viewers of all ages. If you’re interested, you can start this 15-day challenge at episode 1 here.
11. Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD)
The goal of this daily creative challenge is simple, which is to create something—anything!—on an index card every day for 61 days. I categorized it as a challenge for visual artists, but it could also have fit in the General category. As ICAD creator Tammy writes, this challenge works “Whether you are a Physics professor, a physical therapist, a dystopian mystery writer, a Portuguese-English translator, a Python programmer, and/or a knitter.” Learn more about the Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) challenge here.
A Daily Creative Challenge for 3D Illustrators
This structure for daily creative activities is best for 3D illustrators, or for anyone who wants to develop their skills with software like Cinema4D and Blender.
12. Daily Renders
While Daily Renders may not have an official community (perhaps with an occasional thread at the r/Cinema4D Subreddit, and nearly 500,000 posts with the #dailyrender Instagram hashtag), the movement is real. Beeple’s work can be considered 5,000 daily renders. If you want to participate, you can post your illustrations to a Reddit thread, at Instagram (#dailyrender), with “Daily Render” in the title at Behance, or in a thread at a forum like BlenderArtists or r/Cinema4D.
Daily Creative Challenges for Graphic Designers
These structures for daily creative activities will be most useful if you want to learn or further improve your skills in graphic design.
13. Daily UI
If you sign up for Daily UI, you’ll receive a new prompt or brief in your inbox every day for 100 days. Over 150,000 designers have joined this free Daily UI challenge for graphic designers. Learn more about Daily UI here.
14. Behance Daily Challenges
Daily Creative Challenges for Programmers and Software Developers
If you want to learn to develop software and program, try these daily creative activities.
In case you skipped Alex Kallaway’s origin story in the #100DaysofX summary, he decided to program for an hour each day for 100 days in a row in order to improve his skills as a programmer. In order to hold himself accountable (it was hard to work after work!), he published this journey online, and kept himself accountable, with the hashtag #100DaysofCode. He invited others to participate along, using the hashtag #100DaysofCode at Twitter. You can start by doing that, or learn more about the community here.
Daily Creative Challenges for Musicians, Producers, and Recording Artists
“Lock yourself in a room, doing five beats a day for three summers,” Kanye West challenges listeners on his song “Spaceships.” While practice makes perfect can apply to all disciplines, it rings truest perhaps in the field of music and the recording arts. Try these daily creativity activities to support your musical practice.
As seen in the New Yorker, the #100DaysofPractice started with violin soloist Hilary Hahn documenting a snapshot of her practicing violin for an hour a day. Many other people have joined her since, with over 600,000 posts in the #100DaysofPractice hashtag at Instagram. You can do the same, by posting a photo or video of you practicing and uploading it at Instagram with that hashtag.
17. 100 Days of Producing
Similar to Daily Renders, 100 Days of Producing isn’t technically an official challenge—but a structure for music producers to make and share a new beat every day at YouTube. Learn more about u/_StaffordBeats’s experience with 100 Days of Producing at the r/makinghiphop subreddit.
Daily Creative Challenges for Writers and Authors
You can’t get writer’s block if you write every day. Whether you want to get unblocked, or simply are interested in working with the written word, try these daily creativity activities to structure your practice.
Probably one of the most popular daily creative challenges, NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation of National Novel Writing Month. It started in 1999, challenging participants to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Each year at the onset of November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world start their novel. Over 350,000 novels have been completed, with at least three dozen published novels coming out of this challenge. The organization also hosts the more flexible Camp NaNoWriMo every April and June. Learn more about NaNoWriMo here.
In 2003, poet Maureen Thorson started National Poetry Writing Month. The movement invites poets to write 30 poems in 30 days in the month of April. Learn more about NaPoWriMo here. Or if you want to get started, you can write a poem at your own website and submit it to Thorson’s directory here.
Third time’s a charm. Author and long journal writer Bakari Chavanu started National Journal Writing Month (NaJoWriMo) in January 2015. If you participate in the NaJoWriMo daily creative challenge, you’ll write in a journal for 30 days for personal growth, perhaps using some of its writing prompts (some of which cost $7, themed around the seasons of January, April, July, and October). You can learn more about NaJoWriMo here.
21. Ship 30 for 30
Writing online can be difficult, but much easier with a community of other writers. That’s the premise of Ship 30 for 30, which provides a structure and community of people writing and sharing 30 mini-essays in 30 days. It was started by portfolio manager Dickie Bush and author Nicolas Cole. It costs USD $250 for the month, and you can learn more about it here.
22. Writing Prompts
Every day, users at the r/WritingPrompts subreddit post new threads with new writing prompts. Some of its 15 million subscribers will respond to that day’s prompt as a comment in the thread. You never know who’s reading—for example, this prompt got turned into a short film. To participate in this daily creative challenge, join the subreddit and respond to a prompt each day.
A Daily Creative Challenge for Vloggers
If you’re making videos on YouTube, try this daily creativity activity.
In 2011, YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen started filming every day of December until Christmas. Thus was born the tradition of Vlogmas, which YouTubers daily vlog for 24 days. If you’re interested in participating, film a vlog of yourself every day in December until December 25, and upload it to YouTube.
A Daily Creative Challenge for Photographers
Try this daily creative activity if you want to improve your photography skills.
24. 365 Project
If you want to participate in 365 Project, you can simply take a photo a day. Web developer Ross Scrivener started his first 365 Project in 2006, and set up a website to document some of the rules and get the community together. He writes, “The idea is to build up a journal of your day to day life.” You can learn more about 365 Project here.
A Daily Creative Challenge for Readers
Reading books is an incredibly important part of the creative process. If you want to read more books, try this daily creativity activity.
25. 25 Pages a Day
Farnam Street founder and author Shane Parrish wanted to read more of the great, long, books on his bookshelf, but constantly chose shorter, more immediate, books he could finish. He devised a rule for himself, which was to read 25 pages per day. He writes, “That means, in about one year, at a modest pace of 25 pages a day, I’ve knocked out 13 masterful works and learned an enormous amount about the history of the world.”
Daily Creative Challenges Provide Structure
“Nothing in between is as good as once or every day.” — Andy Warhol
Prolific noise artist Merzbow provides a clearer visual, saying of his music, “The music of Merzbow should be viewed as changing, while being part of a continuum. What matters to me is this line of progression, more so than the individual works that comprise it.”
Every day you show up to practice your creativity, you are developing your skills, staying inspired, and allowing the possibility for a breakthrough to emerge.
If you want more ideas and starting points like these, I wrote a book about creativity entitled, There Is No Right Way to Do This. If you want to independently pursue creative skills and projects in your spare time, this is the book for you. It’s also the perfect companion for people doing or interested in trying daily creative challenges (like any of the 25 mentioned here).