Future FWD

How Hosting an Instagram Art Challenge Gassed Me Up

June 15, 2021
Kellie Pcolar
Senior Designer

What do you do when you’re feeling inspired and you’re itching to create, but just can’t get past staring at the blank page? Start an art challenge.

Not only does a challenge scratch that itch, it guides you while doing it, and creates a community that encourages and inspires you to keep going.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always in the bucket of “What do I make?” and can easily pass things off till tomorrow if there isn’t a good reason that I need to make today. It’s not that I’m lazy — it’s just that I function optimally when there is a sense of urgency involved.

In early December of 2020, I found myself in a place of limbo, floating through my days, making things here and there, but desiring a larger project with more meaning than the one-off experiments I was sharing once or twice a week. When I shared these feelings with my friend Jenn (an Art teacher) one night over Zoom, she immediately related.

“We just need something to give us a little kick,” she said. I responded excitedly, “Let’s encourage each other to create every day!”Jenn’s eyes grew wide and she smiled and exclaimed, “Let’s start an Instagram art challenge!”

I matched her wide eyes with my own, taking a moment to let the idea sink in. I had never even taken part in an art challenge before, let alone hosted one.

“Do we know how?” I asked. “Does it matter?” Jenn responded.

From that moment on, we took off ideating on different topics (some of which I’d like to host a challenge on in the future) and yayed or nayed each other’s rapidly incoming ideas. We had been circling around the idea of color, and creating a challenge in which color was the base factor. Out of nowhere, Jenn said, “Hue Year’s Resolution!” and our challenge was born.

That same night, I hopped on my laptop and drafted a post announcing the challenge for us to promote on Instagram that weekend. Creating that initial promotional post forced me to ask all of the right questions: What should be the duration of the challenge? How many days a week? What medium? Any other restrictions or parameters to include in the challenge instructions?

We ended up creating a 6-week challenge, open to any and all mediums, prompting creatives everywhere to post 5x a week, focusing on a different color each week. We kept the colors as broad as possible to allow the most amount of freedom for our participants: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. We wanted the challenge to be as inclusive as possible to attract the most amount of people. If we were doing this, we wanted to go big!

Hue Years Challenge Promo Art
Hue Years Challenge Promo Art

When Digital Surgeons Chief Growth Officer and Co-Founder Dave Salinas saw the post, he immediately advised that I put some dolla bills behind the post so it could get higher visibility. I did, and was shocked by the results.

In total, we had over 50 participants, and an ending total of 1,100 individual submissions.

Collection of submissions
Collection of submissions

But the numbers aren’t what I’m here to talk about today. I’m here to share three invaluable takeaways from this experience that I hope inspire you the way they inspired me.

Starting a community of creative minds is super rewarding

After I finalized the promotion of the announcement post, I watched followers trickle in for three days, many of them messaging me how excited and grateful they were to have stumbled upon the challenge, and how much they were looking forward to creating together.

The work that came from this community throughout the challenge was outstanding. I loved seeing the variety of mediums being submitted by artists from around the world. If it wasn't for all of the talented artists participating, I'm not sure I would have made it to the end of the challenge. It was the community's talent and rigor that kept me inspired. We fueled each other's creativity by engaging each other in a plethora of ways, including (but not limited to) DMs to check in on mental health, comments to boost each other's spirits and story shares to keep the confidence running high.

Promo art
Instagram stories used to promote each weekly color prompt.

People are really cool and supportive

Throughout the challenge, there was a beautiful “we’re all in this together” mentality. Without ever needing to encourage it, participants were actively commenting, liking, and even sharing each other’s submissions along the way. I made an effort to share as many as I could through my own stories, and comment on every piece submitted. As co-leader of the challenge, I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of submissions and found myself strapped for time when making my own.

I didn’t exactly choose a light subject for my work during this challenge, and definitely felt drained at times, emotionally, mentally and physically, both from the subject matter I was creating art about and from being the active face of the challenge and keeping up with participants. This is where I just want to say: The community is what kept me going. As much as I gave, I received. People were really enjoying the challenge, and were telling me! The comments I received both in my inbox and on my own submissions were really what fueled me to push forward with everything I was doing.

Messages from my inbox
Messages from my inbox from throughout the challenge

A loose prompt goes a long way

Not to take a stab at Inktober (arguably one of the most popular IG art challenges out there), but not everyone wants to make art containing ghosts, or teeth. Sure, those prompts are loose enough to leave a little open for interpretation, but there are only so many ways you can include teeth in your work.

One of the most important things to Jenn and I when creating this challenge was its inclusiveness. We wanted the prompt to be so loose that it could fit any style or medium, but just strict enough to act as a guide. Color was the perfect way to give everyone an amplitude of freedom, while also giving them a single element to focus on.

And even with that single element of color, we welcomed all interpretations. Red week didn’t need to be monochrome—it could include every color of the rainbow for all we cared (I know mine did)! Red was just simply an idea to guide everyone with their work. Red could be pink. Red could be a black ink drawing interpreting the color. It could be an audio track that reminds you of the color. It could be a piece of writing, a painting of a single red dot. We truly didn’t care. At the end of the day, this challenge was meant to encourage others to create, and that alone was the purpose. If you’re creating at all, you’re doing the challenge right.

A few submissions from Blue, Green, Yellow, and Orange weeks.
A few submissions from Blue, Green, Yellow, and Orange weeks.

Reflecting back on the challenge now that it’s over is so surreal. And I’m already planning the next one! (Music, anyone?). The diversity of the work that was contributed to the hashtag (#hueyearsresolution) over those six winter weeks is astounding. I’m humbled by the quality and quantity of submissions and can’t wait to share them all back with the world in a more permanent way very soon.

Follow me on Instagram for the next challenge! @kellie.vibes

Thanks for reading.
Kellie Pcolar
Senior Designer
Spread the word!