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Daily Art Challenges Inspire Creativity and Zen

4 easy projects for any skill level to help ease stress and boost brain function

A couple painting together

tara moore / getty images

When the coronavirus pandemic forced Susan Ostheim, 63, to work from home, she used art to find normalcy and create a routine.

Some days, that meant taking photos in black and white. On others, it meant painting landscapes in the style of one of her favorite painters. Some days, it just meant doodling a circle on a piece of scrap paper.

Now, she's encouraging others to do the same.

In times of uncertainty, both artists and people who have never picked up a paintbrush are creating as a way to relax in isolation.


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"It is a meditation when you do it. Your mind goes to a different place,” says Ostheim, a high school art teacher in South Florida. She adds that creating art can serve as a way to cope with quarantining and the onslaught of grim news about the pandemic.

Painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, poetry writing and even a daily yoga pose are all artistic pursuits to strive for. Putting them into your daily routine can have benefits that go beyond creativity, helping to ease stress and boost brain function.

Lindsay Thomson runs the 100 Day Project — a free, global art project that encourages people to do any sort of artistic action daily for 100 days in a row. Participants share their work on Instagram and use the hashtag #The100DayProject.

"In the midst of so much uncertainty, the project is a great daily anchor in people's lives,” Thomson says. People do their own projects, but “in tandem with a large global community of fellow creatives. Community is so important, especially now when many people can't see their loved ones the way they would like to.”

According to the Creativity and Aging Study — which was conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and George Washington University — art positively impacts senior health. The report found that creativity helped promote independence and reduced risk factors related to long-term care. Studies show that it also can help improve cognition, reduce stress and stimulate a person's senses.

It's why Ostheim, who for 32 years has taught art techniques and appreciation to kindergartners through adults at night school, in addition to running museum education initiatives, started leading a senior citizen church group in art series instruction.

"There's therapy in it, no matter your skill level,” she says. “It's really rewarding.”

Try these art projects

For those not ready to commit to 100 days, or newcomers in need of inspiration, Ostheim recommends a few different challenges and art series that she's participated in over the years. An art series involves finding one theme or pattern and sticking to it for the length of the project.

Project 1: Divide a piece of paper into small boxes — one for each day of the month. Every day, while using black, white and gray markers, draw something new and “separate the color out of everything,” she says. This means using no color — just shades of gray, white and black.

Ostheim’s reproduction of “Monk by the Sea” by artist Caspar David Friedrich.

Courtesy of Susan Ostheim

Ostheim’s reproduction of “Monk by the Sea” by artist Caspar David Friedrich.

Project 2: Create landscapes. Ostheim recommends finding a style of landscapes or a painter whose work you admire and mimicking that. From there, use that style to take on your own landscape subjects.

"I don't know why everyone downplays landscapes,” she says. “They're actually very complex.” Ostheim picked a landscapist she admired, Caspar David Friedrich, and worked to recreate his works. Eventually, she started using photos from her own travels, but she tried to recreate them in the style of Friedrich.

For those in need of a little extra guidance, try using a Bob Ross tutorial for assistance. His The Joy of Painting TV episodes are available to stream for free on YouTube.

Part of Ostheim’s black and white series challenge.

Courtesy of Susan Ostheim

Part of Ostheim’s black and white series challenge.

Project 3: For a black-and-white project, try photographing something new in black and white each day.

Project 4: The ultimate challenge is to draw or paint a circle every day with black paint, Ostheim says. “It's not until you do that for weeks at a time that you realize how infinite that is. That kind of discipline is where you find yourself. It's really, really cool.”

Don't be daunted

Still, as a longtime teacher, Ostheim knows producing daily art can be intimidating for first-timers. The key is to pick just about anything that interests you and try to be disciplined about executing, no matter how small the project.

"It can be dancing or doodling, whatever creative outlet you choose,” she says of the project. “It's about personal enlightenment and what you get out of it.”

To date, Thomson says there are more than 1.6 million hashtags of #The100DayProject on Instagram. About 5,000 people participate each year from all over the world.

But if 100 days or a specific series still seems daunting, Ostheim proposes to “just scribble.” Because we're all bombarded with data and news that is often depressing, it's important to find ways to calm the mind, she adds.

"If you take a position of time in your day and all you do is scribble, you look at the marks you're making, you put them in different places every day and you're engaged. You escape into something deeper, away from this reality that's just toxic. It's a beautiful thing.”

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