Christine Bernard, writer and designer at Flat White Concepts, constantly sets challenges for herself, from daily yoga to a month of no sugar, to going gluten-free. In this interview though she shares more about her 30 day #animalaugust challenge where she illustrated her way through the alphabet and ended up with a collection of quirky animal characters.
Claire: Hi Christine, I'd love to hear a bit more about who you are and what you're about...
Christine: Hey Claire. I live in Cape Town with my husband and two guinea pigs. I’m a freelance writer and graphic designer. I also host a bi-monthly online magazine.
Claire: What particular creative challenge(s) have you completed?
Christine: I’ve done a few creative challenges over the years, but my most recent one was called ‘Animal August’. Here I endeavoured to create an illustration of a different animal a day using the letters of the alphabet. Thankfully, with only 26 letters in the alphabet, it gave me a few extra days in the month to take a breather.
Claire: What were some of the factors that led you to commit to the process?
Christine: I’m always doing challenges, but so far most of them have been health/fitness related: 30 days of yoga, 30 days of no meat, 30 days of no gluten/dairy/sugar, 30 days of no alcohol. I wanted to do something different for a change. Over the past year I’ve noticed myself going more into the writing side of my job, which means my design side sometimes gets neglected. Doing an illustration challenge helped me gain a bit of my creative juices back.
Claire: What was your goal?
Christine: I’m not a natural artist. I’m creative, but I don’t draw all that well. My drawings are simple and fun, and they have a sense of silliness to them. My goal for this challenge was to stop being hard on myself for not being ‘perfect’ and to just draw for fun.
Claire: Did you have to sign up somewhere, enroll in a class, join a group?
Christine: So far, the challenges that I have done have been purely for myself. Other than Nanowrimo (an international annual writing challenge to write a book in a month), all my challenges have been self-induced. This means no sign ups, no enrolments and no groups. I just decided to start it, and I did.
Claire: Was there any preparation you had to do before the challenge started?
Christine: My previous challenges have required some sort of research before starting. Especially the gluten, dairy and sugar free challenge. I looked at blogs, found recipes, and examined labels. My Animal August series was a lot more ‘fly by the moment’ – take the letter, think of an animal, draw it and give it a name. Simple and fun.
Claire: How would you describe your emotions on starting out?
Christine: My emotions varied from “Woohoo, this is so exciting!” to “I'm so busy, why am I doing this?”
Claire: Were you worried at all about not having the commitment to stick to the challenge and see it through? If so, how did you deal with that?
Christine: I wasn’t too worried. If I set a challenge I mostly always see it through. It’s strange because I do realise that nobody really cares whether I do it or not. They’re small, personal little challenges that really have nothing to do with anyone other than myself. But if I don’t do it, I always feel a twinge of disappointment in myself. I always try and stick them out and tell myself it’s only thirty days. One of my favourite apps is a task manager called Todoist. It’s an online version of a to-do list, and just as you would cross off something from a piece of paper, you get to do the same online. I always add my challenges to my list. If it’s on the list, I simply have to do it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a task crossed off. Nerd alert!
Claire: Was there anything you did to help you stick to your plan?
Christine: For me it was just a matter of wanting to prove to myself I could stick it out. Every challenge so far has been like that to me. I guess it’s proving to myself that I can do it. Also, if I start something and put it out there into the world, I immediately feel accountable for it.
Claire: Tell us a bit about the challenge on a daily level. What did it entail? What did it look like for you? What was it that you did every day, and how did that process feel on a daily basis?
Christine: Having it on my to-do list every day was the most important part for me. After that, it was just finding the time to do it in the day. Working for myself means that every day looks different to me. One day might have every minute taken up by a project, the other might be quiet. So I’d start off each day just knowing what I was going to draw that day. Most of my job revolves around writing, so I’d force myself to take a ‘drawing break’ once I was halfway through whatever it was that I was writing that day. It was a nice thing to work towards - a little something fun in the middle of a busy day.
Claire: What were some of the challenges you faced along the way? Were there ever moments where you felt, "I just can’t do this?"
Christine: Not so much for this drawing challenge. I have had those moments on other challenges. Perhaps ‘no gluten’ on a day that I’ve been invited to a restaurant for dinner. Or ‘yoga a day’ when my body is just physically too exhausted to keep going. And let’s not even talk about the ‘no drinking’ challenge. My Animal August series was a lot of fun, so thankfully I never got that dreaded feeling. It wasn’t always easy on the super busy work days, but who said challenges should be easy?
Claire: How was your experience of the flow of ideas? Did you ever hit a ‘dead end’ or feel stuck? If so, how did you respond in those moments?
Christine: I made sure that my challenge wouldn’t be one that left me without ideas. This one was easy. An illustration a day based on a letter of the week. After I’d decided on the animals, it was easy.
Claire: Did you struggle at all with procrastination?
Christine: Not too much. My problem was actually the opposite to this – my procrastination was not for the challenge, but for the work I had to do for the day. Often I’d think to myself, ‘Can’t I just spend the day drawing instead?’ It’s easy not to procrastinate when it’s something you enjoy so much.
Claire: Was there any sort of community aspect to the challenge - an online forum for people to share their experience and progress etc? If so, how did that impact on your progress?
Christine: Absolutely. Getting people involved is the whole fun of it. I created a hashtag and asked other people to join in. I wanted to see their illustrations, and their interpretations of the challenge. Some tried, but for the most part nobody else stuck it out. But that’s okay. It was my challenge after all. I did, however, get a lot of great feedback through the month. And putting it out there on social media gave me the boost to never miss a day, especially since I was going in order of A – Z.
Claire: How much did you choose to share with your family and friends about this challenge? How did they respond to your involvement in this challenge?
Christine: I have a huge family support when it comes to almost everything I do. I’m super lucky. With this challenge, I’d send my drawing to my mother and my husband daily before putting it out into the world. And with all the other challenges I’ve been involved in, they’ve been there. I didn’t need any support for this one, but it was still fun to share it with them.
Claire: What was the most exciting part of this process for you?
Christine: Just the folly of it all. An elephant called Eleanor who showers in wine using her trunk? Yes please! With all the stress of day to day life, it was fun to take a little bit of time off to be silly.
Claire: What was the most daunting or challenging aspect of the process?
Christine: I guess with this, and all other challenges that require you to do something every day for a certain period of time, there’s uncertainty of what the month brings. You can start a challenge at a time when life is easy, but it’s impossible to know how busy you’re going to be or what’s going to come your way. You’ve just got to hope that no matter what you can stick it out, but at the same time you’ve got to realise that it’s quite okay if you don’t see it through.
Claire: What was the most surprising part of the process?
Christine: First, my ability to see something through. Second, how much I enjoy both sides to my job. When I write for a very long stretch of time, I start craving design or craft work. When I design for too long, I crave the hours of writing. I’ve often wished that I was the type of person who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. But I’m starting to realise that it’s okay to enjoy more than one thing. (Like coffee and wine – why choose?)
Claire: What was the most rewarding part of the process?
Christine: Seeing all my little pictures together. I know that I’m not an amazing illustrator, and I certainly can’t draw anything realistic to save my life. My drawings are fun and playful. But I’m okay with that.
Claire: What, if anything, did you learn about yourself through this process?
Christine: Whenever I do a challenge I realise that I’m too hard on myself. I never quite think I’m good enough. Take the drawing challenge as an example. I always start off with great trepidation. Does this drawing look stupid? Is it too childish? When will I realise that I’ll never be an artist? Then I finish all the drawings and I find myself quite liking them. So what if I’m only doing this for myself? Maybe that’s more important than anything else.
Claire: Do you feel this challenge changed you in any way? If so, how?
Christine: It didn’t change me. But it opened my mind to more ideas. The more I drew, the more ideas came to me. The same goes for when I write. As long as I’m doing something towards the craft, the ideas keep flowing.
Claire: How do you feel towards your final product?
Christine: I liked them. They were fun and they made people laugh - including myself.
Claire: What would you say to someone who wanted to sign up for a creative challenge?
Christine: DO IT! And if you can’t find one that suits you - create your own. Gather a group together or just go for it alone. No matter what it is, it’s always rewarding. Either hone in on something you already know, or try something you’ve never done before. But just do it.
Claire: What resources would you recommend for other artists?
Christine: Use various hashtags such as #30daychallenge or #100daychallenge and look for someone that’s doing something that you enjoy. I’d say Instagram would probably be your best bet.