Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Kick-Off and January’s Theme

Welcome Challengers! Are you ready to make some art? Today is the first day of my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, and I couldn’t be more excited. I feel its energy, its power, and the impact its already having on my frame of mind. My focus is narrowing, my to-do list filled with my own worlds is no longer optional, and I’m retreating to a safe, emotional space for at least an hour a day–if not more.

I’ve had a few conversations about the challenge and realized that it’s resonating louder than I expected. Artists are fired up, because we can’t run from who we are–even in times of war or strife. We need a safe space to create where we can channel that important, necessary piece of ourselves; art isn’t something we do, it’s who we are. I can’t imagine not making art or writing or designing games; strip away my ability to create and I’m a gaping void, a hole that can never be filled.

For me, this hour is a promise: no matter how bad it gets, I get one hour a day to be true to myself. For you, the challenge might be something as simple as “I finally get the chance to set aside time for my own art.” Or, it could be as complex as “I’m avoiding the exploration of this story, because it’s painful for me to write. This will help.” One size definitely does not fit all.

A friend of mine also pointed out that this challenge may attract brand new artists who have never done anything like this before. We talked about pointing out various resources, and I’m going to think about that because so many references make promises that don’t match reality. The secret to becoming a writer, is that there is no secret. You write. That’s the secret. But, a lot of people must believe there is a secret, because so many books sell you on the idea that becoming who you want to be is easily accomplished in ten specific steps. It’s not, and in a way I feel that punishes would-be creatives from understanding that the path to success is a long, winding journey of self-discovery that can only be accomplished by doing.

Lastly, I want to remind you that this 2017 challenge isn’t a competition, it’s a journey we will take together. Make Art Not War is also a path you will shape and own as the year progresses, and there’s no telling where you’ll end up–but it’s all up to you. I’m not here to force you to make art or to make great or subversive art. I won’t claim or suggest that this challenge could ever replace the real world problems we’re all facing right now. This tiny increment of time dedicated to making art is in spite of everything else you’ve got going on, and I trust you’ll use it to your own ends.

Weekly Updates and Creative Prompts

I hope you’re pumped and ready to jump right in. To help you succeed, I’m going to provide creative prompts and address different topics in making art for the weekly check-in. Right now my newsletter goes out every Thursday, and that will send all site updates including my convention appearances, new releases, and MANW Challenge updates straight to your In Box. You can sign up for that service on this link, or you’re welcome to drop by at any time. Weekly check-ins will be posted every Wednesday, in part because I need to do them even when I’m at a convention; newsletter subscribers will see them the following day.

Lastly, don’t forget: your fellow MANW 2017 challengers are out there. Use the hashtag #manw2017 or the longer version #makeartnotwar2017 to find them on Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!

Play: January 2017 Challenge Theme

Every month, I’m going to post a theme you’re free to cue off of if you need it. This month’s theme is inspired by the start of the year. After all, you’ve probably got a resolution or two. And, just like last year, you’ve also heard folks say you won’t keep your pledge or you’ll abandon your goals by the end of the month.

The first step, of course, is to have the desire for change. That’s all a resolution is: a promise you make to yourself, borne from desire. Carving out an hour of time a day is–absolutely–change that you’ll need to make. I can’t tell you how to facilitate change in your life; all I can do is inspire you to make it happen. Of course, making art is easier if you know what you want to do. Confused? Frustrated? Not sure where to start? This month’s theme takes your uneasiness and bewilderment into account in order to ensure you’ll stick with the challenge and not get discouraged as the weeks roll by.

January 2017’s Theme is PLAY

Have you ever watched to cross-stitch? Have you thought about trying your hand at origami, calligraphy, or drawing dragons? Instead of learning techniques and putting pressure on yourself to get it right the first or even second time, spend your challenge time playing and having fun with paint, paper, ink, pixels, etc. It doesn’t matter what medium you play around with, either, or how often you switch things up. Experiment, experiment, laugh at yourself, and then play some more.

Here are some places to start:

  • Libraries, Museums, Craft Stores(2) – Check your local community newspaper for events and classes in your area. Cost will range from free to $15 on up, not including materials, but they’re there for you if you need a teacher. Sometimes, that’s a great way of connecting to other people in your community, too.
  • Barnes & Noble Clearance – In B&N, they have a Clearance section that often has kits you can try. Cost is usually around $10 to $20.
  • Pinterest – I love Pinterest, because I’ve found a wealth of DIY resources for upcycling and using materials I have in the house. Plus, patterns galore! Use some keyword searches and have at it.
  • YouTube! – The amount of tutorial videos are mind-bogglingly awesome. There is everything from watercolors to origami to bead stitching to makeup to costuming to… Seriously, YouTube! should seriously think about turning these tutorials into a university or some other compendium. Whatever you want to make, just type your keywords into YouTube! and the site will do the rest.
  • Manufacturer websites – If you’re familiar with a particular brand of material (yarn, markers, styluses, etc.) visit the manufacturer’s website. Often, they’ll have tutorials attached to help you get a better feel for using their products.
  • Online Magazines and Communities – Google is your friend! Most mediums have websites, community sites, or online ‘zines dedicated to them. Usually takes a good fifteen, twenty minutes to narrow down results and find a few sources. You’ll want to refine your search by adding the word “beginner” once you find a magazine that speaks to you. Sometimes, they’ll have projects geared for multiple difficulty levels, so you can grow with the site as your talent does.

Play(1) is a concept that’s often overlooked and even condemned. When we’re adults we’re not supposed to play, we’re supposed to work and often guilt sets in when we’re having fun. That’s for kids, right? Unfortunately, making art is often thought of as child’s play to begin with, and those stereotypes tend to devalue the art we make. Being a professional artist means we make art for a living, and once money is attached to making art the conversation evolves and changes even further. Exploring and expanding our boundaries, however, requires play to have fun, keep our inner artist motivated, and also allow us to discover what kinds of art we enjoy making.

This month, toss Puritanical mindsets out the window and embrace the concept of play to give your brain a rest and help you find your internal compass. You cannot constantly produce or always focus on the anxiety of producing–your brain needs a rest. So play! Have fun! And make messy, glorious art!

(1) Games channel our ability to play, but doing so isn’t always an act of creation. Unless we’re designing campaigns in a story-based game or building characters, we’re still consuming what someone else has made.

(2) I’d add conventions to this list, but those can be cost-prohibitive. Many do have creative tracks, but you have to sign up ahead of time.

    Mood: So focused I shoot laser beams out of my eyeballs.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: How much is too much?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I mentally exerted the effort to think about it.
    In My Ears: Star Wars
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: References for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Star Wars: A New Hope (Marathon today!)
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules and an owl bracelet.
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge & Rules

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

Born out of both my personal experiences and the knowledge that oppression tends to crush the artistic spirit on a cellular level, I have created a Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge for those who need it. This challenge, which came together from inspiration to draft guidelines, is designed to be flexible to work with your talents and lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to customize the specifics to fit your needs. Your art? Your rules.

Why take the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge? When times are tough, the feeling that artists are not necessary tends to permeate because art is viewed as a luxury item in some cultures since we don’t produce food, clothing, or housing. The exact opposite is true, because art is a documentation and representation of our humanity and all our struggles. People turn to stories to find hope, to be inspired, to reach inside themselves and discover their own courage. This challenge is about making art to tap into your voice and tell your story. After all, one story can change the world. The problem is, we have no idea which story that will be, when it will be told, or in what medium. It’s up to us to find it–by making art!

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

I’ve designed the challenge to be simple, but grounded in four actionable areas. They are: Motivation, Discipline, Accountability, and Connection.

Rules Summary

This is a summary of the rules I’ve designed for the challenge. In the longer version, I offer means of customization to fit your lifestyles. After you’ve read the rules, write down in four-to-five sentences what you’ll pledge to do for 2017 and post them publicly or privately. Combined, those actionable items will help keep you grounded and focused on making art, while remaining connected to the world around you.

My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.


Find your personal reason to make art and use that as your rallying cry for 2017.

Artists are human beings, not robots. Writers need to discover our characters’ voices. Painters need to glance at a blank canvas and draw that first line. Musicians need to hear the first stanza. Sometimes, however, we get stuck. We don’t know what to write. We don’t know if our art will resonate. We don’t see how our words will matter–because we can’t predict the future so we freeze up. We punish ourselves. Then, we read the news and get depressed; or, we get bad news and get even more depressed. Caught in that never-ending cycle of wondering what our worth is, some artists cease to create altogether.

There are 1,000 reasons to never pick up that pen, that inkwell, that stylus. What is more important? Those precious few reasons why you’re making art. Before you begin the challenge, figure out why you want to make art to find your motivation. Maybe you have a mantra, like “I want to make readers laugh.” Maybe, however, making art is so ingrained in your identity you might say: “I need to write to be happy.” Or, maybe you have a goal or business plan that helps keep you grounded on: “I need to draw to pay the bills”.

When you get stuck, take fifteen minutes and remind yourself that you’ve taken this challenge because your art is important to you. Abandoning the act of making art is not an option, and you will not retreat. Say that reason out loud, sing it, letter it, draw it–whatever you need to do. Focus on that mantra and recharge your artistic batteries, for the well of inspiration you draw from will never empty, not as long as you have the will to draw from it. After all, motivation is about reminding yourself how to find the will to make art when you lose it.


Discipline is the time you will take every day in 2017 to make art.

The challenge is designed around spending one hour every day to make your original art.
Modifications are as follows:

  • Subtract Half an Hour: Thirty minutes is good for beginners! If this allotted time does not challenge you, however, consider upping it to 45 minutes or an hour.
  • Add Fifteen Minutes: Tackle one household chore or personal health item every day like making the bed, eating vegetables, flossing, etc.
  • Add Half an Hour: Get moving, get grooving. Pledge to dedicate this time to a physical activity like biking, climbing stairs, going for a walk, going to the gym, etc.
  • Add an Hour: Switch techniques, genres, art forms and start something brand new–or double your time.

One thing to keep in mind, is that it doesn’t matter how good the art is you make if you are learning. Stretching the boundaries of what you normally do often means that your first attempts will probably suck. That’s okay! Give yourself permission to suck, but also to improve, revise, refine. You cannot see how far you’ve come, or how you’ve internalized the techniques you’ve been practicing, unless you put the time in. This is why discipline is needed to keep you on track.

A few things to think about depending upon your situation:

  • One hour writing sprints typically yield 750 to 1,200 words of text.
  • To hit the NaNoWriMo word count goal of 50,000, you would average 1.5 to 2 hours of writing every day.
  • If you’re a professional artist, consider using this hour to create something you haven’t sold or been contracted to create yet. Think of this as your pie-in-the-sky wish list!
  • If you need supplies, pay yourself a dollar every time you make art.
  • If you have kids, roommates, or family obligations, consider working out a time where you have an hour to yourself or, alternatively, break it up into two half-hour segments.
  • To instill discipline, you will need consistency. If you know you’re going to miss a day, either plan to make it up (if that works for you) or spend half the time on it instead.

The keys to making your own art on a regular basis is commitment. The motivation is the “why”, the discipline is the “how”, and the accountability is the “what”.


Pledge to hold yourself accountable to this Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge.

It’s one thing to say you’re going to make art or write that novel or what have you, it’s another to actually do it. Accountability is about proving to yourself that you have done the work you pledged to do.

Methods for accountability include:

  • Use a diary and write journal entries to mark your progress.
  • Buy a calendar and put smiley face stickers on it, or use the calendar on your phone.
  • Buddy up and find someone else who’s taking this challenge to hold each other accountable.
  • Check in every Wednesday here on my website, beginning on January 4th. Comments will be open.
  • Print out a free calendar and “X” off the days.
  • Use the hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 or #manw2017. Share your efforts every week–even talking about it with other challengers will help!

Accountability doesn’t have to take a long time; just by checking off a date on your calendar right after you’re done will complete this part of the challenge. There is no greater sense of accomplishment than being able to quickly look back at what you’ve done. Super important!


Manage your connections with your online and offline communities to remain focused but grounded.

For this challenge, connection taps back into the reasons why you’re making art. A story you write could make someone cry. A digital painting you create could instill a sense of wonder. The art you produce is a unique part of your identity, your humanity, and at the other end of your art is a reader, viewer, or player who’s interacting with your creation. Often, the best art evokes an emotional reaction, regardless of how well its crafted. Our relationships help give us the connections needed to understand the spectrum of human emotion. They also provide the means for self-care, and a tool to help us support one another.

Unfortunately, our connections can work against us because there are so many different ways to connect, that they wind up distracting us from what we want to accomplish as artists. The truth is that artists need solitude in order to create; being alone, even when it’s depicted in a positive, almost spiritual light, carries many stigmas with it. We hear the word “loner” and internalize our need or enjoyment of solitude as being wrong or bad or a sign that we’re broken. We need that “alone time” to focus, to listen to our innermost selves, to channel our voices into making art before we can share our creations with others.

This leg of the challenge is about managing your ability to connect against the discipline required to make art. For me, that is broken up into two, distinct parts: offline and online. Your mileage on these two areas in particular will vary widely, depending upon your situation.

I am listing below what I’m pledging to do for my challenge, in the hopes that you’ll use this as a baseline.

    Weekly Check-In: Pending any work-related promotions, interviews, this challenge, etc., I pledge to check in to social media no more than twice a week for personal usage.
    Quarterly Downtime: A few years ago, I took 100 days off of social media, and since then I’ve found that it took me two weeks to reset. I usually take the week off after a big show, but I will consider taking more of these breaks if limiting my access is not effective.
    Monthly Connection: I started this back in October/November, but it bears repeating now. Once a month, I am connecting with other artists/writers in my local community–outside of convention season.

Now that I’ve written the rules, it’s time to spend the last two weeks of the year reflecting on what I want to do for my challenge by reviewing what I’ve got on deck. I will post next week about this in particular, to help you prepare as well.

Rise up. And take the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge with me!

Make Art Not War 2017 (Part 2): Draft Guidelines

Make Art Not War by Shepard Fairy
Make Art Not War is a phrase that’s been popularized by street artist Shepard Fairy in a series of murals, like the one pictured above, found in Los Angeles and other parts of California. The phrase is simple. Powerful. The imagery clear. And it is my motto for 2017 for these reasons.

To that end, I’m devoting 2017 to a simple art challenge using a series of mantras and basic guidelines. The one I concocted is Don’t Get Mad, Make Art, and you can read about how I applied that over on Scalzi’s “Whatever” Blog in The Big Idea with Monica Valentinelli. All my frustration, all my rage, all my sorrow and empathy and joy… I want to finish sharpening my sword and engraving it to make a mega-butt ton of my own art in 2017.

Why am I keeping the rules for this simple? Couple of reasons. First, after working full-time as a writer, what I’ve found is that while discipline is crucial to making art, working on my own stuff fell to the wayside. And, I’m going to tell you why that is: money. If I can’t justify spending the time on something, I don’t do it because I can’t see the benefit. Even with Upside Down, which had a great launch, there was a lot of risk involved from the start. What if the collection isn’t received well? What if the slush pile doesn’t yield trope-smashing stories? What if, after pulling so many people together, it doesn’t fund at all? Money isn’t something writers talk about, because there’s still this pervasive idea that either we shouldn’t make it, that we’re asking too much, or that we should suffer for our art.

I don’t want to suffer. (Been there, did that.) I’ve already made decisions and gauge, constantly, how I can make a living doing what I love the most. If I had my choice, I would devote my time to my original work and not work for anybody else–but I can’t. I can’t afford it, and I can’t turn my back on the readers who supported me from the beginning. They came from my media/tie-in efforts, and I’m very grateful and aware of how I’ve grown as a result. Maybe some day I’ll have the power to command publishers and hordes of readers at my beck and call, but being as pragmatic as I am… Well, there aren’t a lot of writers who do and who can. Instead, we have to make it work with the tools and resources we have at our disposal, and I’m using this as a chance to bring my original worlds and stories into the world.

Another reason why I want to create simple guidelines, is because there are a lot of new writers and hobbyists out there who (have told me) are intimidated by any kind of challenge. It’s frustrating for them, because they haven’t internalized how to make the thing they love so they either never start, don’t find the time, or get discouraged. Unfortunately, the only way to learn is by doing. All the great ideas in the world can never manifest unless you shimmy and get out there and make art!

Without further adieu, here are the draft guidelines for my challenge. Comments welcome!

Author’s Note: I will post the manifesto and guidelines next week, so we have time to prepare for January 1, 2017.

Draft Guidelines for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

What I want to do for the 2017 challenge guidelines, is to cover three areas: time, tracking, and check-in. I don’t want to shape the challenge by telling people “what” to make, though I might toss a few fun bits in throughout the year to inspire y’all. I’m using some of the disciplinary practices I had to do when I used to play piano as a baseline.

1. Daily Practice: Devote one hour a day to making original art. Yes, all 365 days a year! If, barring sickness and what have you, a day is missed it needs to be made up.

2. Weekly Practice: I will post a minimum of two blogs per week. The first will be a check-in to see how both myself and everybody else’s doing. Comments will be open, so you can post links to your websites if you have something new to share. The second, will be about some cool thing I like. In other words, while this challenge is about making my own art, I can still support you (the reader) and my peers. I don’t want to say “I will post metrics, I will post what I’ve done, I will post pictures…” That feels a little too show-y to me, and I think that needs to be more organic than that.

3. And lastly… Social Media Usage: Okay, so originally I thought about taking a year off from social media, but that won’t work. I’ve got a lot of releases coming out, I’ve got fans to chat with, and unfortunately the vast majority of my writerly friends are more introverted than I am. Instead, I want to limit my public engagement for the entire year to no more than twice a week. I’ve got a few private means to keep in contact with friends and whatnot; this is the Twitter/Facebook/whatever stuff.

Thoughts? Am I in the right direction or do I need rethink this?

Monica Valentinelli >

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Subscribe to Monica’s Newsletter

* indicates required


Back to Top