The Perfect 100 Day Project: How to Choose, Make, and Finish Your Creative Project by Rich Armstrong helps you come up with ideas for and execute a 100 day project through a series of exercises.
I can’t recall when I initially heard about the first 100 Day Project, started by Michael Bierut in 2007, but I definitely didn’t know the story behind it. Bierut began the project with his graduate graphic design students at the Yale School of Art by challenging them to do a design operation that they were capable of repeating every day for 100 days (the length of a semester). On the afternoon of Day 100, each student had up to 15 minutes to present his or her project to the class. Student projects ranged widely in content – from taking a picture each day with a stranger – to picking a paint chip out of a bag and responding to it with a short writing. One student, Ely Kim, filmed himself doing a different dance in a different place every day, which led to international opportunities, film festivals from Paris to Berlin, and interviews on MTV and the BBC.
The #100dayproject is now an annual event on Instagram (the next round starts late winter 2022). This is a free global art project for creatives, who are charged to pick an action, do it consistently for 100 days, and share it.
I launched my own 100 Day Project back in 2013, when I created 100 paper weavings during the last 100 days of the year. This was a challenge to myself, a call to action. As an artist, I found myself getting sidetracked with bookkeeping, marketing, writing grant proposals… you name it! In addition, I’d moved from Oregon to Colorado the year before and was still figuring out how to establish myself in a new community. This project helped me dedicate a chunk of my day to creating, and it also enabled me to grow my online presence, because I decided up front that I would blog regularly about the process. I also offered my small weavings for sale online.
Tiles of Mel Beach’s 100 Day Projects. Top/left: 100 Days of Dice Doodles, Right/bottom: 100 Days of Hand-carved Stamps.
Here are some tips for creating your own successful 100 Day Project:
Define your project
Rich Armstrong, author of The Perfect 100 Day Project, has an entire chapter on designing a project. Some of us have no trouble coming up with ideas (yay, you’re ready to get started!) but for others, this is the main obstacle. Armstrong has developed a series of exercises to help you:
- Brainstorm project ideas that relate to what you’re currently doing, what you love to do, what you are good at, etc.
- Create a mind map of the reasons you want to do a particular project, such as developing a body of work, starting a line of cards, or creating a daily sketch.
- Acknowledge constraints like time, money, or equipment.
- Define parameters that include duration, what, how, when and where.
Be specific (set those parameters)
This might sound simple, but it can be really hard. The clearer you are about the specifics of your project, the simpler it will be to carry out. As Mel Beach of Mel Beach Quilts acknowledged, “I’ve considered participating in the #100dayproject before but always chickened out at the last minute because I couldn’t choose a focus area that excited me and/or one that would be feasible with my travel schedule.” When the pandemic hit in 2020, she came up with an idea for a 100 Day Project that would challenge her to grow as an artist, be portable in the event that she was able to start traveling within the 100 day scope, and would use materials and resources she already had on hand.
Make it Fun
Mel Beach, who grew up playing lots of games, incorporated rolling dice into her first 100 Day Project, 100 Days of Dice Designs, in which she explored 7” raw edge fused quilt block compositions. She created a chart with the six numbers (for each roll of the die) and three columns, listing color schemes, elements of art, and design principles. She rolled three dice each day to come up with her prompts. Using her chart, her first prompt was monochromatic, form and pattern.
Leaving an aspect of your project up to chance can add some excitement and lessen any subconscious bias. For my own 100 Day Project, I invited paper artists and makers to send me papers to weave with, and I received a variety of papers I never would have considered weaving. My guess is that you’ll run across things in your daily life that relate to and/or influence your 100 Day Project. Since I needed at least 200 papers for my 100 weavings, I was on the lookout for interesting papers (maps, paint chips, sand paper) which I integrated into my paper weavings. I began to wake up exited to see how two papers interacted when woven, and I started exploring what it meant to weave paper and how I could alter the process.
Pieces from Helen Hiebert’s 100 day project: 100×100 Paper Weavings. Left/top: 100 x 100 Paper Weavings #1, 10″ x 8″, a New Yorker magazine cover & a Hark! Handmade Paper, Right/bottom: Handmade clay paper by Christine Higgins woven with Steve Pittelkow’s hand-marbled paper.
Make it Doable
Some people I queried for this article said they couldn’t stick to a project that required more than 5 minutes a day. Five minutes multiplied by 100 days adds up to 500 minutes, or 8 1/3 hours. You can definitely accomplish something in that amount of time. Personally, I spent between 30 minutes and 2 hours each day on my paper weavings. You’ll have to decide what you can do based on your own life commitments, but it is important to consider. When you come up with a project you’re excited about, it is easy to think you can do anything. But life happens, and you want to be able to get your 100 Day Project done. Commit to a minimum amount of time and if you exceed it, great. If not, you won’t fall short, which can lead to a feeling of failure.
Set a daily deadline
Integrating your project into your daily routine can really help, and in my opinion, procrastination is not your friend. Unless I had an appointment, I created my paper weaving right after my daily workout and breakfast. If you have a regular studio practice, you can work your 100 Day Project into it; if you don’t, a 100 Day Project is a great way to establish a daily practice.
Just like the grad students at Yale and participants in the #100dayproject, finding or making a community can really help: it is inspiring to see the projects others come up with; it is a challenge (in a good way) to keep up with a group; and it is motivating to share your project with others. If you need more accountability, do the challenge with a friend, creative partner or accountability buddy who can help keep you on track. An added bonus is that you get to help them stick to their project, too.
Let go of Perfection
Most likely, you are not going to create 100 masterpieces, and that’s okay. A 100 Day Project allows you to focus on process over product, progress over perfection. Doesn’t “creating something every day” sound easier than “producing a work of art each day”? I began to look forward to the process of weaving daily, and I ended up finessing my technique as the project progressed.
Share far and wide
Tell your family and friends about your project, or choose to engage coworkers, business associates or a wider network online. My hunch is that interest will grow over time – people who are following you will begin to anticipate what you’re doing each day, especially if you write about it and share images. I posted photos of my paper weavings and offered them for sale, which resulted in selling 20% of the weavings during the challenge and a few more afterwards. Sharing your project will elicit responses you cannot foresee. I found a lot of joy in simply sharing what I was thinking about each day, which related to the weaving but wasn’t necessarily about the weaving.
Left/top: In the 100 Days of Mark Making by Men Beach, participants roll 2 dice to the determine the medium and shape of the mark making. Right/bottom: The Ultimate Paper Swatch Book by Helen Hiebert. Helen asked paper makers and paper companies to sponsor her 100 x 100 Paper Weavings Project in order to have a variety of paper to work with.
I highly recommend doing a 100 Day Project as a creative boost or a lifelong habit. Come up with a solid plan, do the work, and I think you’ll be surprised. Hopefully, you’ll wake up each morning looking forward to the next day in your project. You might become even become addicted.
Mel Beach says, “Completing my first 100 Day Project was bittersweet. On my first day off, I found myself missing this daily habit and started to plan a new and different 100 Day Project.” Using her playful approach of rolling dice, she completed five 100 Day Projects, each exploring new designs, mediums, and techniques. My own 100 Day Project gave me the momentum to turn the project into an online class that I offer every year called Weave Through Winter (although I’ve shortened it to one month in length). I hope you will try your own 100 Day Project – good luck!
Helen Hiebert is a Colorado artist who constructs installations, sculptures, films, artists’ books and works in paper using handmade paper as her primary medium. She teaches, lectures, and exhibits her work internationally and online, and is the author of several how-to books about papermaking and papercrafts. Helen has an extensive network of paper colleagues around the world and her interest in how things are made (from paper) keeps her up-to-date on current paper trends, which she writes about in her weekly blog called The Sunday Paper. She interviews papermakers and paper artists on her podcast Paper Talk, and she holds an annual paper retreat and papermaking master classes in her Red Cliff studio each September.