How to level up your art this February

Wylie Beckert - Month of Love piece

Wylie Beckert's Month of Love illustration. The theme of "Favourite Love Story", based on the tragic tale of Tam Lin

If you want to improve your painting techniques and put some new drawing tips into practice, events like Month of Love are a great motivator. What is Month of Love, we hear you ask? Along with October's Month of Fear, these are month-long art challenges where each week has a different Love or Fear theme that artists can use as inspiration for a new work of art.

"The challenges are intended to be simple prompts, which are loose enough to provide a huge variety of interpretations while giving just the right amount of direction," says artist and organiser, Kristina Carroll.

"Each challenge month, I invite a handpicked selection of artists to commit to the challenge to keep ourselves motivated and the quality of art high. But because we're based on the Tumblr platform, I can use hashtags to find and curate art from anyone onto the main blog."

The idea for the projects initially came to the illustrator one dreary New England winter while feeling isolated and unmotivated.

"I had a spark of an idea and emailed 20 people before I had a chance to talk myself out of it. A few weeks later, the first Month of Love happened. Four years and hundreds of illustrations later, here we are!"

There are a million reasons why you should participate this year, here are just a few...

01. Experimentation

Jenna Kass - Diamonds Month of Love

Inspired by Perrault's Diamonds and Toads, Jenna Kass created this illustration for last year's Month of Love

For Carroll, the challenges motivated her to finally dive into exploring black and white work and helped her to create a whole new portfolio as a result.

The resulting work ended up in annuals (Spectrum, Society of Illustrators West, Infected By Art). It also got her a job doing interior illustrations for a book, which was a goal of hers.

"These challenges have pushed me, technique-wise, to places I have never gone before," reveals Jenna Kass. "In my bid to complete as many finished Month of Love pieces last year as I could given a very hectic schedule, I switched from oil paints to meticulous hatching with a pencil."

Reiko Murakami Month of Fear illustration

Inspired by the theme Danse Macabre, Reiko Murakami's "August" illustration for 2015's Month of Fear

"Since last February," she continues, "I've expanded on and refined this hatching technique to a point where a piece completed using this method will be published in an artbook this year. I'm also now preparing to make the jump to etching, which I'd never before even considered."

"MOF and MOL projects have given me a good opportunity to experiment with new art styles," says Reiko Murakami.

"My favorite part of the Month of Love projects is the chance to tackle topics I wouldn't necessarily pursue in my personal work and connect with a group of people working on the same subjects!" reveals illustrator, Kevin Jay Stanton.

"It's been a great chance to explore different ways of working in a variety of mediums too!"

Sam Flegal's Month of Fear piece

Month of Fear helped Sam Flegal learn how to leverage Tumblr for his success and grow his audience

Michael Manomivibul agrees: "The challenges are a nice way to stretch some more conceptual muscles and for me to practice a more editorial way of thinking."

"The first MoL challenges got me to experiment with new materials and methods," says Marc Sheff, curator of EverydayOriginal, a site that has opened doors for many of the artists who contribute to Month of Love.

"Specifically, I started working with acrylic and ink, whereas I had been doing commercial work exclusively in Photoshop and Painter before. This led to a love of the paint, more, bigger, more complex works.

"Now I work almostexclusively in acrylic and have opened doors to a handful of galleries now showing my work, and art shows like Illuxcon where I sell originals. New audiences for sure, new commissions, new revenue streams, new friends and clients all."

02. Structured devlopment

Jay Bendt's Month of Fear submission

A piece for October's Month of Fear challenge by Jay Bendt

Jay Bendt participated unofficially to start with. "MOF has been amazing for kickstarting a whole load of work for me!

"The challenges have been super interesting, and definitely created a bit of a nudge to make work that appealed to my interests while still having the structure of the 'assignment' for each week's challenge."

"I've got some exposure from art directors and bloggers (Mirrors, mentioned by Lauren Panepinto on FB and The Scar, featured by Sam Flegal on his blog. Both from MOF 2015)" says Murakami, "that, along with my artist friends' and fan's reactions, helped me to see which direction I should pursue."

The artist says she values the "right amount of pressure" in the projects, "It's not too loose and it gives good amount of restriction and time to create.

Month of Love - Kristina Carroll

Month of Love and Fear organiser, Kristina Carroll also takes part in her own challenges

"I like how I get to decide the format of the paintings while I can rely on Kristina for creative and inspiring theme. This gives me an opportunity to see where my style is in the community and which way I want to grow."

"These events jerk me out of my own head - I have to think on my feet, trust my decision-making, work quickly" says Kass, "and above all, I can't be precious with my execution."

03. Exposure

Michael Manomivibul Forbidden Fruit Month of Love

Michael Manomivibul's illustration with the theme, "Forbidden Fruit", shows Lancelot and Guinevere bound together but held apart by duty and oath to their King

Zoe Robinson, Art Director at Fantasy Flight Games scouts for talent by watching these challenges. "I did a lot of scouting on Month of Fear for a project I'm working on," she reveals.

"It's fantastic to have what I like to think of as a 'menu' of self-motivated people working in their preferred style on one broad subject. I know that I kept seeing pieces that would fit into what I needed, clicked on them, and the same name kept coming up, so it was made it a no-brainer to commission that artist."

MIranda Meeks Month of Fear

This piece created for Month of Fear's theme "What Lies Beneath" by Miranda Meeks caught the eye of Lauren Panepinto

Orbit books' art director, Lauren Panepinto also uses the events to check out talent, specifically Miranda Meeks grabbed her attention.

"I didn't know Miranda Meeks at all and I say that tentacles and hands piece stopped me in my tracks and I said who the fuck is that? And I already pitched her to my editors for a cover. I don't have a green light yet, but that's a direct result of Month of Fear."

"Through Month of Love I got connected to Everyday Original and sold a piece within a few minutes of being listed," says Manomivibul,"which was a nice little thing to happen in front of the greater community."

04. Community

Month of Love illustration by Kevin Stanton

One of Kevin Stanton's illustrations for Month of Love inspired by the theme of "Diamonds"

"Month of Love has helped establish my presence in the greater illustration community," says Manomivibul. "Making work together is a great activity to help us connect and make the community tighter."

Month of Fear and Month of Love gave me a platform

Ashly Lovett loves the platform created by the challenges: "I participated for the first time in the 2015 Month of Fear. I am an emerging illustrator trying to grow my social media and internet presence in the hope of catching the attention of art directors and galleries.

"Month of Fear and Month of Love gave me that platform. I've also connected with so many new artists. I feel that I'm apart of a new online community that I can share work, get advice, and grow in my career. And that really is priceless. I'm thrilled that I'm now a roster artist for 2016 Month of Love and I get to do it all over again!"

Lee Moyer's Love Your Neighbour

Lee Moyer's illustration for 2015's Month of Love, weekly theme of Love Your Neighbour

Lee Moyer says: "As an artist with a career spanning over 35 years, it is a delight to be the 'old guy' surrounded by so many young, wonderful, and innovative talents.

"By participating I not only get to see the remarkable new work by Steen, Reiko Murakami, Samuel Araya, Wylie Beckert, and so many others as it's created, I get to undertake the same assignments. I get to test my ancient mettle against the best and the brightest. There's nothing like it!"

05. Inspiration

Marc Scheff for month of fear

One of Marc Scheff's pieces for a Month of Fear challenge entitled "Phobia"

"It is always amazing to see the different ways that the group approaches the topics," says Stanton. Kass agrees, "Month of Love gives me a huge boost of inspiration and motivation, and my artistic self-discipline skyrockets.

"It's easy to get kind of beaten down by a Northeast winter by the time February rolls around, but then Kristina and all of the contributors collectively light a fire under my ass that lasts me through Spring."

It's not just portraiture or long-desired personal projects that can benefit from Month of Love, says Moyer. "The weekly challenges sometimes work in surprising personal ways. Last year, for example, I interviewed my mother about an event that took place before I was born: the loss of her foot in an accidental shooting at the hands of my late father."

06. Confidence

Jana Heidersdorf Month of Fear

Jana Heidersdorf for the 2014 Month of Fear challenge: "Demons Within"

Inspiring confidence is essential to artist progress. Jana Heidersdorf says "When I first started participating in the Month of Fear challenges I was still studying and had the self image of a lowly illustration student who isn't and won't ever be good enough.

"I felt insecure about doing the things I loved and interested me because I never really thought people would like them or, gasp, even pay me to do them.

"So even though it was scary at first, getting my work seen by people I admired and looked up to really helped me to reevaluate my work and to build the confidence I needed to take the next step and to see myself as a pro who is actually maybe ready to work and doesn't completely suck!"

Angela Rizza for the “Fetish” challenge in Month of Love

Angela Rizza for the "Fetish" challenge in Month of Love. "I Did my piece on formicophilia, which is when you're sexually aroused by insects crawling on you."

She takes the challenges as an opportunity to experiment and expand her current techniques while constantly trying to hold herself up to a high standard "how could you not with so many amazing eyes on you?" she says, while on a tight deadline.

"With fantasy illustration conventions such as Spectrum and IlluXCon being in the US the community seems very far away, I would have never had the guts to simply write to people (Communication. Heard that's dangerous!) so I got my introduction to this lovely, amazing and supportive community via these challenges of which I'm very very glad."

How to take part...

You can check out the official rules here. But the gist is this:

  • Go to our challenge list and check out this year's topics.
  • Make NEW art inspired by any challenges that strike you. (most people do at least a couple. But the real champions do all of them!)
  • Post your art to Tumblr during the challenge's designated week and use the hashtag #monthoflove
  • Every week Kristina will look at the #monthoflove tag and reblog the best art to the Month of Love page!

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Alice Pattillo

Alice Pattillo is a freelance journalist with a passion for heavy metal, horror, science fiction, fantasy and comics. She has over seven years experience in magazines, formerly working as a staff writer at Creative Bloq, Imagine FX, Computer Arts and 3D World, as production editor for Guitar World and Guitar Player and online editor of Metal Hammer.