How long does it take to form a habit?

There are different schools of thought. More than 2 months to become automatic. 66 days is the received wisdom (backed up by science), though it can vary widely depending on behaviour and circumstances. One study found it took anything from 18-254 days for people to form new habits.

And what happens to the brain and body when it does something similar everyday? The 100 day project is an online (though it doesn’t have to be) challenge whereby thousands of people all over the world commit to doing something creative for 100 days. They usually share the process online using the hashtag #the100dayproject. It usually runs between February and May.

It was started by designer Michael Beirut as a project for his students and has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. In some ways it goes against the culture of all things ‘new and shiny right now’ by leaning into the long term and repetitive. Some people do the project to make ‘100 things’, but most use it as a playful, exploratory way to learn about something and/or get better at it.

It is aligned in some ways with the idea of atomic habits, which is stealthily infiltrating our world at the moment- hailed as the way to go for all things from dieting and health to writing a book (no bad thing in my opinion- it helps me fight against my own tendency to make everything massive and unmanageable).

Interestingly though, (and perhaps this is part of why it’s worth doing the project), the well laid plans and ideas slowly transmute into something different over the course of the 100 days. In fact, recording what you make is often a visual diary of how atomic habits can change you, or at least your work.

Interestingly though, (and perhaps this is part of why it’s worth doing the project), the well laid plans and ideas slowly transmute into something different over the course of the 100 days. In fact, recording what you make is often a visual diary of how atomic habits can change you, or at least your work.

This year I took part, making small monoprint collages under the hashtag #100daysofmonoprintcollage. I started the project with (possibly too vague) ideas of exploring surface pattern, ‘mini’ landscapes and still lives, via my millions of scraps of coloured monoprint from the studio, and a carefully selected array of pens and pencils. I planned to make a collage everyday. I even cut lots of little bits of collage paper and put them in colour order!

Almost none of my plans came to pass. The carefully cut out, colour co-ordinated scraps are still virtually untouched in my studio. I didn’t ‘make’ a collage everyday. Instead, what I found helped more was a collage-making session once or twice a week, where I could make several at a time, all speaking to one another and connecting as a little series. Then each day, I took my pens and pencils (needless to say, this selection also changed over the 100 days) and ‘reacted’ to each collage with mark making, before taking a photograph.

I started off the project with a couple of vaguely still life compositions, but quickly stopped doing them- they took too long and weren’t playful enough. None were what you might call surface design.

Instead by about day 45/50 I had realised that the abstract, simple compositions were the most successful. Just reacting to the mono prints themselves. And in the last few, I allowed myself to make very few decisions and they were subsequently quiet and simple.

I think that’s what the project gave me – permission to be simple. To make decisions quickly and trust them. I started to realise that’s what it’s all about. Making art is making decisions. Some will be right, others not (and there are a fair few of my 100 days collages that don’t work at all). But if you do something enough, the ‘failures’ don’t matter. They need to happen to know what not to do and make better decisions, but they don’t define us or our work.

I think that’s what the project gave me – permission to be simple. To make decisions quickly and trust them. I started to realise that’s what it’s all about. Making art is making decisions.

In actual fact that is how children learn- falling down so many times as you learn to walk, really doesn’t matter if you’re trying 20 times a day. Getting the word wrong doesn’t matter if you’re giving it a go 50 times a day. The same is true of good art. We are all guilty of only viewing, and showing, the best art we make. But how does that make us feel- not to see the dozens of ‘mistakes’ and ‘failures’ that made the good work possible.

We are all guilty of only viewing, and showing, the best art we make. But how does that make us feel- not to see the dozens of ‘mistakes’ and ‘failures’ that made the good work possible.

I greatly enjoyed reading Hilary Spurling’s biography of Matisse, not least because it highlighted how much ‘bad’ work he made on the way to the ‘great’ work (and also because it was quite obvious he wouldn’t have been a great artist without his rather wonderful wife).

Yes, it is repetitive. Yes, it can feel like forever. Yes, holidays and breaks were difficult to navigate but in the end it was worth doing.

This blog has spurred me on to look at artists who use repetitive practices and acts to make art, and also some of the best 100 day projects, plus what I’ve done with my collages, motivation after the project and the unglamorous idea of settling into something for a long time. But that will all be for another post.

I will be offering the best of my collages, alongside new ones made since the project, via #artistsupportpledge on Instagram throughout August (2022), as well as on my website. They’ll be priced at £75 each.

In the mean time, check out #the100dayproject if you’re Instagram inclined or www.the100dayproject.org if you’re inspired to do it yourself.

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