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Artist’s 100 day challenge of left-handed sketches

For many artists, the Covid lockdowns had a huge negative impact. Exhibitions were cancelled, studios were closed and creativity was stifled. But one UK artist, Donna Poingdestre, decided to set herself a 100 day challenge to help keep those creative juices flowing.

We first found out about the project when Donna started posting images online and soon we found ourselves eagerly waiting for the next one, so we got in touch with Donna to find out more about the experience…

So tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea of setting yourself this 100 day challenge of sketching with your left hand.

I’m currently doing my masters at St Martins and found myself with a bit of a creative block around the time of the second lockdown and my friend Angela mentioned the idea of doing a 100 days challenge. So I started it in January 2021 with no agenda other than doodling with my left hand.

So just to clarify you are right handed 😊 ?

Ha! Yes I am right handed. I just decided I’d go ahead and do a sketch with my non dominant hand. I decided this would be my challenge as I don’t have to be precious about it. There was no pressure or expectations from me or anyone else for that matter. It was just nice to be free and I’m not scared about things not looking right and happy to show my work online, warts and all.

Day 64 of Donna's 100 day challenge
Day 64 of Donna’s 100 day challenge

Yeah I totally agree with that. I think it’s healthy to see the process artists go through including their failures. I think we get caught up in this idea that we can only show the good stuff and not share everything else. but it’s all part of being an artist.

Absolutely and that’s what this, I guess was about. I put the stuff I was sketching online making it clear it was done with my left hand. I was mainly posting on Instagram to make myself accountable, so I had documentation of it. But then as I started posting I started getting messages asking if they were for sale and if they can have one. So to begin with I started doing art swaps. I love a good art swap as I can’t afford my own work never mind anyone else’s and I also gave some away as birthday presents but then more asked if they could purchase them but the only problem was I’d been doing the drawings in my sketch book so had to make a decision on which ones to sacrifice as they were on the back of others.

So, has your 100 day experience changed you as an artist in anyway? Do you incorporate your left hand at all when you paint now?

Well when I painted at Korpfest in Peterborough I decided I was going to try and replicate one of my left hand drawings. When I paint at a festival or I’m painting a wall it usually involves me trying to replicate a sketch I’ve done which is a strange process as you’re trying to recreate loose and fluid lines.

Yeah that must be tricky for you as I’d describe your style as almost abstract. Even though you can see it’s a face, there’s still a lot of loose and fluid lines and in-the-moment mark making.

Exactly! Trying to replicate something I’ve done with my left hand, now with my right is quite a challenge, but since doing the 100 day exercise I’ve actually found it getting easier. The reason for doing the task was because a lot of my work is done on a fairly large scale and when lockdown happened I found that I had to scale down my work. I went from two studios in Portsmouth to hanging out on my kitchen table. So it was almost as a reaction to what was going on. My work became more insular, more personal and quieter as I adapted to my new work surroundings.

I also started doing something that writers sometimes do when they have writers block which is to take a sheet of paper and just start writing… anything. Whatever springs to mind even if its blah blah blah over and over again. The idea is to keep up the pace and just keep writing.

It almost sounds like a form of therapy?

Yeah it kind of is. It’s like a brain dump. During lockdown I couldn’t get to Uni to carry on with my course so I needed to keep my creative juices flowing even if it was on a smaller scale than I’m used to. So each day I got up and made sure I did something creative and that’s when I decided to set myself the 100 day challenge.

Historically I used to teach life drawing and getting students to use their non-dominant hand is a common practice in lessons.

Day 26 and one of our favourites from the challenge
Day 26 and one of our favourites from the challenge

I mentioned the word therapy, would you say that under the circumstances that lockdown presented, that your work became more personal? That it wasn’t about commissions etc any more but just about you?

Absolutely. Basically I needed to do something from stopping myself from going mad with all the restrictions that had been put in place. The challenge, I found, was actually incredibly freeing as I didn’t really care what they turned out like as long as I kept going. In fact some of them were awful!

Well you might think that but from the comments on social media it seems like there’s a lot of people out there that really liked them. Were you surprised by the reaction when you started posting your sketches?

Completely. As I said earlier, I wanted to post them to make myself accountable. It was never about trying to sell them, so when all these lovely comments started appearing and then getting asked if they were for sale, I was gobsmacked. I even started getting sent images by other people who set themselves the same challenge which was lovely.

I guess I just wanted to make my brain ache a bit. When I paint I love all those happy accidents, those bits of mark making that you look back and realise it worked, then I learn to use those accidents in my future paintings.

The popularity of the project took Donna by surprise with people requesting to purchase the sketches
The popularity of the project took Donna by surprise with people requesting to purchase the sketches

So your happy accidents become part of your style?

Yeah, the accidents then become techniques. So part of doing this left handed challenge was to push myself to be completely free and allow those lovely accidents to happen. What I also loved was seeing certain sketches that had a beautiful rawness to them. What I’m probably most well known for is pretty girls and boys but these sketches had something else to the point where I’d look at them and think ‘bloody hell did I do that’ which is a wonderful feeling.

So when you sat down to do one of your left hand sketches did you have a plan of what you wanted to achieve that day?

To be honest the process was very basic. I’d use a reference as a total starting point, you know like an image from a magazine or from a face I saw on the tube or from social media. It never ended up looking like the reference but then that was never the intention.

And how long would you roughly say each one took to create?

I love this question because whenever anyone asks me how long a painting took I always say 50 years 😊

Yep totally understand your point!

Sorry I know what you’re asking. To begin with I was taking probably more time than I should have, maybe spending a little too long getting bogged down with unnecessary detail. So the ones at the start were probably about an hour each but as I started to relax and free myself up I found the sketches were completed anywhere between 3 and 10 mins.

How many sketches do you have left?

So I did 100 sketches but as I said earlier as they were done in my sketchbook I had to sacrifice some of them, so I managed to save 64 and out of those some went to friends as presents and art swaps so I think I’m left with about 50 or so.

Well I guess the final question is where can people go to have a look at your lovely sketches?

All the remaining sketches have been put on to my website www.winniemay.com

Donna Poingdestre aka Winnie May also has some of her stunning work available on CreativeFolk

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