50 Art Challenges for Making Creative Habits

I LOVE to be creative. I love to draw, paint, craft, and doodle. Why, then, do I struggle to do something I love on a regular basis?

The answer is LIFE. Stuff happens. We get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of work, family, and other responsibilities. Especially after I became a mother, I have found it hard to make TIME to do things for myself. I spend my whole day going, going, going, and by the end, I want nothing more than SLEEP.

I need to get back to making creative habits. I've always been terrible at it. That is why I've been assigning monthly projects to myself this year. It is essential for an artist like myself, especially one striving to create a career from my art. It's the only way to progress. Creative habits have several benefits:

  • Learn to start (and finish!) personal creative projects
  • Reconnect with your LOVE of art and creating
  • Expand and develop ideas
  • Improve your skills and learn new ones
  • Build content for social media and gain more visibility for your work

One fun way to get started is to participate in a challenge with a particular theme. This can be daily or weekly, just as long as it's in regular intervals. Post these on social media if you'd like. If you're super busy like me, keep it simple and short. Maybe just a few minutes each day. Make it easy on yourself, and you'll have a better chance of success. That being said, don't be hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon. Believe me—it happens to me ALL the time.

Here are a few tips that are helpful (where applicable):

  • Plan ahead. Write down a list of the days/weeks and what you will be doing each day so you're not scrambling for ideas or dealing with artist's block that day.
  •  Set a specific time for working on your challenge.
  • Don't overwhelm yourself–keep it simple! You don't need to create a masterpiece each time. And although a lot of these might sound like lots of FUN, stick to one or two at a time.
  • Reach out to others who are participating, or enlist others to join you! "Like" their content on social media and leave comments. Being engaged is fun and gives you a sense that you are part of a community of artists, which you are!
  • Think about your personal goals and use the challenges to your advantage. Ask yourself, what skills do I want to learn or improve? What area do I wish I were more successful at, either personally or professionally. Then find or create a challenge to help you towards that goal.

I've compiled a list of some ideas to get you going. I've divided them into four categories I particularly love—painting and drawing, lettering, surface pattern, and photography. Most are just fun ideas of my own, but I've also included a few popular challenges that have already been established and have huge communities on social media. There are also some wildcard ideas thrown in at the end, and there are myriad other challenges across the web not listed here. If you find one that sounds fun, do it! Whatever your goal, whether it's professional development or just for your own improvement, these challenges can definitely help you on your path as an artist and maker.

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Painting and Drawing

1. Inktober - daily each October - This challenge was created by illustrator Jake Parker. The idea is simply to create a drawing in ink every day and share!

2. Paint Everyday Like You Mean It by Shannon Gillman Orr - In this class on Skillshare, Shannon introduces her students to painting with gouache and watercolors, and provides direction to get you painting every day, starting with just a couple minutes and working up to fifteen minutes a day.

3. Zentangle and other abstract doodling. Zentangle is a popular method of filling a small square piece of paper with random, abstract ink doodle patterns. You can find instructions on different designs in various books, or a simple Internet search.

4. Daily comic - Draw something that happened to you that day in the form of a simple doodle, basically creating a comic strip of your life. In addition, Hourly Comic Day is held every February 1st and encourages artists to draw a comic frame for every hour they are awake.

5. Character sketches - Learn to create rich, unique characters by sketching a quick portrait every day. This can be faces of people, animals, or mythical creatures. They could even be existing characters from your favorite story or show reimagined in your own style.

6. Story sketches - Take your favorite book and sketch your favorite moments, with the option of reading as you go.

7. On the go? Keep a travel sketchbook to record your trip. Create quick doodles in pen and pencil, or paint watercolor scenes.

8. Mural - Hang a large piece of paper on the wall and add to it every day until it is full. It can have a theme or just be random.

9. Studies - Pick a favorite piece from an illustrator you admire and copy it (for your own personal use ONLY of course). This will give you a better idea of how other artists think, as far as how they compose their pieces, use color, and stylize different objects and characters. It might give you some insight into a technique you could implement in your own work.

10. Office supplies - Stuck at a desk job all day? Use your post-its, index cards, highlighters, and multi-colored pens to create works of art to decorate your cubicle.

Surface Pattern

11. Spoonflower challenges - weekly - Spoonflower is a popular site to create your own fabric, wallpaper, and gift wrap designs, and more—so obviously it is big with surface designers. The site gives weekly challenges for designers to participate in. You can find their current themes HERE.

12. 100 Days of Pattern - daily - Created by Make It in Design (another popular surface pattern community), this is exactly as it sounds—create a pattern every day for 100 days. They provide weekly prompts as well.

13. Holiday patterns - Get excited for the holidays with some daily seasonal sketches. It doesn't have to be just for Christmas—Halloween, Easter, Valentine's... you can find something to celebrate year-round. Imagine what you would like to see on gift wrap, party supplies, and other decor.

14. Florals - If you're familiar at all with my work, you'll know these are my favorite. They are a huge player in the surface pattern world. Experiment with different types of foliage and blooms, artistic styles, mediums, and colors to up your floral game.

15. Pattern scrapbook - Keep an eye out for patterns you come across in your everyday life. Take photos and save scraps as you go. Use these to create a digital or physical catalog of your findings that you can refer to for inspiration.

16. Found objects - Create patterns with physical objects—flowers, berries, buttons, paper cutouts, whatever. Arrange them artfully on a flat surface and photograph.

17. Get abstract - Paint or doodle lines and shapes to create all-over patterns.

18. Geometric shapes - This one would be good if you like working with vectors. Create repeats with simple geometric shapes—circles, lines, rectangles, stars, etc. Explore compositions and new ways for the shapes to interact.

19. Planner patterns - Find a planner or calendar with large blank squares for each day and fill each square with pattern using your preferred medium.

20. Repeat pattern - Sketch a pattern idea, and then draw it again each day, but change something about it. Give it more detail. Make it more abstract. Use a different color palette. Watch it evolve as you go and find out what changes worked and what didn't.

Lettering

21. Homwork - weekly - Created by letterer Lauren Hom, you can sign up to receive her newsletter each Friday which provides a theme to letter and share on Instagram. These are usually pretty fun and quirky.

22. Goodtype Tuesday - weekly - Another popular weekly lettering challenge. As the name suggests, artists can post their work every Tuesday for the chance to be highlighted on Goodtype's feed. You can follow them on Instagram and/or sign up for their newsletter to receive the week's theme.

23. Letter lines from your favorite songs, movies, TV shows, or books.

24. Word a Day - Simply letter a word every day. Pick a theme to unify your series.

25. Copy a font or logo for your personal study. Learn from how different designers have structured their letters and created their word compositions.

26. Sketch the same letter each day for a week or month in different styles

27. Scripture study - Letter verses in your sketchbook that are inspirational to you, or notes from a church service.

28. Chalkboard menu - Get a chalkboard to display in your kitchen and letter the meal of the day, or your weekly meal plan.

29. Calendar - Explore ways to write today's date in your sketchbook. (Bonus: When you look back in your sketchbook later on, you'll know exactly when you drew it!)

30. Go through all the letters (and numbers and symbols if you'd like) and create a cohesive alphabet, adding one character each day.

Photography

31. 1 Second Everyday - daily - This is a fun mobile app where you take small snippets from each day, and the app will combine them into one video. I've used this to capture everyday moments with my kids.

32. Instagram Weekly Hashtag project - weekly - Instagram provides a theme each week and phone photographers snap and share their own interpretations.

33. Portraits. Take a photo a day of your kids, family, pets, friends, etc.

34. Photograph a plant or garden in the same spot each day to create a timelapse of its growth.

35. Create some unique Instagram-worthy flatlays to show off your workspace and creative process.

36. Work on your food photography and snap a pic of something you cooked and/or ate that day.

37. Selfies - Take a self portrait every day and experiment with lighting and composition (and show off your fabulous face).

38. Stay-cation - Take pictures of your hometown and neighborhood as if you were a tourist there as you're out running errands or taking a stroll. What might be interesting to an outsider that you might not pay attention to yourself as a local? 

39. Nature walk - Get outside and take a picture each day of a piece of nature—a tree, flower, the sky, etc.

40. Play with lighting and shoot a series of black and white pictures of a subject matter of your choice.

Wildcards

41. Using a cookbook or food blog you love, go through the recipes one by one, like in the movie Julie & Julia.

42. Sew quilt blocks or crochet granny squares with scraps till you have enough for a blanket.

43. Follow along each week with a favorite reality competition show and recreate the challenges at home. (Some of my faves that might work well with this include Project Runway, Iron Chef, The Great British Baking Show, and the new craft-themed Making It.)

44. Fan Art Friday - Just for fun, create a piece of art each week based on your favorite things from pop culture. This can be a full illustration, a handlettered quote, or just a little doodle.

45. Vector icons - Learning Illustrator or another vector program? Create some quick icons using simple geometric shapes. Challenge yourself to learn a new feature from the program and incorporate it in your designs. Choose a theme (flowers, food, animals, etc.), or do something random every day.

46. Daily Palette - Create a library of color palettes derived from photos, nature, or your imagination for use in later projects.

47. List making/journaling - I think all types artists can benefit from writing. Keep a record of your thoughts and brainstorm ideas for future projects. Find a list of prompts to follow if you want.

48. Color pages in a coloring book or tablet app.

49. Pinterest - Yes, this can be a creative exercise! Seek out art, food, and crafts that inspire you and pin away. I think it's a great idea to keep in touch with the things that excite you as you develop your personal style.

50. Do something seasonal. Here are some ideas broken down by month...

  • January: Doodle a snowflake design each day.
  • February: Make mini Valentine's cards (and give them away!)
  • March: Decorate Easter eggs
  • April: Hand-letter your favorite cheesy puns for April Fool's.
  • May: Experiment with flower pressing.
  • June: Paint rock creatures for your garden.
  • July: Make pie art with decorative crusts.
  • August: Come up with 31 ways to draw the sun.
  • September: Create some fun back-to-school bento box lunches for your kids.
  • October: Paint or draw on mini pumpkins or autumn leaves.
  • November: Hand-letter and/or illustrate one thing you're grateful for each day in your sketchbook.
  • December: Paint or draw on Christmas ornaments.

Speaking of seasonal projects...

**Journals are a great way to keep a daily record of your habits, ideas, and sketches. Watch out for my new journal/sketchbook/coloring book, Everything is Made Out of Magic: A Seasonal Creativity Journal, on track for a fall release!**

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I hope some of these ideas spark your interest and start you on a fun, creative journey. I'd love to see what you come up with! And if you have more ideas, please share. :)

Sincerely, Nicole

 P.S. Don't forget, you can follow along with my progress on my monthly projects (#sturkartchallenge2018) and other challenges I participate in via my Instagram (@nicolejonessturk).

Practice, Practice, Practice

You can sit and read blogs and watch tutorials all day, but there is nothing that will improve you more than DOING. That is why this month, I've decided to focus on PRACTICE. Doing every day. Learning every day. Artists need to establish habits in their lives that help them progress in their work. I will elaborate more on creating creative habits later on, but for now I will just say that never have I ever learned more, created more, and accomplished MORE in my art than when I simply was in the habit of drawing every day.

My number one advice for how to be successful at art:

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Ideas will flow more easily. Your methods will become more efficient. Your art will look more polished and professional. I'm not saying you'll instantly find financial success, but it will certainly make you more prepared when opportunity knocks.

This month, I don't have a set project, per se. I'm still working on last month's Christmas collection, which I'd like to focus on. But I want to make sure I draw, paint, and create as much as possible. I am challenging myself to stop wasting what little spare time I have on TV, iPhone games, and unnecessary naps (although I would argue that EVERY nap is necessary when you're a mother, haha), and just MAKE ART.

As always, you can follow along on Instagram (@nicolejonessturk, #sturkartchallenge2018).

Sincerely, Nicole

Creating a Collection

I’ve really been working hard on my portfolio and building up my illustration career. I’m partway there. I’ve had a few good illustration jobs come my way in the past few years since I started freelancing—including picture books, adult coloring pages, web images, craft stencil and embroidery designs, and hand-lettered quotes. I feel truly blessed that I can occasionally get paid to make art!

It’s easy to get discouraged, though. Despite working for years towards this goal of making a living as a full-time artist, and even though I feel I’ve grown a lot, it’s like a never-ending journey. With the heavy competition out there, it seems like my work will never get seen, or that my portfolio will NEVER be good enough. 

One piece of feedback I’ve received recently is that I need to develop my collections. By that, I mean that I need more groups of coordinating art rather than just a bunch of individual, stand-alone pieces. This is especially important if I want to start licensing my art for use in commercial products (i.e., fabric, stationery, craft supplies, housewares, etc.), which I would LOVE to do. Potential customers need to be able to visualize your art on their products, so having pieces that go together, as well as a variety of formats, is key. 

I’ve dabbled in collections before in my surface patterns, and I’ve made some attempts to expand on some of them by making coordinating illustrations and such. Upon further research and reflection, however, I see just how much I am lacking in this area. I think I struggle a little with focusing my attention on one thing for too long. I just like to keep moving from one idea to the next! So, I have more learning to do, as always.

Similarly, if you're looking to get into narrative illustration (such as children's picture books) this idea still applies. In this case, your "collections" would be groups of illustrations showing the same story, character development, and so forth. This is something I would also like to work on, but for now, I've decided to focus on the licensing aspect. I’ve resolved to go back and revisit some of my past work and flesh them out into full collections. In addition, I’ll work my monthly project into this by building a new collection from scratch...

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I know it's a bit late in the month to be introducing my monthly project, but if you've been following along on Instagram, you'll know that I've already started. I've been getting a jump on developing some holiday designs. (Christmas in July!) So this collection I will be creating will be seasonal. I would like to include:

  • a moodboard
  • at least 4 full illustrations
  • a few spot illustrations 
  • some coordinating surface patterns
  • one or two hand-lettered phrases
  • some isolated decorative elements (flourishes, borders, etc.)
  • a lookbook with the collection title, description, color palette, art, and mockups

This is going to be a huge undertaking—bigger than any of my previous projects. It might take past this month to get this one done, and it won't stop with just this collection. Going forward, I think this is the route I need to be going with my art. I’m determined to improve and can’t wait to go through this process!

Sincerely, Nicole

Global Talent Search 2018

This year, I decided to participate in Lilla Roger's Global Talent Search again. The theme for the first assignment was to create a garden journal cover featuring staghorn ferns and Japanese anemones. This was my entry:

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Unfortunately, I did not make it into the top 50 and will not be moving on to the next round. Nevertheless, I was very proud of this design. Things really came together nicely, from idea to finish. I have been doing A LOT of drawing lately, and I feel like I'm finally getting used to my process and am developing my own style. Though I've been doing a lot of vector work lately, I went towards a more painterly approach this time (mostly due to my newfound love of Procreate on iPad!). I used a quote from The Secret Garden to feature on my cover. 

I had a small hiccup when I realized I had painted the piece at the wrong size. It was pretty devastating when I realized it. I'm usually very meticulous when it comes to following instructions and required specifications. Proportionally it was a little too narrow, so what I ended up doing was adding a design for the spine area. I think the design turned out better for it in the end. 

Here's a little peak into my process. I started out just doing some doodling and playing with color.

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I also sketched up a study of the anemones and ferns.

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These are my thumbnails. They're pretty rough and hard to make out. I ended up using the last one on the page, which shows a head with a burst of flowers coming from it.

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As I mentioned, my design did not end up making the top 50, but with the number of entries it was a long shot anyway. However, rather than putting it in my portfolio and calling it a day, I'm working on creating an actual journal to use it on. I've been working on a coloring book project off and on for a little while now, and it's developed into a combination of journal, sketchbook, and coloring book. I realized this cover would be perfect for it!

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Stay tuned to my website and Instagram (@nicolejonessturk) to keep track of my progress and be the first to know when you can get a copy of your own!

Sincerely, Nicole

Alice in Wonderland Project

Hello!

June is almost over (where does the time go, really??) and I've finished up my monthly project. As you know, I've been focusing on BOOKS. Specifically, I have been working on some illustration and page samples for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Shown here is what I ended up with. I had a lot of fun especially with the cover, which allowed me to explore lettering, composition, and characters. I hope you like it!

Sincerely, Nicole