My Artistic Personalities

When it comes to artistic style, it is usually best to just create and let it develop naturally. I’ve been struggling, however, with my own. I feel like I have split personalities that are all me, and yet not me at the same time (if that makes any sense). In other words, I don’t feel like I’ve settled on what makes my style unique just yet. So I thought I’d take time for a little analysis, because I think a little self-awareness is good. The process shouldn’t be entirely passive.

 To start, I went through my catalog of artwork and divided by similarities. As I did this, I found certain styles and phases I’ve gone through as I’ve developed as an artist. Then I went through and listed what it is I liked and didn’t like about each method, so that perhaps I can find my perfect mix.

The Watercolorist


My watercolor art tends to be semi-realistic and soft. I use light, quick washes of color to create a more painterly effect.


Watercolor paint, of course, but I’ve also created similar works using markers and ink.


I like the handmade quality of paintings, and it is very suitable for florals and botanical work.


I feel that my skills in painting traditionally are still a bit lacking, but I just need some practice. As a lot of my pieces end up onscreen, scanning and color correcting can sometimes be a challenge, as is creating repeats for patterns. Watercolor as a medium itself is not my favorite.

The Doodler


I had a phase where I put a lot of emphasis on line. I enjoyed creating intricate designs, mandalas, and zentangle-type drawings.


Primarily pen and marker, but also things like chalk and pencil. Some of my adult coloring pieces were finished digitally with the pencil tool in Illustrator.


This is a good style to use for adult coloring pages and jobs that require black and white only. I like the quality of hand-drawn doodles and intricate patterns.


I’m finding that nowadays, I like to emphasize shape, color, and texture more than line work. But I think I could still find a place for lines.

The Graphic Designer


This is the side of me that loves all things digital, from vectors to typography. This type of work uses a lot of flat geometric shapes, clean lines, and some patterns.


Digital software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign.


Being a book designer for many years, I love to work with type and study font design—great for page design and things like greeting cards. Although I love to draw and paint on paper, I also love to play around with vectors in Illustrator and create art with simple shapes and clean lines. This style is well-suited for surface design as using vectors makes scaling and repeating easier. Also good for work involving graphic icons.


It’s a little more difficult to add personality to vector work. Unless you are drawing freehand with the pencil tool, it can often look rather cold and generic as it doesn’t have your unique drawing handprint, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. There are lots of great vector artists out there. While there are ways to add texture to vectors, I tend to stick to flat colors with vector work, which has it’s good and bad points as well.


The Mid-century Illustrator


This is a style most prevalent in my recent work. This style feels vintage and hand-painted. It’s a little fun and quirky, and there is an emphasis on flat stylized shapes and bright colors. Big influences include Mary Blair and Rifle Paper Company products.


Gouache paint is a popular medium in this style, and other media that can create similar flat layers of solid color. I’ve used acrylic paint, marker, and digital brushes in Procreate or Photoshop.


I like the use of flat stylized shapes found in vector work I’ve done, but this introduces a more painterly, handmade quality. Very suitable for children’s illustrations, pretty florals, and happy holiday designs.


As mentioned under The Watercolorist, I feel that my painting skills still needs work to get to where I want it to be, and physical art needs to be scanned and color corrected. This isn’t a problem with digital work, though! This style tends to be simplified, so I’d like to find a balance of using flat shapes with my love of intricate pattern. Enter folk art…

The Folk Artist


This evolved from the mid-century style. It has the same flat shapes and colorful palettes, but with the added use of lots of PATTERN. I’m often inspired by various forms of decorative folk art such as naïve Americana, Norwegian rosemaling, and Ukranian pysanky Easter eggs. It can also be very painterly.


This suits both traditional and digital media. I’ve recently developed a love of acrylic paint for its ease of use and ability to create opaque layers and wonderful painterly textures.


This style incorporates many things I love—bright color palettes, pattern, and stylized shapes. Very suitable for decorative work, which is the bulk of my art.


I love painterly textures, but not sure if it’s best for surface pattern work, where flat colors are more prevalent and practical when creating colorways and separations.


The Crafter


This one’s a bit of a wildcard. I’ve always loved to craft in many forms. I’ve recently been exploring illustration that uses hands-on methods or is inspired by crafts, such as paper art, collage, embroidery, quilting, and digital art made to look handmade (such as my digital felt flowers).


Various craft supplies—such as embroidery, fabric, beads, paper, yarn, glitter, and paint (and their digital equivalents).


This type of art makes use of many of my skills—crafting, design, painting, and drawing. Digital pieces present other fun challenges that appeal to my technical side. Things like scrapbooking incorporate graphic design elements and photography, which I also love.


Although I want to continue experimenting, it’s probably not a practical avenue in the long-term as far as my illustration goes. It’ll be best used for specialized projects such as scrapbooking embellishments and crafts for my Etsy shop.


In creating this list of my artistic “personalities,” I’ve found a few common threads that I feel are totally ME: 

  • Florals. There will always be florals and botanical elements in my work. It is my favorite subject matter and is found throughout my work regardless of medium or style.

  • Pattern and detail. Pattern is always present as well, whether in creating surface designs themselves or incorporating pattern details in my illustrations.

  • Bright color. When it comes to color, I tend to favor bright, saturated palettes and jewel tones over neutrals or pastels. Perhaps this is due to my love of flowers!

  • Handmade feel. I love my clean vectors, and they have their purpose, but I think in general I like it when my work has a more handmade quality, even in its digital forms. I think going forward, I can achieve this by incorporating more texture, freehand drawing, and traditionally painted elements.

Other observations: Many of these seemingly distinct styles bleed into one another. I don’t just switch from one to another. Rather, I incorporate different elements as I go. I also think that, for me (not everyone), it is best not to get tied to any one medium. I like creating digital and traditional art pretty equally, and I think I would get bored sticking to just one or the other. I think I can still find a unique style that works across several methods. Though it might make things a tad more complicated, it’s not impossible. Each medium has their pros and cons, so it’s just a matter of what’s needed for the specific project.

I really enjoyed this exercise, and I think it will be very helpful as I continue to develop as an artist. It was sure fun to see how things have evolved over time. I think I am growing in confidence every day, and all these phases I’ve gone through are stepping stones. Thanks for bearing with me as I go through this process, and I hope my fellow artists get something useful out of it!

Sincerely, Nicole

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!**


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:


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...


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