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Feeling a little sluggish post-Christmas? Rekindle your creativity with these art challenges, purpose-built to jumpstart your artistic journey.
On the one hand, Christmas can be stressful, and we’re glad it’s all over. But on the other hand, January can feel very quiet and anti-climatic, so it’s natural to feel sluggish. Sometimes then, you need to find an active way to get those creative engines firing again. And we’ve got ten ideas to help you do just that.
Illustration challenges are a great way to reboot your creative brain because they offer structure, motivation and a sense of community to help you out when you can’t get motivated by yourself.
These challenges, ranging from daily sketches to themed projects, are designed not just to help you create consistently but also to explore new ideas, refine your skills, and even step out of your comfort zone.
To help you out, we list ten challenges below that can help you practice, improve your skills, and showcase your work. We’ll start with some ‘official’ challenges that are popular within the creative community and then share some further, broader ideas for challenges to set yourself, then share with others.
Official illustration challenges
Jake Parker created Inktober in 2009 to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. It’s since become a worldwide phenomenon with thousands of artists taking on the challenge every year. It’s essentially a month-long challenge throughout October, where artists are tasked with creating one ink drawing a day. But of course, you don’t have to wait ten months to get started: why not have a practice run now?
Popular on social media, this challenge is exactly what it sounds like. Artists are challenged to reinterpret another artist’s work in their own style. It’s a great way to explore different techniques and perspectives, get under the skin of your favourite artist, and just have a whole heap of fun. You can use both digital and traditional tools, and 3D artists are increasingly getting involved as well as 2D artists.
The CDC challenges artists to design characters based on specific themes or criteria, with a new theme announced on the 7th of each month. It’s an initiative of Character Design References (CDR), an independent website dedicated to sequential, illustrative, and concept art from animation, games and comics. The aims of the community surrounding the challenge are to improve and learn from each other, promote their work online, and have fun designing characters together. The contest is open exclusively to 2D artworks created both digitally and traditionally.
36 Days of Type was created in 2014 as a personal project by Nina Sans and Rafa Goicoechea, both graphic designers from Barcelona. This annual challenge invites designers and illustrators to create an illustrated letter daily and post their creations on Instagram using the #36days hashtag. It’s a great way to explore typography and letterforms creatively, and here’s a great example by Robert Lomas.
Further ideas to challenge yourself with
5. Illustrated idioms
An idiom is a figurative phrase whose meaning is obvious to those who know it but totally perplexing to those who don’t. For instance, the meanings of “turn a blind eye” (ignore an obvious truth), “beat around the bush” (avoid mentioning the central issue) or “spill the beans” (admit a secret) are obvious to British people but non-English speakers would be unlikely to decipher them from the words alone. So it can be a fun challenge to illustrate idioms literally or abstractly, a playful way to experiment with concepts and storytelling. Some more examples to get you started might include “bite the bullet”, “cutting corners”, or “barking up the wrong tree”.
6. Portraiture challenge
Challenge yourself to create a series of portraits, either of real people, characters, or imaginary faces. It’s a great way to practice human anatomy and expressions, and push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you don’t know where to start, why call on Time’s most influential people of 2023 for inspiration? One of the best ways to approach a challenge like this is to reduce the amount of decision-making over subject matter (and thus prevarication). So you could either go down the list in order or pick a category such as actors (Michael B Jordan, Drew Barrymore, Ali Wong) or writers (Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie).
7. Fantasy creature design
This challenge involves inventing and illustrating a fantasy creature each week or month. Summoning a creature that doesn’t exist in the real world out of thin air requires tremendous imagination, and is a great way to fire up your creativity. You can find inspiration for subject matter in this list of fantasy novels from Goodreads.
8. Food illustration challenge
Love food? Love art? Then why not combine the two with this fun challenge, which involves creating illustrations of different dishes, ingredients, or food-related scenes? If you need a kick-start, you could turn to these latest cookbooks for some tasty ideas.
9. Travel poster challenge
This challenge involves creating posters of various destinations in your own signature style. These might include landscapes, cityscapes, or thematic travel ideas. Of course, there’s a whole world to choose from, ranging from the fjords of Scandinavia to the mountain ranges of Nepal, the frozen beauty of Antarctica to the sun-drenched lagoons of the Maldives. Plus, you don’t even have to restrict yourself to the real world! How about a travel poster advertising Pan’em, Gilead, Rivendell or Hogwarts?
10. Album cover redesign
Our last challenge is a firm favourite among modern creatives: choose an album and redesign its cover. This allows you to combine your love for music with visual arts and can be a brilliant way to practice conceptual thinking. Creative Boom favourite Ben The Illustrator did just that with this lockdown project, which paid tribute to albums by Blur, The Streets, De La Soul and other classic groups. And for further inspiration, check out these album redesign projects on Behance.
A final word
Remember, the key to these challenges is consistency and pushing the boundaries of your creativity. Even if you don’t complete a challenge, the practice and experience you gain are invaluable. And don’t forget to share your creations on social media!