Thursday, July 14, 2022

Refreshing Your Illustrations with Social Media Drawing Challenges

Some of my favorite portfolios pieces are random, one-off illustrations that I seem to conjure from thin air. Typically, I have no trouble dreaming up a scene, characters, and color palette to illustrate. Just put the Apple Pencil in my hand, my iPad in my lap, and let me get to work! However, every once in a while I find that big white space daunting. I just can't think of a thing to draw! And if I do, I find myself slipping into my comfort zone and drawing things I've already drawn a thousand times.

How to get motivated to take on that blank page? To create something new and different? Social media to the rescue! Well, to be more specific, illustration and drawing challenges you can find on social media. (Instagram in particular has a robust children's illustration community.) These challenges are sure to boost your creative thinking.

If I stare into space long enough...

Below are some of my personal favorite drawing challenges.

1. #dtiyschallenges

DTIY stands for "draw this in your style." Illustrators create an image, label it as a #dtiy, and post it on Instagram. This label is an invitation for you to draw the same image in your own style. It's so fun to see how different illustrators render the same image. Some have been dtiy-ed thousands of times! Most of these images are of individual human characters, but a good search using the #dtiyschallenges will yield landscapes, anthropomorphized animals, and still lifes. If you choose to do this challenge, use good etiquette and be sure to post the original image along with your own, use the creator's hashtag, and tag them in the post as well.

My very first #dtiy! So far ONE person has recreated their own version of it!

2. Virtual Studio

Head over to Twitter and check out @StudioTeaBreak. Virtual Studio provides a different illustration challenge Monday through Thursday. Monday is #mythicalmashup, in which you draw the combination of a mythical creature and some other object. Tuesday and Wednesday is for the #shapechallenge. An empty shape with a dot inside is provided and your challenge is to find out what it can become. Thursday, is my personal favorite, the #portraitchallenge. Portraits by famous painters are provided (out of copyright and by mostly dead painters) for you to recreate in your own style.

3. #transmundanetuesdays

On the first Tuesday of the month illustrator Carson Ellis posts an incredibly unique drawing challenge on Instagram, which was born out of the pandemic. On these "transmundane Tuesdays" she reveals prompts that fit in the following categories: Mundane - ordinary descriptors, Transmundane - out of the ordinary descriptors, and Garb - what they're wearing. This one is so much fun that my local SCBWI chapter (Western Washington) hosted a virtual get-together to do our transmundane illustrations together.

The #transmundanetuesday prompt from July 5th

4. Animal Alphabets

Another one on Twitter, this challenge provides the name of an animal every Tuesday in alphabetical order. They have done the alphabet MANY times over and as a result, the animals they choose are quite specific and unique. At the time of this post, they are currently on Lionhead Rabbit. 

5. Various monthly challenges

Mostly on Instagram, there are a number of monthly challenges you can undertake. Some of them even provide a daily prompt word. Here are just a few:

September - #sketchtember

October - #inktober #scbwiartober

November - #folktaleweek

May - #mermay

June - #junicorn

2021 prompts

My creation for #13 - Spooky pushed me to use a dark palette and to learn how to use gaussian blur!

6. #bscolorchallenge

And, I'll take a moment to promote an illustration challenge presented by my very own critique group @thebroadstrokesart. Every month, we post an eight color palette created by the very talented Leanne Hatch. It's a flexible challenge in which you can attempt to use as many or as few of the colors as you like to create your illustration. It's incredible to see the variety in the illustrations produced with the same handful of colors! We're taking a break for the summer, but will be back with a new palette in September.

The #bscolorpalette from August of 2021
My creation based on the palette.

I hope you'll check out at least one or two of these challenges the next time your creative practice needs a refresh. (Um, maybe even try out my #dtiy?...) Do you have a favorite illustration challenge on social media? Please feel free to share it in the comments below! 

Ellie Peterson is an author and illustrator of many picture books including HOW TO HUG A PUFFERFISH and SCHOOL IS WHEREVER I AM. Find out more about Ellie and her work at 

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