Sj Nielsen Sketching Challenge | 2018
Sketching challenges have been a crucial part of my artistic journey. Years ago, I decided to do a sketch every day for a year, and I can’t recall a time where I have seen more growth in my artistic skill as well as my business. This challenge has multiple purposes: To help keep us both accountable. To set a concrete goal and reach our goals. To be okay with sharing our progress, knowing that we all start somewhere (and not to use our fear or lack of skill as an excuse not to start)! Jump in for all 31 days, 15, or 5. You will see more progress if you make it a daily habit, but anything you can do is better than nothing!
Below you will find the prompt list as well as a detailed explanation of the prompt for each day. You’ll notice that some of the prompts are obvious, while others are a little more abstract or open to interpretation; I want to give you enough direction as well as freedom. I would encourage you to get out and sketch on location as much as possible, however it might be necessary to work from a photo for some depending on where you’re located. Just don’t make anything an excuse! If you truly want to get better at sketching, the most crucial part is putting in the time. If you have to work from photos for every single prompt, at least you are sketching! In many areas of life, conquering your mindset is the most crucial part of the journey. Are you ready?! The first day starts January 1st!
[Day 1] Supplies:: I’ve always thought it was cool when other urban sketchers would sketch their supplies, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Whether you only have paper and a pencil or an entire collection of watercolor paints, sketch out some of your favorites!
[Day 2] Blind Contour: Get yourself set in front of something you’d like to sketch. Something small, something large, one item, or an entire room. Once you’re ready, put your pen somewhere on your page (in relation to where you want to start sketching), and begin. But here’s the trick - for the entire sketch you aren’t going to lift your pen OR look at your paper. The point of this exercise isn’t to end up with a beautiful work of art. In fact, it will probably look like chicken scratch, but this is a great exercise to train your brain how to see. This is also a great exercise if you want to associate yourself with a new scene and should be continue to be practiced no matter how skilled you are!
[Day 3] Coffee Shop: Get to your favorite coffee shop and give ‘em some love! Sketch your mocha or your favorite corner of the shop. Don’t like coffee? Maybe grab a donut instead!
[Day 4] Doorway: You might notice throughout this prompt list that I tend to have a fascination with specific details, such as doorways! Find an intriguing doorway and sketch it! What keeps your interest? Is it the color, the texture, or the tiny details?
[Day 5] Season: Sketch your favorite season, or the season that’s currently surrounding you! If you pick a winter theme, try using very light blue and light purple for your shadows in the snow instead of gray. This will keep the scene much more lively. To make your watercolor paint lighter, just mix the pigment with plenty of water.
[Day 6] Collage: Sometimes it’s nice to sketch multiple details of a scene instead of the scene as a whole. If you’re at you’re favorite restaurant, maybe you sketch some of the design of the room, as well as the food you ate and the people you were with, all on the same page! Sketching a landscape? Maybe 3/4’s of the page is the landscape, and the other portion is a close up of a particular flower in the scene. Experiment with leaving some of your painting white to create contrast with the painted portions.
[Day 7] Texture: Sketch anything with a texture that is exciting to you! Often the dry brush technique can be helpful when creating texture.
[Day 8] Repetition: Find a pattern around you that repeats. The top of your quilt, a line of pine trees in a landscape, or the columns of a cathedral. You will find pattern surrounding you in more ways than one!
[Day 9] Restaurant: Sketch your favorite restaurant! Maybe even grab a bite to eat while you’re at it! :) Don’t be afraid to show the owner or tag the restaurant on social media - you’ll find people love to see their passion or business come to life in a sketch book!
[Day 10] Movement: It’s time to create movement within our sketch! Cars passing by, people walking in a mall, pigeons picking up scraps, get out there and capture movement on your page!
[Day 11] Downtown: I might be a little biased, but I think this might end up being my favorite prompt. Sketch a busy part of town. Are you going to focus on the entire street or just a few buildings? Are you most drawn to the cars or the lamp posts?
[Day 12] Monochromatic: For this prompt, sketch anything you want, but try using only one color of paint. For the areas that are in shadow, use less water with your paint to have a more saturated color. For areas that are lighter, use more water. If this is difficult, start by creating a value scale first. Select one color (darker colors such as blue, green, and purple will be easier). Sketch out a rectangle that’s roughly 1x10 inches. Divide that rectangle into 1 inch boxes. Each square should gradually get darker or lighter depending on which end you start. You can easily go from dark to light by gradually adding more water to each square. This is the scale you will use in your monochromatic sketch.
[Day 13] What you See: No excuses today! Draw what’s in front of you! At home or at the office, it doesn’t matter! Show us part of your day through visual imagery.
[Day 14] Details: Pick anything you want to draw, but don’t show us the whole item. Get close up and sketch the details. Sketching a plant? Well maybe sketch only one leaf. You could also create interesting composition by sketching the entire object as well as a portion that’s up close on the same page.
[Day 15] Arches: Find an archway! Discover some interesting architecture in your town! Or discover a new building in another country - whatever you do, just find some arches to sketch today!
[Day 16] Different Country: Sketch somewhere that is not home to you. Of all the prompts, this would be the most fitting to draw from a picture (unless you just happen to be traveling out of your country. If this is the case, have a great trip! ;)
[Day 17] Power Lines: You might hate this prompt, or you might love it. I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved sketching scenes with power lines. I think there is something about the way the line cuts across the page that just intrigues me. If this prompt isn’t bores you, maybe try sketching a scene with a barbed wire fence? This might have the same effect. At this point we are over halfway through the challenge - have you found any things that seem like mundane objects, but for some reason they bring you joy to sketch?!
[Day 18] Brick Building: No special instructions required. Find a brick building and sketch it!
[Day 19] Reflection: This prompt can have multiple interpretations. Are you drawing yourself in the mirror? Is it the reflection of city lights in a rain puddle? Is it a journal entry with a sketch to accompany the text, reflecting on your day? Interpret this however you wish!
[Day 20] Nature: Another prompt that’s straight forward - land, animals, water, sketch anything in nature.
[Day 21] Where you Work: Show us where you work or something that is part of your every day scenery. If you’re a student, show us your dorm or sketchbooks. Show as that plant that gives your cubicle some life. Sketch on your lunch break or with your morning cup of joe!
[Day 22] Stairway: Straight on, spiral. Back alley or mansion. Outside covered with vines or indoors covered in carpet. Any stairway counts!
[Day 23] People: If you think this sketching challenge won’t be a challenge for me as well, you’re wrong! Here is the prompt I fear the most, and it’s also what I’ve practiced the least. Time to brush away that fear and get after it. Don’t feel like you need to get lost in the detail - maybe you’re sketching people on the go - maybe you’re focusing on proportions - maybe you’re sketching the details of your own hand by doing another blind contour! There are multiple ways to go about sketching people, and they don’t have to be realistic.
[Day 24] Only Ink: We are taking away the color for one day. Do a sketch with only ink!
[Day 25] No Ink: Switching it up on ya just a few hours later. Today we are going to take away the ink and practice using only watercolor. I find that sometimes I use ink as a crutch, so this is a great exercise to further develop your watercolor skills.
[Day 26] Color: Get your ink and paint working together again if you like. For this prompt, let’s focus on scenes or objects that have a wide variety of color.
[Day 27] Tradition: Another prompt that might require a photo, or pure imagination! Show us a family tradition. Does it involve food, or a special location, or a certain time of year?
[Day 28] Water: Oceans, lakes, rivers, oh my!
[Day 29] Beyond Comfort Zone: We are so close to being done with this challenge; what is something that has been difficult for you to sketch so far? It’s time to sketch it again! Pick something that pushes you out of your comfort zone!
[Day 30] Routine: Today let’s do the opposite of yesterday. What feels comfortable to sketch? What do you enjoy the most? Or interpret this a different way; what is part of your daily routine that you could show through sketches?
[Day 31] Your Choice: YOU MADE IT!!! Celebrate the final day by sketching anything that sets your heart on FIRE! :) What makes you want to keep up with this practice?! Find what you’re passionate about and get. after. it.