Steve Strode's 30-day challenge

Kick-start your creativity with Steve Strode's 30-day painting challenge!

Join in with some or all of Steve's 30 painting challenges and let us know how you get on by joining the forum discussions.


Use the numbers below to jump to each challenge:

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen Twenty Twenty one Twenty two Twenty three Twenty four Twenty five Twenty six Twenty seven Twenty eight Twenty nine Thirty

Steve's challenge number one - get your creativity organised!

To begin your 30-days make yourself a folder - either physical or on your PC - and start filling it with all the ideas for what you'd like to create.

Add your own sketches and studies, research on other painters and painting styles you like, photographs you've always wanted to recreate on paper or canvas, maybe a Christmas card has inspired you? Add this to your folder and more - it will become the perfect go-to place when you feel you've run out of ideas!

Use the forum thread to show us the first thing to go in your folder.

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Steve's challenge number two - enjoy yourself!

Fun paint splatter

Sometimes we get so caught up in the process of painting that we forget to have fun.

Ask yourself 'what would happen if....?' For example, 'what would happen if I use oil pastels and watercolour together?' or 'does ink work with charcoal?'

Whatever you think of just give it a go! Work with any blend of wet and dry materials and see what you can acheive - what's the worst that can happen?

The positives of this challenge are that you will expand your painting horizons and, above all, you'll have fun with no pressure.

Share your experimental creations with us in the forum thread, telling us what you used, and let's see what we can discover!

Steve's challenge number three - ban the brushes!

Banned brushes

So today brushes are banned! See what else you can find for applying paint to paper or canvas.

Painting knives are an obvious choice and many artists use old credit cards, both of these are options of course but think outside the box and see what else will add to your mark-making skills.

Raid the back of kitchen drawers, pick a range of items from the garden, use your hands - you may well find the perfect item that you'll use again and again as your continue your painting journey.

Share your results in the forum and tell us what items you have used to create today's artwork.

Steve's challenge number four - limit your tools!

Big paint brush

Yesterday we banned the brushes but allowed your imagination to run riot with other possible painting tools, today you're limited to just one knife and/or one brush.

The only other stipulation is that you choose a slightly bigger one than you'd normally be comfortable using for the subject you choose to paint.

Using a bigger brush or knife will enable you to explore possibilities without the fuss.

Let go and loosen up - share your big brush, or knife, paintings with us and tell us how you found the challenge.

Steve's challenge number five - less is more!

Tangy by Steve Strode

Today pick a single subject, a piece of fruit for example, and paint it using just 100 strokes - remember that blending counts as a stroke too.

Take a look at the result and, if you'd like to, paint it again using even fewer strokes.

Being economic with your marks will make you less fussy and improve your ability to know when to stop and avoid over-working your paintings.

Share your minimal mark-making paintings with us in the forum - no cheating!

Steve's challenge number six - Go monochrome!

After Richard Schmidt

Pick a colour, any colour, and vary the values with the thickness of the paint. No mixing, just thinning!

You can use a rag or cotton bud for rubbing out lighter sections.

Share your value studies in the forum and let's see which colours you choose to work with on this one.

Steve's challenge number seven - draw from life!

Dog sketch

Whether they take 30 seconds or 30 minutes - pick up a sketch book and start drawing from life.

Give yourself an hour and make as many sketches as you can. You don't need to leave the house but remember that a small sketchbook fits easily into a bag or pocket and you never know when you might see something you want to make a record of.

Make today the day you start a good sketching habit and improve your confidence as you go forwards!

Share your best sketchbook page of the day in the forum.

Steve's challenge number eight - what's black and white all over?

Painting of old photo

Your challenge today will be as you get to grips with lights and darks in a picture by going monochrome.

Use your own black and white photos or images from old books and tackle the subject in shades of grey.

Don't forget that you can change a coloured photograph to grey scale using a computer.

Share your best results with us in the forum and tell us the story behind the picture.

Steve's challenge number nine - explore colour temperature

Snow scene

Take three basic colours of burnt umber, ultramarine blue and white and start exploring temperatures by leaning towards browns for the warms and blues for the cools.

Snow scenes are a good place to start and, being January, we may just have a drop of the white stuff to inspire us! Cold scenes need some warmth to balance them - so think carefully and remember, snow isn't really white...

Whether you choose a snow scene or something else, share your paintings with us and send a shiver to to the forum.

Steve's challenge number ten - paint metal

Copper pans

You shouldn't have any difficulty finding a range of metal objects around the home that you can paint, but you can only use the same three colours as yesterday - burnt umber, ultramarine blue and white as the base for your greys.

Remember what you've learnt already about value and temperature and start adding reflections into the mix too.

Tin cans, pots and pans - what will you choose? We look forward to finding out!

Steve's challenge number eleven - it's all about the angle

Draw or paint a single subject, such as a tree, from four different angles.

Our initial viewpoint of a subject is often not the best one and this exercise will help develop your compositional skills and enable you to start looking beyond the obvious - after all, if you don't look you'll never know what's just around the corner and it could be the perfect scene is just 90 degrees away!

Share all four viewpoints and it will be interesting to see if there's a consensus on which work best.

Steve's challenge number twelve - set up a still life

Still life painting

Set up a simple indoor still life of one or two objects and complete your painting over more than one session.

This challenge is a great start for anyone who'd like to take their painting outdoors as you'll encounter the effects of changing light on your subject over a period of time, but with more control.

Share your still lifes with us and let us know how different you found the lighting when you returned to your subject.

Steve's challenge number thirteen - learn from the masters

Girl on the Beach

Take a really good look at the work of an artist you admire, such as one of the Old Masters or an Impressionist painter.

Study the light and composition of the piece and use this language of painting to create your own work based on, but not copying, the original.

Making this a regular part of your painting practice will really help your creative journey.

Let's see who chose which artist and painting for today's challenge! Steve chose Joaquim Sorolla as the inspiration for this acrylic painting, Girl on a Beach.

Steve's challenge number fourteen - take a good look in the mirror!

Frank Bingley self portrait

This self portrait is by Painters Online galley artist Frank Bingley, painted using the Zorn palette.

Using the 'Zorn palette' of yellow ochre, ivory black, vermilion and white, set up your painting surface next to a mirror and develop your observational skills by painting a self portrait.

Steve's top tips are to have your surface as close to the mirror as possible, to avoid moving your head too much, and, if you'd like to paint a profile set up two mirrors.

Paint what you see, not what you think you look like!

This challenge will also help improve your colour-mixing skills.

Share your finished portraits with us and let us know how you found this challenge.

Steve's challenge number fifteen - create a photomontage


Browse through a variety of magazines and brochures. Cut out any images which appeal to you and use them to create a photomontage.

This cutting and sticking exercise is a great way of generating new ideas and allows you to play with content and composition before committing to a painting.

Collect images regularly and keep them in your folder for future use!

Steve's challenge number sixteen - test your memory!


OK - find a photograph with a subject you'd like to paint. Have your materials all ready and close to hand; set a timer for just two minutes and study your photo carefully.

At the end of the two minutes, turn the photo over and start painting until you can't recall any more - no peeping!

You'll find this challenge will help determine what is and isn't important about the subject - a great lesson to take into future painting projects!

Share the photo and your finished piece side-by-side and let us know how you found today's challenge.

Steve's challenge number seventeen - take the three-colour challenge!

fauvist painting

This Fauvist-style portrait is by Amanda Bates and is taken from the Painters Online gallery.

Take three random colours and white - no primaries allowed - and challenge your perceptions of what colours fit the subject you're painting.

Use light, medium and dark value paints such as violet, orange and green and see where the colours take you. Remember it's the relative values that count for this one.

Look at Fauvist painters for inspiration and share your results with us.

Steve's challenge number eighteen - it's not what's pretty that counts!

Watering cans

Painting by Lynn Parkins, taken from the Painters Online gallery.

Today's challenge is to create a painting of objects that you find lurking in the bathroom cabinet, garden shed or the cupboard under the stairs to make you realise that you don't have to paint what's pretty to get a good result. You can make the ordinary look extraordinary by experimenting with interesting light, format and composition.

Share with us your tubes of toothpaste, rusty watering cans, ironing boards and more.

Let's see who finds the strangest object of the day!

Steve's challenge number nineteen - studying colours

Colour swatches

Lisa Shearing produced this colour chart when reviewing a set of W&N acrylics.

Take some household objects or paint colour charts from your local DIY centre and settle down to try and match the colours as best you can with the paints in your palette.

This will help you explore value, temperature and intesity and you'll also get to know your preferred medium better.

Adding notes to your charts will remind you of how you mixed particular colours - store these in your folder too for future use!

Steve's challenge number twenty - there's no place like home!

Painting on map

Greg Lashmar created a series of paintings of landmarks on local maps and shared them in the Painters Online gallery. Nice idea!

Start generating ideas for a painting project that celebrates your hometown or village. Take a sketchbook or journal and fill it with sketches, photos, maps and any other paraphernalia that relates to your local area.

This simple idea could easily generate dozens of paintings. Try to commit to at least one painting from life when the weather permits!

Share a photo of your findings and let us know what you intend to paint following your exploration of home.

Steve's challenge number twenty-one - try another medium

Art materials

'Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got,' says Steve. So today, push your boundaries aside and venture into the world of a new medium and discover the life it can bring to the most familiar of subjects.

Maybe you have a set of coloured pencils at the back of the cupboard, or some oil pastels you've meant to try but haven't got around to it? Well today is the day to test their possibilities!

Let the happy accidents that come from trying something new abound and share your discoveries with us.

Steve's challenge number twenty two - develop your colour sensitivity

Bright colour

Today's challenge involves placing a piece of clear acetate over the top of a colour photograph or painting and, using acrylic paints, recreating the section underneath onto the acetate. The aim is to recreate the colours as closely as possible.

Top tip? Start with something simple and build from there! We look forward to seeing your results.

Steve's challenge number twenty three - set a time limit


Set your alarm as you paint a simple object from life. You can mix your paints first to save time but no cheating - having a time limit will improve your decision making and enable you to get to the essence of the subject.

Aim for an hour maximum - less if you dare!

Steve painted this mandolin as a thirty-minute study - something he often does to 'warm up' before painting.

Share your results and tell us how long they took you to paint.

Steve's challenge number twenty four - word association

Out of the Blue

Here is Steve's interpretation of the saying 'Out of the Blue'.

Have fun with film or record titles, well-worn sayings or phrases and produce a painting to interpret what you choose.

This challenge will help you think outside the box and create something you wouldn't normally think of.

Move beyond the obvious and let the words guide the painting. I wonder if we will be able to tell where your inspiration came from? Share your results and we will see!

Steve's challenge number twenty five - Go green


If you find mixing greens a struggle, don't depair you're certainly not alone!

Your challenge today is to take a selection of yellows and blues and explore their colour mixing combinations. Again make notes next to your results for future reference and save them in your folder.

Take the challenge further by adding white for tints and complementary reds for tones. Black and yellow will also make for some interesting results.

How many shades of green have you produced? Tell us how you got on with the colours at your disposal.

Steve's challenge number twenty six - complementary pairs


Gary Martin has used yellows and purples to paint his 'Complementary Lemon' (from the Painters Online gallery).

Produce a painting using complementary colour pairs such as red and green, yellow or violet, or orange and blue.

Aim to use more of one colour than the other as this will work better than a straight 50:50 split.

What combination will you choose - share your work with us and tell us how you found today's challenge.

Steve's challenge number twenty seven - all change!


Sketch by Joan Barratt from the Painters Online gallery.

Paint using your non-painting hand.

Left or right, making the swap will help you loosen up and avoid too much detail and you can take these findings into your artwork going forwards.

Steve's challenge number twenty eight - turning things on their head

Seascape by Jenny Aitken

Jenny Aitken often recommends this practice in her demonstrations in The Artist, such as this sketch of waves from the upside down photograph on the left.

Paint what you see, not what you think you see by turning a photograph upside down and creating a painting from this more abstract view.

By simply inverting an image you will see things as shapes rather than recognisible things which will help overcome preconceptions of what things look like.

Steve's challenge number twenty nine - from start to finish

Withered flowers

A withered bloom and make a beautiful subject for a painting in its own right as Fiona Phipps shows in this example from the gallery.

Arrange a flower on a board and paint a series of studies as it withers and dies over a period of time.

You can do this with any perishable item if you don't fancy a flower of course. The idea is to discover how you react to the subject - what that subject is isn't the most important thing.

Present your studies side-by-side as a record of the process you have captured and share your finished results with us.

Steve's challenge number thirty - paint anything!


A key lesson for improving your painting skills is this - if you can't think of anything to paint just paint anything.

Your subject doesn't have to be anything monumental, whatever you choose to paint you'll learn something about light, composition, edges, colour and values.

Everything you paint is a chance to learn so just keep painting!

Make sure you share all your challenges by joining the discussion in the forum


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