Virtual Studio

Have you ever wished you could be part of an illustration studio, chatting on your tea breaks with other people who love to draw and make things? Welcome to the Twitter-based Virtual Studio, where you can put on the kettle, get artistic inspiration, find out about the latest drawing challenges and see what other people are making!

Step 1: Follow the Virtual Studio at @StudioTeaBreak on Twitter.

Step 2: Have a browse and see what other people are up to, and how they use @StudioTeaBreak and the hashtag in their tweets. The most recent challenge is always pinned to the top of the @StudioTeaBreak account.

Step 3: Jump in! Some challenges will be very free-form and others will have more strict parameters, but any rules are only to help you get ideas to be more creative. Sometimes you’ll find restrictions and boundaries will give you MORE ideas, not less. But of course you don’t have to follow rules if you suddenly find your artwork going off in a different direction that excites you.

Step 4: Encourage others who are taking part as often as you can. Everyone loves having their work noticed and getting a like, retweet or nice comment!

Step 5: If you want to, feel free to set a weekend challenge! You might want to try some of the other challenges first, so people can get familiar with you being around and take interest in your work. But don’t wait for permission from anyone, just go for it. Over time, we’ve developed a schedule that runs like this, but it’s open to changes if regulars decide you want to do something new.

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Monday #MythicalMashup: This may be a mashup of a mythical creature and another object or, say, an animal combined with something else, to create a new mythical creature. Past examples have included Capricornus sea goat + accordion, Raven + chariot, Mermaid + fancy hat.

Tuesday Environmental #ShapeChallenge: Saxophonist Alison Diamond sets this challenge, taking a photo of a shape she sees in the world around her and posting that, along with a simplified outline of its shape. You can work with either image – the photo or the outline – whichever inspires you. There’s a dot included with the outline, which you can use if it inspires you, but you can leave it out if you prefer.

Wednesday #ShapeChallenge: Turn the shape into a picture! Just like on Tuesdays, you can use or not use the dot. Feel free to turn the shape any direction you like!


Thursday #PortraitChallenge: Use the featured portrait as a chance to learn how to draw new faces, clothing, hairstyles and clothing, as well as learn from the old masters about composition and technique. Feel free to copy the picture as exactly as you can, or use it for a starting point to create your own new reinterpretation of the picture, or a cartoon, or even a sculpture or an animation  – whatever media you want to try out. For this we try to choose portraits by artists who have been dead for awhile, so we don’t offend any living artists or their immediate families. Note: If you want to sell your artwork and it’s a direct copy, be aware that some museums may still have complicated rights agreements even if the painting is out of copyright, and different countries have different legal terms.


Friday – Sunday: Open to suggestion! If you can suggest something earlier in the week, there’s more chance I’ll spot your tweet; I don’t tend to check that often on weekends, but I’ll do my best if you come up with something. Be sure it’s family-friendly as children may be taking part. If no one suggests anything, I’ll leave Thursday’s #PortraitChallenge as the pinned tweet.


* Anyone can take part, grownups or kids, you don’t have to be an illustrator or artist! By challenging yourself to draw often, you’ll find yourself getting better and better, so try not to feel intimidated by other people’s work. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s heartwarming to see even young children taking up challenges and parents posting their pictures. Don’t worry if your pictures is super-clever or not, just draw what you’re hankering to draw.

* If you start off a new challenge, it can be helpful to everyone if you explain the guidelines you’ve set for it in a blog post, and tweet a link to that blog post with the new hashtag you’ve created. If you tag @StudioTeaBreak with your challenge drawings, @StudioTeaBreak (just fallible Sarah, not a bot) will do its best to retweet and follow you.

* Sign your artwork! When you post images on the Internet, you never know where they’re going to end up. But if you’ve signed them, it’s much easier to track them back to you, and if someone’s cropping or erasing your signature, it’s much more obvious they’re doing something wrong. (You can find out more about illustration credits at #PicturesMeanBusiness.)

* Keep down the spam: We’d love to find out about you and your work, but try to keep the hashtag challenges about the drawing you just made, not promoting your latest book, website, etc. (Sometimes hashtags can get a bit spammy.) If people see you posting interesting drawings, they’ll be much more likely to jump over to look at your Twitter feed, where you’re posting whatever you like. If you want people to look at your website or blog, be sure to put a link in your Twitter profile!

* If you set up a new challenge, try not to feel discouraged if not everyone jumps in. Sometimes you can follow your own challenge for awhile and then other people will see what you’re doing and start taking part. Usually challenges have a lifespan and fade away, so don’t feel discouraged either if there’s initial interest but people drift off. That might be time for a new challenge!

* If you’re hoping certain people will comment or retweet and you wait but nothing happens, don’t feel rejected; not everyone’s on Twitter all the time and people may have missed it, or been away on holiday. No one should feel obliged to keep constant watch on Twitter (including me! I try not to be on Twitter too often and go on occasional breaks from it or I don’t get enough of my non-virtual work done.) Feedback’s great, but ultimately you’re challenging yourself, and you’ll benefit from the drawing practice and pushing yourself to try new things.

* Be aware that if you’re auto-tweeting from Instagram or Facebook, your pictures won’t come up so easily in people’s feeds and they’ll have to click through a link to see your drawing. (It’s a bit of a faff if they’re on a mobile with limited service, and not everyone’s on Facebook and able to access it.)

* If you’re a teacher, librarian, hospital staff, etc, feel free to get your people involved! For the #ShapeChallenge, for example, you could print out the shapes and have visitors draw on them, then take photos and tweet them back, using the hashtag. It’s fun to mix kids and adults drawing together; kids will often be much more focused about drawing if they see adults doing it.

* Missed a challenge? There’s no deadline, feel free to explore the backlist! If you include @StudioTeaBreak in your tweet, you’re much more likely to get a retweet (otherwise I might not spot it).

* Tag a museum! I try to include the museum or collection that houses the work as often as possible, and they loved to be tagged and will often retweet!

Deputy Director of Audience Engagement and Chief Experience Officer at The Barnes Foundation Shelley Bernstein got excited about our drawings from their collection (a Modigliani portrait) and interviewed me about it here.

TEDx talk referencing @StudioTeaBreak toward the end:


Looking for more challenges? Here are some fun ideas to try, alone or with other people:

Comic Jam: Take turns going back and forth with a friend drawing a comic, panel by panel. (Find out more about Comic Jams at or in a series of four videos I made with Book Trust for classroom use.) Here’s a Jampires Comic Jam I created with David O’Connell: we agreed at the start it would be 24 pages and we wouldn’t spend more than an hour per page. And here’s a little comic about how to do a very simple 20-minute four-panel Comic Jam:

Draw Yourself as a Teenager: Add labels if you like, telling us about who you were back then. (If you’re a kid or teenager now, draw yourself as you imagine you’ll look as an old person!) Started on LiveJournal in 2008 by Dave Valeza, you can see over 500 versions here!


Hourly Comic: Draw a comic panel (or set of panels) for every hour you’re awake! Scan them and post them on your blog. (You can even photocopy them and turn them into a mini comic.) Don’t be too precious about making your drawings perfect, the most important thing is just to do them, and while they should be legible, it’s fine if they look scrappy. Feb 1st is international Hourly Comic Day and lots of other people will be posting their Hourly Comics! You can join in on the #hourlycomicday hashtag. (Started by John Campbell in 2005.)
(Here are a couple Hourly Comics I made in 2014 and in 2008.)

24-Hour Comic: This one’s hardcore! Create a 24-page book in a single day, one page an hour. The amazing thing is that you get a whole book at the end of it, and sometimes being forced to pump out something that quickly makes it happen in a way it never would if you had lots of time to think about it. Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette started this on a dare in 1990 and you can read about it on Scott’s website. Follow @24HCD on Twitter to learn the date for International 24-Hour Comic Day. (Here’s a blog post I wrote about taking part in the 24-Hour Comic Marathon in Kendal.)

Deep Dark Fears: Fran Krause (@frankrause) asks people what their deepest darkest fears are and draws them in a four-panel comic. (You can buy his Deep Dark Fears book here.) What’s your deepest darkest fear? Draw it in four panels.


Take a Line for a Walk: Draw a picture without lifting your pen from the paper.

Daily Tree Drawing: not everyone can hire a life model for a session, but drawing trees can be almost as helpful, particularly if the trees have bulges and twists just like people. Also, tree trunks don’t wiggle about too much or complain if the drawing doesn’t look like them. (Drawing trees was the origin of me working together with my co-author Philip Reeve. Here are some trees he’s drawn. – @philipreeve1)


No Looking: Copy someone else’s line drawing without looking at your paper. Take time to look closely at every wiggle of the picture you’re copying while you slowly follow its lines with your pen on your own paper. The wonky results can be very funny! Try drawing other subjects, such as your non-drawing hand, or someone’s face. You can read more about these challenges in a useful book by Betty Edwards called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Postcard of Tintin and Snowy by Hergé, tacked to my studio wall, and my no-looking copied version

Left-Handed Drawings: Try drawing with your non-drawing hand! Sometimes even the mood of the drawings comes out very differently, it’s a fun experiment. The Left-Handed Toons blog specialises in this challenge.

Guardian How to Draw series: The Guardian Children’s Books website posts frequent tutorials – some very straightforward and some tongue-in-cheek narratives – by children’s book illustrators. (@GdnChildrensBks)


And I post printable activity pages on my website (click on the book covers for the relevant sheets), so feel free to use those in schools, libraries, etc.

Other useful links: House of Illustration (@illustrationHQ), Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (@SCBWI_BI/@SCBWI_illustrat), Association of Illustrators (@Varoommagazine), Society of Authors (@Soc_of_Authors), Children’s Laureate illustator Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50), The Big Draw (@The_Big_Draw), Colour Collective (@Clr_Collective), Daily Doodle (@Daily__Doodle), Finish the Scribble (@3yroldscribble), @kidcandoodle, Discover Children’s Story Centre, London (@DiscoverStory), Seven Stories, Newcastle (@7Stories), The Story Museum, Oxford (@TheStoryMuseum), Kyle T Webster Photoshop brushes (@kyletwebster), Cult Pens (@cultpens).

Hashtags: #AnimalAlphabets, #DrawEveryDay, #Inktober (particularly in October), #DrawAnOldPhoto, #DailyDoodle, #SketchaDay



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Background: I joined the LiveJournal community in 2006 and owe a lot of my illustration career to the ideas, inspiration and training I found from looking at the work of comics creators, taking part in challenges and chatting in the comments sections. I worked from home for five yeas before setting up a south London studio with friends, and being alone so much almost did my head in. But the LiveJournal blog community helped a lot, and when I met people off-line, I already knew a lot about their work, so introductions were far less awkward. People often criticise Twitter for being a cruel place, but I find if I bring the LiveJournal creative attitude to it, it can be a comforting place of people getting excited and inspired by what they and other people are making, and it helps isolated creators feel less lonely. Without an office water cooler to gather around, drawing hashtags can be a fun place to meet up.
(Drawn together by Emma Vieceli, John Aggs and Sarah McIntyre)