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30 Minute At-Home Artmaking Challenges

Explore the artworks below and discover activities to make art with common materials. This resource is also available as a slide presentation.

A man wearing armor, sitting astride a cream-white horse, drives a long lance down at a lizard-like dragon as a woman kneels with her hands in prayer in the landscape beyond in this vertical painting. Both people have pale skin and thin, gold halos floating above their heads. At the center of the composition, the man faces our left in profile as he looks down at the creature. The man has a straight nose and honey-brown hair under his gold-trimmed, pewter-gray helmet. Armor covers his entire body, and a celestial-blue cape billows behind him from where it fastens around his neck. A narrow, indigo-blue and gold band is tied around his left calf, and is inscribed with the word “HONI.” A black sword hangs from his left side. The horse is white with a silvery-white mane and tail. It rears on its hind legs as it turns its head to look at us with hazel-brown eyes. The horse wears a blue saddle and bridle, the same color as the man’s cape, trimmed with gold. A strap around the horse’s neck is painted in gold with the name, “RAPHELLO.” The rider thrusts his foot into the stirrup we can see as he plunges a lance down at the dragon under the horse’s front feet. The dragon has tawny brown skin with a mint green, dog-like head. It grips the earth with clawed feet as at pushes at the lance with one front foot. It twists its long, snake-like neck to look at the man with dark eyes. The dragon opens its pointed snout to show its teeth, and bat-like wings splay out. A tall outcropping over a cave rises along the left edge of the composition, behind the dragon. In a field a little farther back, to our right, the woman kneels with her body angled to our left. She tilts her head away from us and gazes past the man and horse. She has a straight nose, pale pink, bow-shaped lips, and her blond hair is pulled back in a bun. She wears a ruby-red dress and a sheer white wrap around her shoulders and across her arms. Around the woman, straw-yellow hills with bands of pine-green trees roll into the distance. Two terracotta-orange towers rise from a row of trees along the horizon. A few taller trees are outlined against the baby-blue sky, which lightens toward the horizon.

Raphael, Saint George and the Dragon, c. 1506, oil on panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.26

Create a Courage Mask

You will need:
Heavyweight paper
Popsicle sticks
Crayons or colored pencils

Think about a time when you felt afraid of something. Everybody has moments when they need to face something scary! Now imagine you could turn into an animal that would make it easier to face your fear. What would that animal be? What about that animal seems brave to you?

Draw a large circle, about the size of your face, on a piece of paper. In the circle, draw your brave animal. Remember to add details that you think are important about that animal. When you’re finished with your drawing, cut out the large circle. Glue a popsicle stick on the back so you can hold the mask up to your face.

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Odilon Redon, Large Vase with Flowers, c. 1912c. 1912

Odilon Redon, Large Vase with Flowers, c. 1912, oil on canvas, Gift of the Honorable John C. Whitehead, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990.64.1

Tissue Paper Flowers

You will need:
Tissue paper
Vase templates
Glue sticks

Using paper, make your own flower arrangement. On the template of Redon's Large Vase with Flowers, glue crumpled pieces of tissue paper on the flower outlines. Color in or use patterned paper for the vase itself.

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Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Medici Prince), c. 1953c. 1953

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Medici Prince), c. 1953, construction, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 1982.54.1

Build a Story Box

You will need:
Shoe box or box lid
Found objects such as shells, buttons, or small toys
Assorted papers, magazines, and/or photographs
Small pieces of cardboard
String or wire
Paint and paintbrush (optional)

To start, you might want to paint your box a solid color and let it dry. Then, think about the pictures and objects you want to put in your box. Which ones seem to go together?

To build your box, first create a background by gluing printed or patterned paper to the inside of the box. Then arrange your objects until you are happy with where they are. For example, you might hang things from the top of the box with string or wire or use small pieces of cardboard to raise them up. When you are finished, glue the objects in place. What will you name your box?

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The bodies and bicycles of five stylized cyclists fill this nearly square painting so parts of some of their bodies and bicycles are cut by the edges of the canvas. Shown against a background of mottled shell pink and light gray, the riders are closely packed, their wheels and bodies overlapping, and they seem close to us as they race to our right in profile. All lean low over their handlebars. The faces of the three riders at the front of the pack have lemon-yellow skin. The person at the top of the composition, seeming the farthest away from us, has ivory-colored skin, and the person at the back, to our left, has brown skin. They all wear different colored clothing. The racer at the front wears all black, and the one closest to us celery green with fuchsia around the hips. The cyclists farthest from us wear rust orange or canary yellow. The racer with brown skin wears frosty blue. The frames of the bicycles are dark forest green or black, and the colors of the wheels are either yellow or turquoise. The people’s faces and bodies are abstracted into flat, hard-edges shapes. The angles formed by their torsos, arms, and legs are echoed by the angles of their bicycles’ dark metal frames.

Lyonel Feininger, The Bicycle Race, 1912, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.17

Drawing Action

You will need:
Paints, colored pencils, or markers

Look at how Feininger’s The Bicycle Race uses rhythm of repeated diagonals and circular lines to create a sense of movement. Draw your favorite sport in action, stressing movement by using repeated lines.

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Five monkeys rest and play amid a lush jungle landscape in this horizontal landscape painting. Painted with areas of flat color, thick vegetation fills most of the scene, with giant leaves overlapping in shades of green. At the bottom center, a large brown monkey sits upright on a rock, looking directly at us. To our left, two gray and black monkeys climb in trees, and also face us. To our right, two rust-orange monkeys swing in trees. The orange of their fur is echoed in spiky, pumpkin-orange flowers to the right. Dark red leafy plants with spiky white flowers fill the lower left corner of the painting. A cloudless, pale blue sky stretches across the top of the composition. The artist signed and dated the painting with white letters in the lower right: “Henri Rousseau 1910.”

Henri Rousseau, Tropical Forest with Monkeys, 1910, oil on canvas, John Hay Whitney Collection, 1982.76.7

Create an Imaginary Jungle

You will need:
Heavyweight paper
Crayons or colored pencils (optional)

Before you begin, you might want to visit a garden or park and, like Henri Rousseau, draw the plants you see there. Notice the colors and shapes of the leaves, and how they are arranged on their stems.

To create your own imaginary jungle, first paint a background of sky and soil (or use colored paper). Add trees, branches, stems, and leaves, referring to your sketches for ideas as you paint. Try mixing paints—add black or blue to green for dark greens, and yellow or white to green for lighter greens. Are there any animals hiding in your jungle? If so, go ahead and add them now!

After the paint dries, you may want to use crayons or colored pencils to add the final details to your imaginary jungle.

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Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, c. 1637c. 1637

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, c. 1637, red chalk, Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.7048

Make a Self-Portrait

You will need:
A mirror
Crayons, markers, colored pencils, or paints

Making a self-portrait is a way of getting to know yourself. First, think about these questions: What makes you who you are? What are your interests? Your dreams? Select clothing that reflects something about you. You might want to include objects in your self-portrait that help describe your personality. Think of a self-portrait as a personal introduction. What do you want to tell people about yourself? How do you want people to remember you?

Next, study yourself in the mirror. What features make you unique? Try out different facial expressions—smile, frown, or laugh—and strike different poses. Do you want to look relaxed, physically active, or deep in thought? Then, try to capture your appearance and character on paper. Like Rembrandt, experiment by creating many different self-portraits. You might even wish to put yourself in a landscape or place that is special to you.

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This abstract, square painting is filled with geometric shapes of flat color outlined in black. The largest shape is a white square in the center, which is overlapped or further divided into more rectangles in white, sea glass green, or pale pink. Some of the corners of the internal shapes are marked with a circle. A rounded black form, roughly the shape of a bulbous, lowercase h, sits to our left of center against the white square. A bright yellow disk with a crimson-red dot at its center is on the back end of the form. At the bottom right of the white square, there is a tall, blood-red rectangle with an inset, cup-like, steel-gray form at its top. Above the white square are narrow bands of white and soft purple, and below are fields of steel gray and white. A vertical band of buttercup yellow runs up along the top two-thirds of the right edge. The bottom left corner of this yellow shape is cut in with a ruby-red triangle. A collection of smaller, narrow shapes sits to our left of the white square. These include a canary-yellow disk over a tall, white triangle, and sea glass-green rectangle with two black, coffee bean-like forms, a black trapezoid, a topaz-blue square, and two white forms that could be stylized profiles with prominent noses. A band of crimson red flanked by a border of blue above and yellow below runs off the left edge. The field behind this jumble of shapes is pale, blush pink.

Arshile Gorky, Organization, 1933-1936, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1979.13.3

Shape Box

You will need:
Construction paper
Glue sticks

Make a game of composing abstract compositions. Fill a box with varied geometric shapes cut from brightly colored construction paper. With eyes closed pick five shapes from the box to glue onto a piece of paper. Experiment with a few different arrangements before deciding on one to glue down.

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Diego Rivera, No. 9, Nature Morte Espagnole, 19151915

Diego Rivera, No. 9, Nature Morte Espagnole, 1915, oil on canvas, Gift of Katharine Graham, 2002.19.1

Make A Cubist Drawing

You will need:
Paints, colored pencils, or markers

First, gather ordinary objects from your home or, like Rivera, include things that have a special meaning to you. Make the composition interesting by selecting objects with distinct colors, patterns, shapes, and textures. Arrange the objects on a table in a way that pleases you.

Next, draw what you see in your still life arrangement. Focus on basic shapes— spheres, cubes, and cylinders—and textures.

Then, draw your still life from a different viewpoint. Draw some objects while standing up, draw a few from another side, and draw some by looking up at them from below.

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The spiraling whorls of a nearly round, pearl-white shell fills this square painting. The inner edges of the shell’s whorls are shaded with pale spring green, especially to our right, and the innermost spiral is pale pink. The outer lip, that is, the open end of the shell, faces down to our right. The shell sits against a stone-gray background and casts a shadow to our left.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Shell No. I, 1928, oil on canvas, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1987.58.7

Make a Series of Drawings

You will need:
A pad of paper
A pencil, colored pencils, crayons, colored chalk, pastels, markers, and/or watercolors

First, select something from nature to study—a flower, leaf, shell, or stone. Place it on a table and sit nearby with your paper and drawing materials. Examine the object carefully. Study its colors, shapes, patterns, and designs. What makes the object unique? Explore this object in a series of drawings on separate sheets of paper. Try to fill the entire sheet of paper each time as you draw.

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Isamu Noguchi, Untitled, 19461946

Isamu Noguchi, Untitled, 1946, collage with graphite on graph paper mounted on black construction paper, Gift of Regina Slatkin, Carole and Laura Slatkin, 1990.58.7

Make an Automatic Drawing

You will need:
Paints, colored pencils, or markers

Make an automatic drawing by closing drawing by closing your eyes while drawing. After a few minutes look at your drawing and complete the image.

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Dozens of men with several women and a few children gather in pairs or small groups across a sun-drenched plaza in front of a domed church next to a long, pale pink building in this horizontal painting. The people’s faces and hands we can see have pale, peachy skin. The men wear hats and shin-length capes or jackets over stockings in tones of charcoal gray, olive green, butterscotch yellow, black, and brown. The women wear black capes covering their heads and long, full skirts. The ash-brown plaza has two zones where geometric patterns are picked out in a lighter, oatmeal brown. Three coral-red flagpoles are spaced along the center of the plaza parallel to the two buildings. Each flagpole rests on an olive-green base about a third of the height of the pole. Tables under open umbrellas clustered around the outer two flagpoles display piles of cloth, and a few people gather around the wares. The domed building extends into the scene from the left edge of the painting, and reaches about a third of the way across as it angles away from us. It has a central portal with nested arches, flanked to each side by a pair of slightly smaller, arched portals. Scenes against gold backgrounds appear in the archway of each of the five doors. There is a second level of arches above. The smaller arches to either side are decorated with more scenes of people against gold backgrounds. Four gold horses stand atop the central, lower arch, each with one front and one back hoof raised. The arch behind them is dim, the back side of a stained-glass window. The stone of the arches and front of the building are light brown. The upper arches are lined with pale, slate-gray spires and curling tracery. The three-story pink building sits close by to our right, extending into the distance on the same angle as the church, and as tall as its neighbor. The lowest level is a series of open, pointed arches. The second level is also a row of arches, but more closely spaced. People walk and stand under both covered walkways. The top half of the building has a carnation-pink façade with seven windows evenly spaced across its width. The central window is surrounded by carved stone ornament. Along the right edge of the painting and closer to us than the large buildings is the corner of a two-story building. The lower level is in shadow under a sloping awning, creating a merchant’s stall, and the second level has a rounded, arched window. One person stands at the front corner of the roof and looks down into the square. In the narrow gap between the row of buildings to our left and the smaller structure to our right is a winged lion atop a tall column. Beyond that is sparkling blue water with several masted ships and long, narrow gondolas. The sky above has thin white clouds against a pale blue sky. The artist signed the lower left, “A.C.F.”

Canaletto, The Square of Saint Mark's, Venice, 1742/1744, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Barbara Hutton, 1945.15.3

Create a Postcard Picture of Your Hometown

You will need:
White cardstock or watercolor paper
A pencil
Colored pencils
A stamp

Make a postcard by cutting a piece of white cardstock or watercolor paper into a rectangle (3.5 × 5 inches or 4 × 6 inches). On one side, use colored pencils to draw a view of your hometown. Choose a well known park, school, monument, or shopping center. Add details of the landscape, buildings, and people.

Divide the other side in half. On the left side, write a note to a friend, a family member, or yourself! Share a special memory of your hometown. On the right side, write the address on the postcard, place a stamp in the upper right corner, and send it in the mail.

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Two columns of brightly colored rectangles are layered with geometric shapes and organic forms in this abstract, vertical artwork. The rectangles are painted, and the abstract shapes are cut from pieces of painted paper. The left column is stacked top to bottom with rectangles in black, lime green, sage green, sunshine yellow, watermelon pink, and amethyst purple. There is also a pink triangle above the pink rectangle, near the middle of the column. Spanning different sections of the column are a blue spiral and a curling blue line, white petal-like shapes, and purple and blue stylized leaves, perhaps seaweed, and triangles. A narrow black form like the profile of a stylized fish and a curve radiating spikes float in the middle of the column. The rectangles of the right column are silvery gray, goldenrod yellow, bright green, lime green, sunshine yellow, and sapphire blue. The column is layered with two more black spiky shapes, a short vertical royal-blue curving line, and an elongated, white U shape. A long, black S-shape floats over the top four rectangles, and a pumpkin-orange spiral lies on top of a sapphire-blue circle near the yellow rectangle at the bottom. That yellow rectangle has blue rectangle at its center and a darker yellow rectangle to the left. There is a white wavy line up the blue area, a black wavy line to each side in the yellow, and one black heart-shape near the each of the lower corners of the blue field. Higher up, the lime-green rectangle in each column also has a smaller, darker green rectangle painted within. The work is set against a flat, parchment-brown background. The artist wrote the title in black cursive letters across bottom, “les betes de la mer...” and signed and dated the lower right, “H. Matisse 50.”

Henri Matisse, Beasts of the Sea, 1950, gouache on paper, cut and pasted on white paper, mounted on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1973.18.1

Paint with Scissors

You will need:
Colored paper (or painted paper)
Heavyweight white paper
Glue sticks

Use colored paper or, like Henri Matisse, make your own colored paper by painting entire sheets of white paper in one color. Paint on heavyweight paper or cardstock so the paper doesn’t curl as it dries.

Next, think of a theme or place for your artwork, such as a garden, a city, or the sea. Use scissors to cut the colored paper into different shapes likes trees, buildings, or waves. Arrange your cut-out shapes on a large piece of white paper. You can use the leftover pieces of colored paper too! Move the different pieces until you are happy with the design, then glue your shapes in place.

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Make a Color Square

You will need:
Paint or paint sticks
Heavyweight paper cut into 8 × 8 inch squares

Choose one color from your paint or paint sticks. Use it to make different shapes and lines within your paper square. Use just one color, like Alma Thomas, to make small blocks of color that build a larger painting. Try experimenting—turn the square or hold the brush or paint stick differently—to create new marks and patterns! With a friend or a group, try combining your color squares in different ways to make one larger, multicolored square.

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