How to find art inspiration

First ask yourself why are you painting? Is it for pleasure, are you painting to sell your work, is it for relaxation or some other reason. The one reason carries more stress and worry than the other. Whatever the reason stress is a major factor that must be confronted and dealt with. The less stress you have, the more energy you can put into your painting.

We have all been down that road before, you stand in front of your canvas or paper with your brush or pencil and you can’t think of a thing, you freeze and are unable to produce anything at all. This is the exact opposite of the person that you can remember, who dashed into the studio and couldn’t wait to get started, over flowing with ideas that were actually to many to put down in whatever form and in one go. Where has that person gone?

There are times when we all have to slow down and take a step backwards and think about which direction we want to go in. That’s life! This can often have a positive effect, not only on your artwork, but on yourself too. Re-planning, can often change the direction you take in life, maybe this won’t always be good, but you can change ”not so good things” to your advantage. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Staying in a comfortable rut can be easy, altering things, can bring stress, but also happiness and inspiration to make you try something different.

Below are some ideas for finding inspiration that may help you re-find yours.

Often listening to music is a good form of inspiration. You can either listen to your favourite music or something completely different. Some people prefer complete silence, which is also good.

Looking at other people’s work and how they made it, can often inspire you to make something similar. Work should never be copied as this is plagiarism which is an offence and can have a legal consequence.

Take lots of photographs. Most people have the possibility to take photos with their telephone these days, this makes things easier. These days you don’t need expensive equipment to take good photographs. Try taking photographs from strange angles, or close up versions of the same subject, this can give you some inspiration for a different painting strategy.

There are many sites that provide royalty free downloadable photos for artists. Here are just some of them.

Always make sure that you choose free photos to download, some of them may have copyright which can still be used but you have to pay for them.

Take a walk in the countryside. The landscape, rain, sunshine, wind or snow can often help clear your head and relax you.

Take a sketch book with you wherever you go. A drawing in a sketch book or journal doesn’t have to be perfect, but can lead to inspiration for a painting at a later date. We all have to wait somewhere, sometime, it could be in the dentists waiting room, at the bank, the school playground, waiting for a train and so on. Make use of this “lost” time and get your sketch book out and use it.

Draw every day, even though it may be only for 15 mins. This causes a mental artistic habit that has to be obeyed.

Here below are a list of 20 sketching subjects that can be either sketched or painted, to help you fill your sketchbook.

  1. A bunch of keys – these could be drawn on toned paper with only a 6B pencil. This teaches you control of pressure and forces you to be vigilant and careful with the application of pencil strokes.
  2. An old car – this can be made in paint or just drawn, or perhaps you could even try collage.
  3. A close up of a giraffe – this could be its tail, nose, or foot, the choice is yours.
  4. A baseball – or you could combine several different types of sport balls together.
  5. An open tube of paint – with an unscrewed cap and paint coming out of the tube. Getting the paint to look wet is always a challenge.
  6. A melting candle – draw or paint the flame if you dare!
  7. An enlarged seed pod – getting the dimensions right is always a challenge, you could also change the colours, either of the paint or the paper. Using gold paint or pen also brings excitement to the subject.
  8. An old shoe or boot – this could be drawn or painted in a colour that doesn’t correspond with what’s in front of you. Make sure you get enough contrast in the piece to make it look three dimensional.
  9. Your favourite glass – drawn in white pastel on black paper.
  10. A self-portrait – drawn on toned paper with only various shades of two contrasting colours.
  11. A painting or drawing of your pet.
  12. A pair of scissors – close up and at a strange angle.
  13. Your mobile phone – drawn in pen and ink and filled in with watercolour.
  14. Earrings – a close up of these and made in either paint or coloured pencil.
  15. A chair – this could be realistically painted or maid in an abstract style.
  16. Your favourite chocolate wrapper – with the chocolate painted in a different colour, say green.
  17. A loaf of bread – with lots of holes and shadows in it.
  18. A sea shell – with lots of crustations, colours and lines.
  19. An autumn leaf – the colours on these leaves are brilliant and can be painted in many different sorts of mediums and many or surfaces.
  20. A bottle of beer including label – this can be painted or drawn on any surface, from MDF to panel, wood or paper. Or a glass of beer. This is often a challenge when it comes to painting the glass reflections and the bubbles.

Doodling has a very beneficial effect on the brain. It relaxes you and lets your mind rest taking away any stress that you have. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil and some me-time. This then, leaves room for inspiration to creep in. It’s also fun!

Experiment sketching or painting with different mediums. This causes you to think about solving any problems that you come across. Also the experience of using a medium that you are not familiar with, creates curiosity and openness to different solutions. Don’t forget it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Create a vision board, either of colours, patterns or favourite photos or paintings. These small pieces of visual information can produce ideas that you wouldn’t normally think of.

Watch other people’s videos for inspiration, there are lots on YouTube that you can watch for free. This can inspire you to do something similar, it’s worth trying out.

Try for the fun of it, an abstract image with a limited palette of colours, this at least gets you smearing paint again.

Join an artistic Facebook community. This gets you involved with likeminded people who may either have the same problem as you, or they could help you to start creating again, at least you can get some critical advise about your work and also social support.

Schedule short and focused work periods in your studio. This gets you in a rhythm of going to your  workspace and easel every day, even if you don’t produce anything. Sitting and looking at what you have, with a good cup of coffee can also be beneficial.

Create a Pinterest board and collect lots of images that inspire you. Refer to these often, to give you a creative boost.

Study the work of your favourite artist. This can often bring ideas into your head but also at the same time teach you about how the artist arrived at the finished result. Perhaps you could use some of the techniques used in your own paintings.

Learn from your mistakes, everybody makes them. Einstein said “failure is success in progress”. This is very true!

Always try to push your limits a bit further. Continually try something new, whether it be the subject or the medium, try using different tools or surfaces, this also brings fresh ideas with it.

I hope some of these suggestions will help you re-find your inspiration and that they help you find what you are looking for as far as fresh ideas go. The next time you find yourself stuck in a rut, don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to find you, go out and look for it yourself! Not only is it challenging and mind consuming, but it’s also fun!

Download our ‘FREE – 15 exercises to overcome Artist Block’ and practise some more!


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