If you haven’t got great painting ideas, then all the technical painting skills in the world will be near useless. So where do you find ideas you can use to create and develop your own, distinctive paintings ? Here are the options and approaches I believe in.
I also think it’s crucial to allow time to experiment. Be gentle on yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes, to go down dead-ends, to see what might develop. Use each of these painting ideas as a starting point, not the end point.
1. List Your Options, Your Likes and Dislikes
You can’t have painting ideas without having an idea of what style of painting you want to make, or what genre. So the first step to finding painting ideas is to make a list of what you options you want to consider.
What subjects / styles do you think you’d like to make (also list what you know you don’t want to do), then narrow it down from there. For example, do you want to paint figures, landscapes, abstractions …? What style do you want to use: realistic, expressionist, abstracted …? Are you going to use a limited palette, or have one color dominate?
Too many options is as paralyzing as too few, so narrow your list down to one or two and start working with those. Use these printable art journal pages to get going.
2. Put Painting Ideas Down on Paper, in a Sketchbook or Journal
Don’t be misled or intimidated by the pages you see reproduced from sketchbooks where everything is immaculately executed, with every page a perfect sketch. A sketchbook is a working tool for ideas and record keeping, not a work for display. What you put in it and how you do it is entirely personal, like a diary.
I use a sketchbook more like a creativity journal, with as many words as pictures. I have a pocket sketchbook and pen with me most of the time, and a larger one for when I’m painting on location. I don’t worry about being neat or organized, I’m merely recording thoughts and ideas for possible use on the proverbial rainy day.
While I love to travel to new and favorite locations, the place to start gathering ideas is where you are right now. Your living room and kitchen will provide props for a still life. A garden will provide plants and flowers that change with the seasons. A scenic viewpoint will provide a landscape or cityscape that changes with the time of day. Persuade family members to pose for you, or sketch passer’s by from a coffee shop. Paint the family cat or dog when its asleep. Take photographs to use as reference if you can’t spend much time at a location.
4. Use an Idea More than Once
There’s no rule that says you can use an idea only once. On the contrary, a painting idea can be used to create a whole series. Take an old painting you like and work on variations, pushing the idea around and further e.g. different color sets, different angles, different lighting. Just look at what Monet did with his haystack paintings.