How do you come up with ideas for your artwork?

How do you come up with ideas for your artwork?

This is a question I am asked a lot but in many different guises. For instance: –
“What influences your art?”
“How do you pick a theme?”
“Do you paint other things?”
Or the question can be phrased: – “I can never decide what to paint what do you suggest?” Or my favourite: – “Oh I don’t think I could do make the same piece over and over again, I would get bored, don’t you get bored?”

Let me give you some background so that you can understand where the questions are coming from.
I teach a variety of different types of art to adults of differing levels of ability and involvement in making art. The vast majority of these people are either at the beginning of their art journey or are returning to art after years of not making, some of who went to  art school, but their confidence in making art, is very low.
I no doubt have asked these very questions of other artists when I was at the beginning of my journey to become an artist.

So if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since school and want to find out if the talent you had then, still lives inside you now, then it really doesn’t matter what you paint or draw. It is just about getting out the pens, pencils paints etc. and doing it.

Does that sound like a cope out answer?
Well it might do, but it isn’t.
We are surrounded by millions of items, views or people we can use to make our art from.
Try them all.
Just start.
As you do more and more you will discover what you most enjoy.

You could simply take a pencil line ‘for a walk’ across a piece of paper outlining the items on your kitchen counter. You could then focus in on something you like on that counter, a lemon, a sugar bowl or a vase of flowers.
But initially it really doesn’t matter what you draw, you just need to draw.

Think of it like this.

When you want to learn a new language, you sign up for night-school and they will start with asking you what your name is, where you live and maybe what your job is, are you married etc. etc. You will be given a few basic verbs and pronouns to help identify gender etc. and you will be sent home to practice that until the next lesson when you will go over all of the first lesson again. Right?

The point here is it is about doing it, practicing it and doing it all over again.
Each time you do it, you feel a little more comfortable and as time goes on you find the confidence to share this new skill with others.

Making art is exactly the same.
I had one student who would turn up for class every week wanting to produce a masterpiece in four hours.
Not going to happen!
He didn’t want to put the hours in, he thought that paying me to teach him would make it happen and so when it didn’t he became disheartened and wanted to give up.
He was a bit of a difficult case I have to admit, but I was at least able to help him see that if he wanted that kind of instant results, he was probably better off taking up photography, which he did, and he is now producing some beautiful images and is much happier in his art journey.

But for most people, with a bit more sticking power, it really is a case of practice, practice and practice.
Once you understand this, you realise it really doesn’t matter what you draw, you are just getting in the practice.
There is the notion out there that it takes 10,000 hours to become and expert at something, and whilst there are a lot of people who poo-poo the idea, I personally think it is valid.
10,000 hours might seem like a lot, but it isn’t really not when part of that time includes watching other people producing work, taking part in a local art group or taking classes and visiting art galleries. Visit artists’ open studio to talk to them about what they do and how they do it. There are very few people who spend all day every day in their studios just making art. You need outside influences to improve what you do and that is all part of that 10,000 hours.
Through that though you will discover what you enjoy producing the most – and I am not saying that it will be one particular theme – you are allowed to change, but you will find something you like best.
Once there you will understand that producing a number of works in the same theme is not the boring onerous task you once thought it was. Quite the opposite actually. Each work in a particular body of works, will be different. Each piece will have different strengths and weaknesses and each time you will learn something new to take on to the next piece.
Once you have arrived at the point where you feel that you have exhausted that topic, move to a new one. For some artists they make the same kind of art for most of their lives. Take the Dutch masters, who driven by their need to feed themselves and their families, produced piece after piece of flowers, fruits, dead game and silver, showing the wealth of the person the painting was being produced for. Then look at Matisse who produced work in lots of different themes whilst enjoying the use of colour. Picasso might have produced lots of different types of works, but he worked predominantly on one theme at a time until he was inspired to move to the next one.

So to answer the question “how do I come up with ideas for my artwork” is fairly straightforward.
I do take on commission works, where the ideas for the work could come from me or often comes from the client. Here we work together to produce work which we are both happy with.
My other work though comes from fish, flowers and organic shapes.
We keep two tanks of fish, one cold water and one warm semi tropical tank.
The cold-water fish, a Sarahr Comet called ‘Flip’, because he flips his tail and bashes the water when we are late feeding him, is who I use most.
He is so beautiful with feathery fins and tail.

I started using him in my printmaking pieces, notably screen prints, but some lino prints too. Watching him and the tropical fish swimming in amongst the plant life in their tanks and cleaning themselves on the bubbles was a real treat and consequently inspired the following different results. The bubble piece below also reminds me of Beta Fish and Seahorses playing in the surf.


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blog 23 feb 3
I also love architectural plants, wild flowers and organic shapes. I am currently working in my sketch books, which can be seen on my daily posts on Instagram, and later this month I shall be taking those hours of work and translating them into bigger and hopefully better outcomes of the smaller works. Watch this space!

I hope this helps you on your art journey and please do contact me if you would like to know more or get any advice on how to get started.










3 Responses

  1. Great post! Love your art by the way! I followed your blog, hope you consider following back!

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