What Should I Paint??? - The Creative Process and Developing Ideas…
The question of “What should I paint” is something that I am frequently asked. Both artists and students are challenged with the continuous question of what they should draw and paint, but, thankfully, I haven’t had with this problem myself since childhood. Below, you will find my creative process; each artist differs in their approach, but hopefully, it will give you an idea on how to combat creative block.
1. Creating a Happy Work Area
Many would describe my studio as messy, and sadly this is even after I have tidied it up! This working environment is a very personal space, but it should be designed in a way that inspires you, it doesn’t have to be messy (if you are a tidy person, unlike me), but it does need to be inspirational. My studio looks out over my garden and fields, so I can watch the wildlife from my window. I have put cork floor tiles on every available wall space, which I use as pin boards for anything that I like or which inspires me. This ranges from images in old calendars, to my photos, drawings and nature guides for various insects. To the untrained eye, this appears chaotic, but it means that I am surrounded by images all day long. Once a year, I will take time to remove everything and rearrange it, so I can pin different and images that are relevant to my current work. Whilst many artists may not have the luxury of a dedicated studio space, you can still collate images in a folder or scrapbook which you can browse through in a happy place and use for inspiration.
2. Work on More than one Idea at a Time
If you do have a workspace, then I would recommend that you have more than one painting, artwork or idea in progress at the same time. I generally have 5 or 6 ideas that I am working on at the same time. One reason for this is because I’m an oil painter and tend to be waiting for paint to dry on a piece of art, so I can paint the next layer! I also like to work in this method when I do watercolour, for the same reason that you need to wait for each layer to dry. The only time when this is not the case, is when I finally have to finish everything for an exhibition.
It is helpful on a Monday morning that you are not confronted with a blank white canvas, but instead a half-finished painting that you know exactly what needs to be done to continue or finish it. This will help to remove the worry about what the next idea might be, instead allowing you to simply get on with your working day. I think this is one of the very most important areas of keeping the ideas flowing, especially if you are a full time artist. You need to work every day, whether you feel inspired or not, and sometimes it is more important to work when you don’t feel “inspired”, because it means that you keep generating work and follow a work ethic.
3. Research and Document
Each person’s creative process will be different; for me it is observing the natural world and documenting what I see. This may take the form of a walk, or watching the world through my windows and photographing the rural drama unfolding before me. I then (try) to file the photographs in some logical order which I can refer to like a library. Once I have observed, I then research my subject and write notes, this takes various forms from reading books, articles, visiting museums and listening to lectures on a variety of topics that all link with my overall interest of the relationship of patterns and organisms within the natural world. I write notes on anything that interests me, which may not be included in my work for many years, but I find the influence is often there. I have recently finished watching a series of lectures on Chaos theory by a physicist, in addition to reading a book about the shape of a snowflake written by a mathematician.
4. Keep Drawing and Experimenting
I draw everything that I have collected from the natural world, both from life and from my photographs. I do microscopic research on the things I find in the natural world, so that I can see the patterns within nature on many different scales. This process is never-ending, and it is this that keeps my ideas flowing because I am constantly re-examining my primary research. I create an observational drawing at least once a week, as well as an afternoon in the studio for experimenting with ideas and techniques. I feel this is one of the most important things that both the artist and amateur can do. Give yourself the freedom to have fun and experiment; there is always a risk that this will not work out as originally intended, but take that risk and it will allow you to push your comfort zone and boundaries. Without experimentation you won’t have the opportunity to create something wonderful, new and interesting; we are only truly creating and moving forward when we are outside of our comfort zone.
5. Keep a sketchbook
I have always been a sketchbook artist - all ideas, lists of things I want to research, experiments (both good and bad), observational drawings, colour ways and plans for paintings ALL go in my sketchbook. These are then kept safely so I can refer to them and revisit and rework ideas. I often find that if I don’t like my first resolution to an idea, I will revisit the idea again and again over many years until I’m happy with the outcome.
The nature of this creative process keeps the ideas forming. I have the luxury of a studio and being an artist full-time, but even if you don’t, keep a folder, scrapbook or sketchbook of ideas. Always go back and study from your primary research whatever it may be, and work in your sketchbook on a regular basis. Enjoy your subject and read around it. Art is more than a job to me, I adore my subject and am just as interested in growing seeds and plants in my garden, as I am in drawing and painting them. Without that I probably wouldn’t paint the plants and insects that I do. I hope this blog helps you find your subject so that you can have many ideas and you can share your passion with others.
If you would like further help and advice on this subject don’t hesitate to contact me about mentoring by contacting me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please find examples below of my primary research for my latest painting Sunflowers also shown below,
Charcoal Sunflower available to buy here,
Sunflowers, oil painting available to buy here.