Inspiration and Creativity for Painters and Artists

Creating Original Art - Part I

Sooner or later, we all get to the point where painting other designers' patterns isn't as satisfying as it once was and there's a yearning to tap into our own creativity and start designing our own unique artwork. So where do you start? What if you're long on technique, but short on ideas? Where do the ideas come from?

Well, first, you should know what your particular "style" is. Who are your favorite designers and what category of decorative painting do they fall into? Which kind of painting do you admire, and why? Do you prefer the rich elegance of zhostovo or rosemaling? Do you usually go for folkart landscapes? Cute and whimsical? Do you enjoy painting on wood, canvas, glass? Which ones catch your eye and make you go, "Oh, I want to paint like THAT!"

Find your niche, but try to avoid the pitfall of copying someone else's work, either inadvertently or otherwise, and develop your very own unique style. This will take some time and practice and trial and error. Put all of your books and magazines away. It's okay to use what you've learned from other designers in books and magazines, but when you start designing your own patterns, you want your ideas to be original works of art. You may finish a painting that you designed with the intention of it being uniquely your own, but then discover it looks too much like "so and so's stuff." Put it away for a few days, then get it out and look at it again. Try to find ways you can change it to make it stand out from all the rest. Try a new surface or a deeper, richer palette or whatever it is that will make your painting different from everyone else's.

You have to start somewhere and sometimes the actual subject matter of your painting is the biggest problem in designing your own art. Many people have trouble coming up with ideas of WHAT exactly to paint.

My best advice is this:  Paint from your heart.  Paint what you love.

Camera Studies
I have an old die-hard Pentax 35 mm. If you have a digital camera with a battery pack and you're comfortable with that, use it. Or you can pick up a relatively inexpensive and small instamatic camera. The little instamatics can slip right in your purse or fannypack and go with you anywhere. You do not have to be an experienced or professional photographer to take pictures. No one is going to be critiquing these pictures except you.

Now go outside and go for a walk. Take a picture of anything that catches your eye. If the sky is a particularly vibrant mix of blues and pinks, snap a picture. If you see a couple of kids playing hopscotch or jumprope, take a picture. If an old man sitting on a park bench leaning on his cane catches your eye, take a picture. If the reflection of the trees in the lake speaks to you, snap a picture. By doing this, you'll soon have a collection of images that, when viewed side by side, will make it easy to see what your own very personal "style" is and will spark your imagination in designing your own work.

I personally am a nature lover. I recently went for a walk and collected fall leaves and then scanned them on my scanner. When my garden is in bloom, I try to get close up shots of everything. With close ups, minute details and subtle shades of color will jump out at you, allowing you more realism in your painting. I love it when I'm able to get a snapshot of a rose with a ladybug on it or a daisy with a butterfly or a fern with a wooly bear. Photos like this are invaluable reference tools for your painting, no matter what style of painting you do.

maple leaves







I love animals and wildlife and have hundreds of images that I use constantly for reference in my painting.



Kids, as well, have a universal appeal.


And landscapes...

click any of the above images for enlarged view
~right click (or click and hold for Mac users) to save image to your hard drive~
(Note to AOL Users: If these images look blurry to you, go to "My AOL,"
then "Preferences," then "www." Click on the "web graphics" tab and
UNcheck "Use compressed graphics.")

You don't need to copy precisely when designing from your own images. Suppose you have one photo of a fawn in a meadow and another photo of a little boy or girl offering up a bouquet of daisies to mom. Each of the images likely appeals to you (or you wouldn't have taken the picture). But what if you used the fawn from the one image and the little girl or boy from the other? Instead of reaching up with a bouquet of flowers, the little one could be reaching up to pet the fawn's nose or feed him a handful of dried corn. Combining your images like this and considering all of the possibilities will likely lead to so many design ideas you won't know which one to paint first.

Play with light.
Pick a subject, say, a close up of two pears hanging on a tree. Go out in the early morning, while everything is still wet with dew, and snap a picture of the pears. Then go back out in early afternoon, stand in the same spot, and take another. Do the same in late afternoon and then again just before dusk. Try to do this on a sunny day, then on a cloudy day and you might even try to get an identical shot in the rain, though you'll have to protect your camera. (Hopefully, the pears won't ripen and fall off the tree before you finish your experiment!) The purpose of this seeming waste of film is that when you place these photos side by side and study them, it will teach you volumes about the effects of light in your painting. By comparing an image taken in the morning with the same image taken at dusk, you'll easily be able to see the subtleties of light and reflection, and what you need to do to create the same effect in your own painting.

When you take your own pictures and use them to paint from, you can be 100% sure you aren't infringing on anyone's copyrighted designs or inadvertently copying someone else's style. Taking your own pictures and using them for reference makes your painting uniquely your own.


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