The Artist’s Inspiration
On finding artistic inspiration; some art musings and studio soliloquies.
While working on this painting of my wife, I decided to talk about inspiration and where artists get their inspiration from. Well, where I get my inspiration from.
Check out the video above to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff while I’m working on this portrait.
Finding inspiration from your own life
My artistic inspiration comes mostly from my own life. I’m busy painting my wife and she obviously means a lot to me.
I like to paint things that I experience. And I try not to be fake. I try to not please others through my paintings, but really just express myself.
Being in nature — I think that’s also very important
Take notice of all the fascinating shapes, colours and textures of the minerals, vegetation and the topography around you. Sometimes all these little things are easily missed.
Being out in nature, in the wild elements, is an amazing source of artistic inspiration and is also very good for the soul.
Looking at other art
I especially recommend studying the Old Masters. And some of the new contemporary paintings by living artists that are really quite inspirational.
One of the best sources of artistic inspiration is other artists’ work and learning from them. And the more you paint, the more you learn, and the more you are able to look at other artists’ work and decipher what they were doing and their thought processes behind what they were doing.
Use social media sparingly
I also try to stay away from too much social media as I find it’s easy to become too distracted by all the digital noise. And one can also be subtly influenced by everyone else’s artworks, especially when you’re trying to find a voice of your own and be more original.
I think you can find a lot of amazing inspiration and learn a lot from other artists on social media. But it has to be balanced and not a habit. It’s easy to substitute procrastination on social media for being in the studio painting. Remember to look at your own life first for inspiration as in point #1.
I think just being in the studio and experimenting all the time, making mistakes and learning from them is very important.
Putting the hours in in the studio, is the only way to improve as an artist. And by working everyday in the studio, you’ll find that you won’t have to worry about looking for inspiration at all. Inspiration will come to you!
Waiting for inspiration to strike before you feel like working, is one of the most common ‘mistakes’ of amateur artists.
Writing in a journal
For me, one of the greatest sources of inspiration is writing in a journal. And I write in it pretty often. Mostly about art; experiments and mistakes I made, things that I’ve learnt, ideas for paintings, dreams that I’ve had, and inspirational quotes from other people and other artists.
Writing helps a lot. Also, when it comes to painting in layers, you can remember where you are, if let’s say you were working on a painting from a few days ago. Then you can write a little reminder to yourself about what steps to take further, and you won’t feel so lost when you return to the studio.
Writing helps to develop your voice and your direction.
Reading every night
Take time to read. It’s important. Let those images and ideas percolate in your subconscious.
I particularly like the Classics and scientific books sometimes; books that make you question your reality.
And of course, what’s better than art books? Not that I have that many. I’ll be collecting them for the rest of my life.
I obviously like to read about art, and artist’s lives; the kind of lifestyle that they had and the trials and tribulations that they had and how they overcame them.
But also what they were trying to say through their art, and why they painted what they did.
Movies are also an interesting source of inspiration and visual nourishment, particularly artistic movies.
I try to make sure I don’t waste too much time on dumbed-down movies when I should really be in the studio painting. But sometimes it’s nice to just relax the brain a little and watch mindless crap. I generally like to watch TV with my wife because it’s a way for us to just cuddle and relax together. So it’s important to find the balance in one’s life.
Music in the studio
And of course music! Everybody loves music. But I quite like inspirational music like classical music, especially while painting. It helps to relax my thinking while I’m working on a painting, and also open the channels of intuition and deep feeling.
And I also like to read about the composers and how they dealt with their issues in their lives. I’m not sure why, but I like delving into and finding inspiration from others’ artistic struggles.
Pretty much the same as daily work above. But sometimes it’s nice to just take a bit of a break and sketch random things. The point is not to try and make a perfect work of art, but to just relax and have fun. It doesn’t matter what pen or pencil you use.
I try to sketch everyday if I can. Usually, it’s not so important what I’m sketching, but more the practice of putting pen to paper and developing the visual and motor skills.
Sketching anything, just looking at things and daily practice is important for gaining inspiration. You never really see something until you try to draw it.
Staring at people and drawing them from life
I also go to life drawing sessions every week and keep all my drawings in my studio as inspiration for figure paintings. Some are obviously better than others. But it’s all practice.
I think looking at people is very interesting, and I think painting the portrait is one of the most difficult things to do. I certainly find it the most challenging genre to paint!
And the more you paint or draw people, just sitting in a coffee shop sketching people walking past, the more you’ll find that it’s a major inspiration, and it’s very good for you as an artist. It really trains your brain and trains your eye. And you really develop an appreciation for people. Because I think we live in such a fast-paced world that people don’t really stop to take a look at each other — and admire each other — and see what amazing, mysterious feats we are.
A person’s face is really a representation of everything that’s perfect in nature. It’s a representation of the internal life that is being shown outwardly. So I find people’s faces incredibly inspirational.
And of course I wish I could paint a lot more people. I wish I had more time and more talent to keep pursuing this, to keep doing it. Because I think that’s what makes me so addicted to it.
My wife is pretty difficult to paint because she hates keeping still. And she’s always busy. Just as most people are always busy. So it’s difficult to get people to sit still for a few hours while you leisurely paint them.
Producing more art
Getting a likeness in 5 minutes is pretty difficult. But if you allow yourself time to develop your skills, the process of getting better at something is inspirational in itself. You start to realise where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
So inspiration for an artist becomes a sort of self-fulfilling loop where the more art you produce, the more you develop, and the more you grow in skill, the more inspired you become, which makes you want to produce more art, so the more artistic inspiration you find.
Art is its own pleasure and reward
When you ask people why they love their sport or hobby so much, they may find it difficult to explain it. Perhaps it’s a bit of the endorphin rush one gets from being good at something?
I think in a way, art is similar. It may be difficult to explain to non-artists what is so appealing about sitting for hours working on a painting.
I guess there may be a feeling of endorphins in the equation when things are starting to come together in the studio. Obviously there can be times when it’s also highly frustrating.
But I just think there is something really satisfying about applying oil paint to a canvas and seeing something emerge. It’s quite meditative. And I think in that way it has its merit.
Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best. And kicking a ball or painting on canvas is pretty cool. Why should it be more complicated than that?
What’s inspiring me the most at the moment is nature and landscape paintings, and figure and portrait paintings.
My latest series, the Sirens, developed from my many life drawings which I then use for paintings. So my own drawings have also been a source of artistic inspiration for me.