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10 Tips for Art Inspiration


Do you ever wish you could be more creative, or wonder how professional artists and illustrators generate ideas?


Research by several notable scientists indicates that creativity is a muscle or mindset that we can build on and strengthen – that no one is born with raw talent or a lack of creativity. We all know someone who insists they are not creative, yet is a skilled gardener or cook. Usually, they mean they are scared to try something new, because it doesn’t work out perfectly the first time. Knowing this, we have more confidence to make art, and improve over time. Dare to create, and ignore the inner critic that tells you to stop. That inner critic is just a thought, and thoughts are not reality. However, sometimes it can feel difficult to believe this if you don’t have “good ideas”. With this in mind, I’ve outlined a few methods that can help you next time you’re stuck for inspiration. 

The Drawing-For-Others Method

Draw something your best friend or sibling would love, then post it to them or give it to them next time you see them. Or draw something your younger self would have loved, and display it proudly in your home. Try an art challenge – preferably one with a long deadline and a small following, like a Draw This In Your Style (#DTIYS) on Instagram. This is often easier than a challenge like Inktober, as there’s less pressure to achieve a masterpiece each day, and usually the original artist will see your artwork and be thrilled you took part in their event. 

The “What’s in it for me?" Method

Explore your interests. You might not be sure what these are – that’s ok! Go to a local library and see what interests you, think about the types of books and shows you like, and see what they have in common. Draw a series, e.g. horoscopes. Think about a t-shirt design you would love to wear, or a print for your wall. 


The Student Method

Take an online class like Proko or a Skillshare Staff Pick (use this link for two months free). Draw something from real life. Focus on a small part of your art that you want to improve, for example colour palettes or perspective. That way, you’ll be ready when the next idea strikes!


The Step-Away Method

Take a change of scene – head out into nature, a garden, or just another room. Put your idea on the back burner. Make sure to rest. Even the best athletes need time to recharge. There’s a reason many artists experience burnout during Inktober – the creative mind needs time to explore, de-stress, and play. An article on building the creative muscle suggests the results of taking time to play will be more creative than the "hard work only" approach. Be open to new experiences, stay curious, and step outside your comfort zone. Sometimes an alternative solution to a drawing occurs to me when I’m drifting off to sleep and my subconscious mind tries to solve the problem without my awareness. The illustrations for this post are a great example! I sketched out the clown juggling lightbulbs, and then dreamed the clown himself was a lightbulb.


The Speed Method

Julia Cameron recommends writing morning pages every day, to clear your mind of clutter and anxiety. If you often have vivid dreams, keep a notebook beside your bed to record them. Always have a sketchbook nearby and draw quickly and messily, and don’t let anyone look! Let go of perfection and the need for good ideas, and explore your bad ideas. I believe that doing this repeatedly lowers the barrier between your subconscious mind and the paper, and that bad ideas can lead to good ideas, so don’t censor yourself. Equally, don’t worry if they look good or not – at this stage, you just want to get ideas down, you can refine them into a drawing later.

The Go-For-It Method

Pick the first idea that pops into your head and draw it. If you really can’t think of one, use this: a dragon riding a skateboard. Yes it’s ridiculous – it’s meant to be. Just have fun! Again: play is important to developing your creative mind. I promise you will think of at least two more ideas while drawing, e.g. you might get fascinated by the scales and decide to do a project all about lizards. Or you might want to draw a skateboard graphic. Or think about different ways a dragon could look and don’t go for the obvious.

The Random Method

Pick two words from a random word generator. Make several quick sketches and thumbnail roughs. I just tried it and got ‘wood’ and ‘hat’. I could draw a hat made out of wood, a hat lost in the forest, a forest in the shape of a hat, etc. This method helps for those who worry if their ideas are too “out there” – you can blame it on the noun generator and release the feeling of silliness. 


The Jack-Of-All-Trades Method

Try out a different medium. You could try watercolour, ink, digital, coffee and a stick – anything that’s different to what you use every day. If you need to stick to digital for health reasons, try exploring a different app. Sometimes it helps to do something completely different, like clay, knitting, or wood carving. 


The Hero Method

Study your favourite artists. I find it helps to do this with a book or e-book – there’s less distractions than on social media, and you won’t be tempted to negatively compare your art as much. There’s usually insightful information about the artist’s thought processes and techniques, too. Watch a youtube video of one of your art heroes drawing, and draw along with them.


The Confidence-Builder Method

Sometimes you have ideas, but they seem too difficult. Find something you can draw easily and make a whole page of it (e.g. lots of different mugs). Keep doing it until you feel inspired to draw something more challenging.

Finally, look after yourself as best you can. I know my brain turns to mush if I skip my veggies and daily exercise. I realise that’s not possible for everyone, but see if there are healthy choices you can make in your life. Something I found recently was that I need to take a break from social media every so often, or I end up feeling miserable. I hope these ideas helped you, whether you focus on one or combine them in a unique approach. You won’t become more creative overnight – it takes practice. Put in the effort and you will see results over time. So play more, embrace the silliness, and look at different ways to generate ideas!

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