Find Ideas for Watercolors with Your Phone’s Camera

still life watercolor painting os a chopping block with freshly washed granny smith green apples, a knife, and a wedge of laughing cow cheese near a cup of coffee

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Where to Find Ideas for Watercolors

Artists are in a hard crush to render our world in pigments, graphite, charcoal, etc. These days, we’re limited to finding inspiration inside our own homes during this pandemic.

Whether you live in a studio apartment, a three story house, or a garage, there are always beautiful scenes to paint in watercolors. Let’s take a look at ways to find ideas for watercolors with your phone’s camera (or any other camera).

a cell phone camera is used to crop a kitchen mess, and focus on a single cup casting a shadow
Even if your house is far from spiffy and Photo-Shoot Ready – use the viewfinder on your phone to crop small vignettes, with interesting shapes, drop shadows, reflections and fun colors. Use the viewfinder to prune out the chaos.

Your Phone is a Painting Finder

We artists enjoy swinging a water and pigment spotlight on overlooked beauty. We use art supplies to shine a beam of Noticing on something simple-but-lovely.

Try walking through your home with the viewfinder on your phone’s camera – or a traditional camera – open. Go treasure hunting near the windows, looking for cast shadows and interesting shapes. (Read this post about how I found twenty years of watercolor painting ideas in an unremarkable kitchen window.)

a sheet of watercolor paper is laid on a board with a light pencils sketch, ready to be taped down as preparation for a watercolor painting
Using a snapshot taken with my phone in the kitchen, I’ve sketched the shapes on watercolor paper using the Grid Method.

Tune Up Your Noticing Muscle

You might trot past a beam of sunlight spilling into your own rooms every day. The afternoon sun is earnestly projecting the leafy silhouette of your plant in a clay pot across the floor. Will you try to notice it?

If your favorite watercolor artist painted that same scene in your house – would you halt in front of the watercolor version of your own surroundings? Would the painting subject – your own window light, a glint of sun on a glazed pot, and the puppet-leaf shadow, cast across the floor – make you see your own space in a new way?

Take 30 Minutes to Notice

Your household vignettes only become art if you slow down enough to notice them, and paint. There are a thousand paintings waiting to be found within 50 yards of where you sit. Brew a cup of tea during the sunniest part of the day, open the camera on your phone, and let’s take a look around.

When the world feels a little crazy, art can slow your roll. When something catches your eye, it can pause your thoughts, interrupt a conversation, and chill the pace of your walk. Noticing beauty is a salve of comfort we consume with our eyes.

quotes-about-creativity by Mary Oliver
The photo above was taken when the late afternoon sun cast a shadow from the flower vase with that lovely green belt across the middle. Don’t be afraid of putting a few flowers in a glass of water, and setting it in the sun outside to take a dozen photos from different angels as painting fodder.
a watercolor still life painting by artist Wil Freeborn
Here’s a beautiful example of a simple watercolor still life arrangement by artist Wil Freeborn.

Painting Idea Tips

  • Do your windows face East? Take photos in the morning, to capture squinty-bright light, and long shadows.
  • When your windows face West, be ready with your camera in the late afternoon, with curtains open, and a hunt for the ‘golden hour’ light illuminating every day objects.
  • If your windows face North or South, you have the benefit of soft, diffuse light that artist’s treasure in their studios. Open the curtains, and if possible, even the doors, and walk around your things to look for little still life ideas, and broader, interior scene painting compositions.
  • If you have no windows, take a walk outside in the hours before sunset, and look for long shadows across flat spaces. A flower casting a shadow across a sidewalk, or a parked car, a house, a street sign or a mailbox. Take lots of photos after viewing the scene from different angles in your camera’s viewfinder.
find painting ideas by looking at things through your phone's camera viewfinder
With the camera viewfinder, I can find a sweet spot to paint a squash flower, and crop out the hose spigot, fly swatter, and plant packaging.
the beginnings of a still life watercolor painting with the reference material on one side and the painting palette on the other
With my reference photo on the left, and a travel palette on the right, I work on the watercolor painting after dinner – at the kitchen counter – in small intervals throughout the week.

Your Camera Makes You The Boss

About a third of the way through painting this watercolor still life, I felt like it needed one additional character.

The cutting board was a stage, and the space between the edge of the apple shadows and the mug was too empty.

I went foraging in the kitchen for something not round. With spherical shapes in the mug and the apples, and rounded corners on the cutting board, the pointed knife needed some edgy company. Enter the Laughing Cow wedge!

a wedge of laughing cow cheese in the sun
I used my phone camera to snap a quick photo of this wedge of laughing cow cheese as a late-entry addition to the watercolor still life.

Painting and Printmaking Ideas

  • This post is about painting all sorts of subjects from your very own kitchen, and features examples of other artists doing the same thing.
  • With a handful of vintage family photos scanned and printed on a home printer, you can make wonderful collage art of friends and family in make believe scenarios. All you need is a little glue, some paint and your imagination.
  • If you’re a beginner at art, you’ll get some good ideas from this post about eleven reasons you should consider making small paintings.
  • Folks that want to try printmaking are often searching for subjects to make into a linocut or woodcut, so here are some linocut ideas to get you started.
an iphone camera viewfinder locating a single rose in a messy hedge
I don’t want to paint the whole garden hedge, but I could have a lovely afternoon painting a single rose.
The viewfinder on my phone camera helps me locate doable painting subjects.
a watercolor painting still life in progress with apples, a knife and a wedge of laughing cow cheese
The laughing cow cheese wedge is like a magnetic compass needle, pointing beyond the shadows, towards the light. We need a little of that these days, don’t we?

How Are You Doing?

Thanks for stopping by today. I always appreciate your visits. These stay at home directives are okay for us artist types, but even we need a little chatter and art supply talk with our friends to break up the solo creating time. Don’t you think?

Tell me how you’re doing in the comments. Where will you take your camera to collect some painting ideas? Are you making art? Playing Music? Puttering in the garden? Reading a wonderful book? (I’m almost finished listening to this one.)

I hope you make something soon. See you in the next post –


Art Quote

Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius
Clover Leaf Watercolor Palette
This is a cloverleaf collapsable watercolor palette with mixing wells
still life watercolor painting of a chopping block with freshly washed granny smith green apples, a knife, and a wedge of laughing cow cheese near a cup of coffee
The finished watercolor painting – The Magnetic Needle of Laughing Cows 10.5 x 10.25 is available in my Etsy Shop.
a video course on how to title your art
Visit this short, effective video course: How to Title Your Art

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7 thoughts on “Find Ideas for Watercolors with Your Phone’s Camera”

  1. Hi Belinda! I just found your site and Etsy shop and absolutely love your paintings! I have a question: can you recommend where a complete beginner should start when learning how to use watercolors? I used to paint with watercolors a little bit in childhood, and tried to pick it up again recently only to realize that my skills have remained at the level of a five year-old 🙂 Do you have any posts on your website where you talk about starting from scratch? Thank you!

    1. Hello Alina, Five year old watercolor skills are a blessing! Rejoice in a whole new acquaintanceship with your pigments.You’ll have so much fun! Starting from scratch is a party of potential, so you can explore tutorials on youtube, read books that go over art supply considerations, join beginner watercolor groups on social media, and visit blogs of your favorite watercolor artists. The posts on my blog (600+) are varied in media (watercolors and printmaking), and the methods photographed here and on my youtube channel lean towards encouragement to keep at it, more than the basics. Have a look at this post, for example: Paint often, and actively research solutions to any obstacles that hinder your progress, so you can stay with it! Welcome back to watercolors!

  2. John Pfeiffer

    Nice ideas.I often get caught up in subject matter that is really too complex to do well and overlook the value of simplifying my focus that you demonstrate here. Thanks for taking the time

    1. Hi John,
      I’ve swooned for scenes that were far too complex for me to learn anything but supreme frustration. I like to think I know better, so I can aim my sites on simpler compositions, but I still get tempted. Thank you for the visit.

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