Save for later & Share!

Where Do Good Art Ideas Come From?

Steven Johnson illustrates the sequence leading to the birth of a Good Idea in the video below. 

He focuses – perhaps not surprisingly – on creating spaces conducive to creativity. But the evolution of your good idea might start with a chain of little hunches over a long period of time.

Seemingly disparate notions over time that eventually merge into a greater whole could be the impetus to create a beautiful piece of art.

The power of creating a space that is conducive to creative time…

Chance favors the connected mind.  ~Steven Johnson

We Are Noticers

I think we – as artists – are always scanning the horizon for beauty. We are noticers.

We watch dappled sunlight drape over a glass on a window sill. Have you ever stopped, mid-stride, to catch the upside down reflection of a tree against blue sky in a puddle?

Even when we feel blocked, and it’s been weeks or months since we made art, we’re mentally collecting visuals.

According to Steven’s video above, a crucial germination point for our basket-of-notices and creative hunches is connection to community.

Reading art blogs, going to art museums, participating in art-related social media and joining regional art groups all works in the background to propagate creativity. Each of those activities works to connect the dots on our hunches, and sprout new art projects.

Put Your Plan in Motion

Artists germinate good ideas from inspiration. We get our inspiration muscles super-charged when we make a regular practice of looking at other artists’ work, visiting other artists’ studios, reading books by artists, and talking to artists.

SIDE NOTE: It’s helpful – perhaps even required – to toss into a trunk and lock down your comparison/envy impulses first. 

When I was an artist, I used to walk around feeling sorry for myself, always. Looked at every loft, every apartment. Hated everyone I saw. Everyone. Hated you if you had a better apartment. Hated you if you had more hair. Hated this one for being tall. Hated that one. Everybody had it better than poor me. They had more money. Oh, I was cynical. I knew why she was getting what she got and he got what he got, and I was eaten alive by this envy. Eaten alive, and now I tell young artists and writers: “You must make an enemy of envy today. Today. By tonight, because it will eat you alive.

Jerry Saltz
It helps if you draw with a bowl of ice cream and a homemade cookie.

Good Ideas for Drawing

Have you ever notice how time, noise and fretfulness dissolves while you’re drawing?

I started this drawing below in a deep dive of quietude, but had to pause while attending to Life-ish things.

I propped her against a wall in my studio, where she must have been bumped. She repelled between the table and the wall to the floor. In my world – out of sight-out of mind is an understatement. I completely forgot about the drawing.

a sketch of a little girl's face in process on an airplane seat tray with a little bag of pencils
In process, on an airplane tray table with a pouch-of-pencils and an audiobook in my headphones

Finding Drawing Ideas

Here are some tasty resources for drawing ideas…

pencil drawing of a little girl with her hands pressed together under her chin
Up from the floor and back to work: in process on the table with pencils and pan-pastel foam blenders

Finishing Abandoned Drawings

Months after loosing sight of the portrait drawing above, I dropped a paintbrush and it rolled under the table.

While crawling underneath to retrieve the brush, there was my sweet girl, suspended at an angle in power cords.

She looked right at me, with her little palms pressed together in a pleading gesture; Won’t you please finish me? So I did.

a framed pencil drawing of a little girl's face with her hands pressed together under her chin
All dressed up and ready – Charmed, finished, matted and framed 🙂
Snapped with a cell phone from a tiny photo in my grandmother’s photo album, and printed larger at home to use as inspiration for this monotype print.

Find Drawing Ideas at Home

If you’re new around here, you might not have considered my favorite source for drawing fodder – family photos. Pull out your family’s vintage photo albums, and snap close up photos of your favorite scenes with your phone.

Or pull out your photo albums from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – and look for compelling compositions, interesting negative space, fun architectural angles in street scenes, or familiar faces to sketch.

Either way, have fun perusing your own family history for adventures in drawing. And don’t be afraid to use your cell phone camera to artfully crop a photo with too many details.

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post –


P.S. You can subscribe to get these blog posts via email as soon as they’re published. Sign up here.

graphite drawing of a little girl
Charmed 7.75 x 9.25 pencil drawing on paper (Available here)

Art Quote

The act of painting is about one heart telling another heart where he found salvation.

Ai Weiwei
Visit this free online mini course – Six Tips to Paint More

Save for later & Share!

7 thoughts on “How to Get Good Ideas for Art”

  1. Sarah Bailey

    Hey Belinda, great post on finding inspiration! As a side note regarding the Sktchy challenges, I just wanted to mention that I thrived with the graphite 30 days challenge because I needed the practice and it was low pressure – it’s just a pencil! However, I have felt stifled with the watercolor/gouache challenge. I’ve painted enough at this point that I know what I like to paint (or not) and I strongly disliked some of the references they chose. It wouldn’t be an issue for some people of course, but for me, as a perfectionist and completionist, it made me crazy. I had to either paint subjects I absolutely hated to paint in order to complete the course (which of course means they turned out awful), or I had to skip them and not complete the whole course. It sounds silly I know, but it absolutely froze any and all creativity while I figured out how I wanted to handle the situation. (I ended up skipping them, but it was painful!) I felt like I *had* to do the portraits I didn’t like before I could do anything of my own choosing. It’s horrible to be trapped in one’s one bad cycle, so I would suggest that people consider whether they are a good fit for such courses, as my own tendencies really got the best of me on this one.

    1. Hi Sarah, This is *such* a valuable observation! Thank you for sharing it. I predict that many folks looking for online courses offering structured practice at painting with watercolor and gouache get excited at the thought of 30 different teachers! Imagine instruction available in 30 different styles. In just 30 days! You’re bound to resonate with a bunch of them….. or not!
      If you don’t care for the resource images selected, or you find the teaching style too thin on description of process, or you don’t care for the outcome of the instructor’s demo, that’s kind of a big deal!
      But a lot of beginners might not realize this risk, and I think it’s very real, and should be considered before signing up for a multi-teacher, multi-style, multi-source photo, limited time instruction program. Even if a student is not a completionist – as a beginner, 30 different styles could be terribly overwhelming. Not enough time to practice and settle into a single-use groove. Thank you for sharing this… I think it’s an excellent observation.

  2. Hah-hah-hahhh – I hope you find an unfinished little gem, or some lost-but-loved colored pencils to ignite an afternoon of fun at your art table. I didn’t mention the cat hair under my table, but *you’ll* know that it was a given. 🙂 Thanks for the compliments, sugar-bear.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *