One of the greatest benefits of living a creative life is the power we gain to heed inspiration and meaning in everyday experience. The intention of this article is to provide some painting prompts inspired by looking within oneself.
Art is a boundless expression of human potential and meaning-making. Searching for inspiration for a painting project invites us to observe our lives with fresh senses. Using this strategy, we can boost our self-consciousness through observing our inner world. I hope that you will find reward and success in finding inspiration for paintings through simple and deeper inner-exploration.
You may have checked out my earlier articles on taking an artistic attitude, dedicating time and space to playtential, gathering supplies, and by now are checking off steps on the painter’s checklist:
Dedicated Playtential Time + Space ✔
and now… what to paint? Where are we to look to gain some inspiration for projects?
“Great art picks up where nature ends.”– Marc Chagall
Before sharing some of my favourite exercises to prompt inner-reflection inspired painting projects, let me first lay out an important element of artistry to keep in mind:
Less is More
Since art is a playful, creative expression of the infinite, it can feel overwhelming to decide on an idea. A key concept to remember is to trust that Less is More. The more specific and perhaps limited your inspiration is, the more potential for producing a great design.
The formula I practice is:
- Observe all experiences within and outside of you – and write them down in a central place, such as a nothingbook (see below)!
Having a list/word map in front of you brings it all into one place. If you can think to write something down, do. While it may not be clear now why it will inspire a painting for you later, trust that you may be surprised when playtential time comes. And you’ll be happy you made note of it!
- Reduce options and select a focus.
Select one or a few ideas, and reduce your supplies. Recognize you’ll usually work on one project at a time (at least, in one sitting). With your list in front of you, select an idea you’re drawn to, or one at random, and then reduce your materials. Select a colour palette, some brushes, and your surface/canvas. Less actually empowers you, refining your focus and simplifying options to use your mind and body to execute your project.
Carry a Creativity “Nothingbook”
A fantastic way to collect ideas for inspiring projects is to carry with you a “nothingbook“. Our fellow Bohemians’ Minds author, Marek explains the merits of organizing one’s thoughts and observations into a central, accessible place. Check out his inspiring article, here: “Opening creativity, part 1”.
What to write in your nothingbook?
All that you observe, of course! Observation is far from limited to our visual senses. A truly creative person harnesses creativity through every sense and sensation within and around them. Exercising this ritual is exciting and so simple, especially the more you practice it. Seeing the world through a creative lens, novelty and amazement come from even the most simple experiences.
Perhaps one of the most inspiring aspects of art is that it is boundless. Inspiration can be found through the looker’s lens; that is, if you simply look, you will find it. I’ve found it really helpful to either look within, or outside of myself, to find ideas to explore painting.
Create lists, draw pictures, scribble a word, a colour scheme, name an emotion that arose curiously in the moment. In what follows, I will outline some specific exercises that can help you observe your inner world to draw from ideas for a painting.
Seek Inspiration Within
When I dedicate playtential time, I prepare my inner world first. Inspiration from within refers to taking time to quiet distractions and sit in stillness, noticing your energy, reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, perceptions and beliefs in any given moment.
Observing your current state of energy is an empowering skill. Unsurprisingly, cultivating presence is of the most immediately accessible methods to do so. Fortunately, there are many practices to support individuals to do so, so the options are yours to discover.
An immediate and free exercise is to practice a Sit. Pause to find a comfortable position, gently close your eyes, slow down and observe the sensations of your breath. Observe the inner-self, all thoughts, physical sensations, sensory inputs. As noted above and in greater detail in Marek’s article, writing down anything that comes up for you can be valuable. It may not feel useful now, maybe not for a while, some observations maybe never! But that is FINE! Dedicating time to and practicing sitting quietly to observe your inner experiences brings many proven and experienced benefits, inclusive of sparking inspiration for art.
Yoga and exercise, mindful eating/routines, walking, being in and exploring nature, as well as meditation are other effective ways to cultivate self-awareness and inner-discovery.
Below are a select few favourite meditations I have practiced in my playtential time that helped to give structure and substance to inspiring painting projects:
Letting go of control
Sitting comfortably, slow and deepen the breath, for at least 6+ unrushed cycles in stillness. With each inhale privately or quietly repeat peace and confidence, with the length of each exhale, release limitations and control. Allow yourself to become present in the moment, full within your body and spirit, lighter in your seat. Stay as long as feels right to you, until you feel ready to pick up paint and brush, maintaining deep and steady cycles of breath. Maintain the health of the breath cycle, calmness around you, as you paint strokes and with any colour you’re naturally drawn to. Think less, Be more. Embrace the peace and freedom of this flow state.
If you find your mind beginning to wander away from the moment, your breath beginning to shallow, pause the body. Revisit the breath cycle, and repeat the mantras to find comfort detached from control. Paint as long as you feel natural, without concern for the final project.
White Light Energy Soothing
Try this short self-guided script below to pair relaxing meditation with a unique way to decide upon a colour scheme and texture.
Prepare a comfortable seat or space to lie, perhaps with soothing background music to accompany you throughout your meditation
Place one of your hands on your solar plexus, centered just below the ribcage, and the other hand on your sacral chakra, just below your belly button
Allow your eyes to close and turn your attention towards your breath and allow your body to relax as you take a deep breath into the belly, then into the chest
Inhale through your nose and then release it out your mouth
Imagine in the front of your mind a soft, bright white light that slowly blankets over you, bringing warmth and comfort.
On your next exhale, feel old worries, stresses, and fears leave you, having this warm light protecting you from their return. Exhale the old and inhale the fresh, vibrant, new, white light.
Maintaining the regularity of this smooth, deeper breath cycle, shift your attention to the mind’s imagination of the space surrounding you. Notice all that appears. Like painting a background, take note of the colour, the softness, any textures or patterns, light or darkness, walls or vastness. Simply observe, needn’t make any changes.
On an inhale, draw your attention back into your body, locating the soft white light within you. Notice where you find it along your centre. Is it lower near your hips? In the center of your belly, chest, throat or forehead? Simply notice.
Next, allow the light to slowly drift upwards, exiting above the crown of your head like a warm cloud. Notice where the light drifts, and again, shift your mind’s eye to also take in the ‘background’ or setting of your inner-being.
Slowly begin to re-open your eyes. Taking a breath in, on the exhale, choose your colour palette from the colours you observed in this mind’s eye setting. Begin your piece with soft strokes, either attempting to recreate your inner-environment, or the path of the soft light throughout the session.
If you would prepare to listen to this as a guided meditation, try it here.
I hope this article has encouraged you to try sourcing inspiration from within for some great painting projects. If reading this far is sufficient enough to get you excited to paint, go for it!
For anyone looking to dive a little deeper into the science and research behind inspiration, please continue!
Inspiration and Neurogenesis
In Dr. Joe Dispenza’s “Rewired” series, he explains that an emerging field of science on the study of neurogenesis proves that new experiences create new neural-networks that grow and strengthen acute cognitive, mental, emotional, and physical skills. This discovery leads to prove that cultivating new ways of perceiving and engaging (experiencing) the world around you – including your inner world of thoughts/feelings, actually changes your brain and therefore, your life.
It excites me to connect the dots between these findings and encouraging aspiring painters to re-examine the world within and around you. If we see our lives as a cosmic gift, privilege, and opportunity, the world is more interesting, inspiring, and mystical.
In the early 1900s, studies were conducted on lab rats to test whether damaged neurons could rebuild/recover. The restricted rodents were held in an unchanging, unstimulating, and unnatural environment. Similarly, we can compare when we experience blasé in our mundane daily routines. If you think and behave generally the same every single day, it follows that the mind, brain, emotions, etc. will maintain similar patterns.
So what of inspiration then?
About the author:
I am passionate about making the best of life through cherishing relationships, exploring worldly experiences, and cultivating a creative lifestyle of art, music, dance, and fitness. I am a self-taught painter, inspired by the sublimity of nature, consciousness, love and universal transcendence that binds all of humanity and nature, together.