woman with backpack by the waterfall

Inspiring Painting Prompts: #2. Look Around

Seek Inspiration Outside Yourself

Contrary and yet friendly to my previous article, my next suggestion for sourcing inspiration asks to use your senses. Look around! In what follows, I encourage the aspiring artist to find painting inspiration outside yourself via your sensory experience.

Painting, being a visual art, implies our vision to observe the physical world around us. For most of us, that is the first place we look for ideas, anyways. Especially as young painters, we often looked to objects like flowers, the scenery, or close family or friends members as subjects. In fact, looking around you may be more accessible than looking within when you’re starting out. If expressing your emotions, ideas, dreams, etc., through art still feels abstract, start here. The exciting part about this outward approach to painting is your search for subject matter is, literally, right in front of and all around you!

One pro-tip from the Bohemian’s Minds writers:
Carry a nothingbook, everywhere you go!
Take note of anything that sparks your curiosity, both thoughts, emotions emerging within you, or that you observe with your senses!

Try these outside-of-yourself inspiring painting prompts for your next playtential time!

Use your senses

We have more than 5, did you know? Here are a few suggestions to simplify your search for ideas of what to paint by using your senses.

Sensory Colour Palette

  • Select a sensory color palette and play with recreating textures using the imagery you see when recalling (or really experiencing):
    • Forests (greens, browns, greys, skies, seasonal colors, and textures)
    • Seaside (water, skies, landforms, considering time of day and weather)
    • Cafe/bakery (smells, decor, sounds)
    • Concert (lights, sounds, ambiance)
    • Winter landscape (snow, landscape features, trees, homes/nature)
    • Spring flowers (colors, textures, weather)
    • Candles (scents derived from nature, from memories)
    • Spa/retreat (sounds, ambiance, lighting)
    • Vacation destinations (climate, scenery, time of day)
    • Childhood home/cabin (textures, furniture, lighting, memories)
    • or Any other favorite memory/destination that sparks your senses!
  • Paint with the colors of your favorite meal! When I tried this one weeknight, I made such a fun, abstractly colored cabin scene using my poke bowl’s colors!
  • Pick and place together 3-6 items in your living room, select their colors for paint and create a quirky, home-styled still life.
  • Paint a pet or favorite animal
    • Referring to photos is a fantastic way to select colors, differentiate textures, and examine shapes.
  • Listen to a powerful song, close your eyes, and select colors/design techniques from the inspired imagery.
  • Listen to a powerful song, and paint a memory or scenery around you with the song’s energy.

Notice Surroundings – look around

  • Step outside and notice something with novelty. “Undo blasé” (more on this phenomenon below!) and see the world with fresh eyes. Taking a fresh angle on your surroundings will enliven your senses. Hopefully, too, may also inspire you to notice (and enjoy painting) an object or experience hidden in your habitual blasé.
    • Notice flowers/trees along your commute
    • Pay attention to the lines, curves, textures, and colors of homes in your community.
    • Listen for the birds and bees who share your surroundings
    • Take a new route home
    • Sit in a different corner of your home and observe from a new angle.

Now, what is this word she keeps repeating, and is it French? Yes – blasé, originating in French, essentially sums up to describe the opposite experience of mindfulness and engagement in our lives. For the artist, practicing refreshing our senses and fully engaging with our world will help inspire us at any moment.

Blasé, away

Blasé describes the phenomenon of adopting a relationship of indifference towards one’s environment over time. Familiarizing with an environment or situation often enough, our minds adapt and start to focus on changes more than consistency. In cognitive-behavioral psychology, this is a fantastic and necessary brain function. However, artists need to see the world with nuance. Every experience and observation can inspire. It seems obvious the counter-phenomenon of experiencing blasé are the practices of mindfulness, gratitude, and curiosity. The advocated exercises of monks and meditators from all walks of life.

Be Curious and look around

I awoke to my habitual blasé near the end of my third-year sociology class at university. Our teacher asked us, students, to be curious and observe something inspiring in the room. Some turned their heads in every which way, wide-eyed searching. Many shrugged their shoulders with apathy, and most seemed too indifferent even to attempt the exercise at all.

Then she asked us to close our eyes. The teacher endeavored us to recall walking into this room on our first day in September. Remembering the newness experienced that day, the room began to buzz like a subtle beehive. Students began pointing at windows, light fixtures, artworks, giggling over the shared experiences of our own blasé to our environment. I noticed where sunlight beamed down onto a few lonely seats through a small, single-window high above the teacher’s projection screen. I never noticed the window before, at all! Let alone felt the warmth of the sun and curiosity of light and its power amid my own immediate imagination.

Look around

Even though a window may seem still pretty lame, some spark of inspiration had ignited to view my environment with near child-like curiosity. I decided right then and there to sketch my perspective of the window in the room and painted it later that night. I hung it in my room for the rest of the year, being reminded to notice and appreciate life around me every day.

Look for Community Inspiration

Looking for a guide or community workshop? Since the pandemic has pushed all of us more online, the internet has offered a new outlet for connection, inspiration, and teaching. Here’s a list of some upcoming workshops offered online for inspiring and meaningful art ideas:

  • Follow Vancouver, BC local Sophie Brunet‘s offerings – though we may have missed Art from your Heart – 5 Week Workshop offered this past March, she offers accessible, powerful art therapy sessions and is a great mentor to aspiring artists at any level!
  • Join a Facebook group for daily short inspiration posts, plus connections to offerings from fellow artists! Try Expressive Arts Therapy

Other Sources of Inspiration

  • Have a few minutes to do a quiz? This simple site offers a short and inquisitive quiz to identify your preferences for choosing what to paint!
  • In more of an online art magazine fashion, this site offers daily design inspirations (mostly graphic, though still relevant for painters)
  • Try a paint-by-numbers! Sure, the drawing and color palette isn’t your own, but you will practice the skills necessary to up your painting confidence! Take time to notice the variants in color, depth-perception, textures, contrasts, lights, and darks
  • Youtube, of course! FULL of DIY tutorials, Youtube “university” really is a gift of free education and inspiration from artists all around the world!

I hope you are more inspired to look outside yourself, to your surroundings with fresh senses and appreciation for everyday life’s beautiful opportunities. Live inspired, and create!

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.


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