There is that big white space in front of you.
It is waiting for you to fill it with your creative outpouring. The problem is you have no idea of what to paint.
That white canvas is looming larger, ever larger.
There is subject matter all around you. It just takes a bit of inspiration to discover what the muse is urging you to paint.
What do you want to paint? If you are a student artist, a good way to begin is to start a morgue. A morgue is simply a file of reference material. You gather photos, magazine illustrations, sketches you have made or any graphic that catches your eye. Use these images for inspiration any time you do not have the actual item in front of you.
As time passes, you will accumulate an impressive collection of pictures. Categorize them as you see fit. Animals, landscapes, flowers, still life, sky and architecture are all possible categories.
Natural Versus Man-Made Subjects
When painting something from nature, there is great latitude in how the subject is completed. There is no exact formula or one precise method required. A flower can have a specific shape. A daisy has a certain form. However, within that form there are countless variables.
Landscapes are also infinite in variations. There are certain tenets that are generally followed. The horizon is horizontal. Water flows downhill. Outside of a few basic physics facts, the artist is free to wander in his mind searching for new ways of expressing himself.
When painting man-made subjects there is a greater need to follow rules. That is true if the artist is painting representational art.
Painting a cityscape, house, church, bridge or even road requires an understanding of perspective. This is going back to drawing basics, so it is not necessarily a painting topic. It is of importance when painting objects created with specific weight, size and shape.
Painting an apple is one thing. Painting an apple in a bowl is another entirely. The apple is not perfectly round and would look unconvincing if one were to paint it that way. On the other hand, the bowl is round and should be painted using perspective, so it convinces the viewer that it is a round bowl.
If the artist decides to throw aside those pesky rules of nature and venture into the world of abstract art, all bets are off. Knowing the rules make it easier to distinguish when to break them and how to break them to the best advantage.
Point Of View
This is an interesting way to approach a subject for painting. An average adult sees the world from a height of over five feet. The horizon is far afield. Objects on the ground seem small. Pick a new point of view to get a new slant on a painting.
Paint from the standpoint of a two-inch tall artist. That leaf has a completely new perspective. Look up or look down, but change the view from that of the typical observer to something entirely different.
Paint a still life on a table from the cat’s eye view. Paint a bird’s eye view of a landscape.
Magnify a scene to a high degree. Georgia O’Keefe’s up close and personal floral paintings are one example of extreme magnification.
An artist may become fixated on a particular theme or subject. He examines it from every angle and viewpoint. He paints it in any possible way he can imagine.
A series of a single theme can be very exciting. It allows the artist a chance to explore deeply something that interests him. It gives the student the opportunity to see how far he can develop over a period. He learns how his skill in observation grows and changes, as well as how he develops his technique and proficiency.
Choosing a beloved or favorite subject can be a very personal painting. This may be painted just for private reasons with no thought of public viewing. It is filled with the items or places you cherish most.
Perhaps a loved one such as a sibling or parent or other intimate has been yearning for one of your originals. A very intimate and thoughtful gift is that of a “Memory Still Life.” Fill a setting with things that mean something special to you two. Sisters sharing favorite dolls, a beloved pet, special box, or a preferred flower might be a theme.
For a parent, it may be items that recall early family memories. With a spouse, it could be the symbols of their shared experiences. This private tableau is just between the artist and the receiver.
Go take a walk on the beach, in the woods, or down the street. Sit on a public bench with a pad and pencil and draw.
It need not be a great drawing. Let your mind be free to play with shapes and design. Lie in the grass and really observe what a plant looks like. Examine things with a fresh sense of awareness.
Then take those rough sketches and ideas you have jotted down, go to your studio or kitchen table. Stare that big white space directly in the face and just let yourself do it.