When it comes to existential questions, “who am I?” and “why am I here?” definitely fall short under the always intimidating: “what should I paint?”. It happens to all artists “What can I paint?” is the question in the back of the mind of the student working on their next project, the amateur trying to find their own path between brushes and paints, and even the experienced artist that closed down a cycle and it’s now looking for inspiration and that special thing they want to share with the world.
The answer is simple and, sometimes, hard to grasp: you can paint whatever you want. Yes! You are free to do with that canvas whatever your heart and mind desire, and it’s exactly that total freedom the thing that scares creatives the most because it reminds them that is their ideas, their crafts, and themselves against the world. It’s sad to look at freedom of creativity as something that could paralyze even the most seasoned artist since this should be the most exciting of all opportunities. So, if you are asking yourself “what should I paint next?” or “how can I start painting”, follow these guidelines to get you to strike that canvas with a brush today.
What should you paint? Whatever you want! You only need one stroke of a brush to begin.
Dealing with “artist’s block”: what should you do when you don’t know what to paint
The good old “creative block”, pages and pages have been filled about the frustration that only a blank canvas (or page) can awaken. It happens to everyone in the creative and artistic field: the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. The second one is that this “curse” is one that you can break. It requires just one thing: grab your preferred tool, face your medium of preference and just strike a line, or put a dot on it, write your name, make a splash, whatever you need to drop the weight you have put on this task.
And now that you have made the first move: keep going. Let go of your expectations, not every single thing you do has to be a masterpiece and if you get out of your “blocked” mind zone you’ll have something better: a fresh start, the liberty to go in any direction, to play around and make mistakes, and you can only grow from there. Didn’t Pablo Picasso famously say “every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow”? Well, this is your time and moment to connect with that kid who found such wonder between crayons, paint, and brushes.
Play around and you will figure out exactly what YOU want to paint.
Changing the medium can be a creative way to challenge you and quickly define what to paint.
How to start painting?: Choose a medium
The medium is the substance (no intention to be “prosy” here), is what you use to create your painting. For example, your canvas, watercolors, acrylic paint, a digital software to edit images, and anything else your creative mind can add to this list to portray that object of interest that you want to capture in a painting.
If you are wondering “what should I paint?” A good place to find an answer is: by choosing a preferred medium, you will start narrowing down your options on what to do. It’s not the same to work on a canvas or a notebook, a screen, or even directly on a wall. And that can also be a trick to get you into painting: change the medium.
If you are used to working with oil-based paints, choose watercolors, or if you have a long-standing exploration with acrylic paint, drop it and get a spray paint can. Your mind will have to figure out a way to do what it knows best (bringing an image to life) in a completely different way, and before you know it you’ll be immersed in creating a painting.
Sometimes it starts with a carbon pencil, others with a brush, many things can help you decide what you should paint.
Get your tools: what you need to start painting
Another way to define what you should paint is by choosing your tools: it determines what you can do and even if you can put a twist on the usual use of that supply and come up with something new. That creative possibility itself can kickstart your next painting. Before facing a blank canvas, gather your tools, take a look at them, and let them lead the way.
What tools you might need to start painting? Here is a shortlist:
-Watercolor painting pad or block
-Pencils (graphite, colored, and pastels)
Inspiration is all around you: open your eyes to the smallest details!
Look for inspiration: how to start painting
There is no bigger cliche in the art world than saying “inspiration is all around us”, but cliches exist for a reason: they are usually true. If you are wondering what you should paint: take a look around and let your eyes rest on the first thing that captures your attention: what is it? your coffee mug? this screen? a plant? the view from the window? All of those are amazing things to start drawing!
Another way to awaken your inspiration is to look into things that you like: the work of an artist you admire, information about a certain subject that you are interested in. They don’t even have to be related to “painting”, maybe you can draw inspiration from a book, or movie. You can also choose a particular subject or art niche to start painting: botanical art, landscapes of your city, or portraits.
You can also take your sketchbook on a walk and draw what you see on the way. Or take yourself on an “online creative date” and browse through the work of contemporary artists from different corners of the world. ArtPlacer’s Discover page is a good place to start.
And if everything fails there is one subject you know better than any other: yourself. What if you start painting a self-portrait?
You are the only person who can actually determine what you should paint. Let yourself be.
What should you paint? 5 exercises to spark your creativity
It’s time to ignite the fire. The only person that can answer “what should I paint?” is you, and if you are struggling to find the answer, there are some small tips and exercises you can do to get you into painting mode.
What do you do and what do you like?
If you have been painting for a while you must know well what you do and how you do it. Find the common subjects and techniques in your work and then make a choice: follow the same or do the complete opposite. If you are a beginner, take a look at the things that have inspired you: artists you admire, works that make you think “I wish I could do that”, and start working on it, that’s also the best way to improve your skills.
Create a series or a challenge
Make a list of things you want to paint, you wish you could paint, or even things that you wonder if you will be able to paint. Put a deadline on each one and tackle them one by one. For example, you make portraits of your friends, paint memorabilia from your travels, do the classic “bowl of fruits” paint in 30 different ways, follow or create your own painting challenge on social media and work along with others. The important thing is: to challenge yourself to have fun painting.
Start with the subjects you know best: do something that takes you back to the joy of painting.
Discover a trend
Trends are here for a reason, it is not about blending in a sea of look-alikes, maybe if you do that painting of a girl with flowers in her head that has been popping up all over social media, you discover something in YOUR process that can ignite new ideas. The point is to get you to start painting and then let anything happen.
Experiment with another style and technique
Are your paintings more on the abstract side? What would happen if you take the same subject, color palette, and that crazy inner drive and you try to portray the same thing in a hyper-realistic way? Paint a quote or create a pattern. Instead of using brushes, drip and drop the paint, use your fingers, or do a sketch with your non-dominant hand, everything is valid.
Paint something that you enjoy
If painting is something you are passionate about, then it’s something that brings you a particular kind of joy. Take notes of the things that also bring you that feeling: music, great friends, a relationship, your city, social themes, all the things that you are also passionate about, and capture them on your canvas. And doing this is like connecting the best of all the worlds your creative mind inhabits.
Create a digital room mockup of your creative process and celebrate your achievement: you started painting!
What should you do with your paintings? Celebrate your creations
You finally jumped through the hoop of fire and you made it out alive. You have a painting in your hands! There is a way to celebrate that process and keep it as a reminder for other days when the question “what should I paint?” comes back knocking at your studio door.
For example, you can use ArtPlacer’s Library Spaces to create a mockup digital room where all your drafts, first attempts, and even the finished piece are displayed. You can crop it, download it and upload it to your social media channels to share your journey with others or keep it to yourself as a reminder of what you are able to achieve once you start painting.
If you want to take it one step further: create a 3D digital gallery of your process with ArtPlacer’s Virtual Exhibitions, you can walk around that virtual gallery and see your progress any time you need a bit of inspiration.
All masterpieces begin the same way: with one stroke. Start today.