10 Ways to Find Inspiration When You Don't Know What to Draw or Paint: Resources and Tips for Finding Great Ideas

10 ways to find inspiration when you don't know what to draw or paint: resources and tips for finding great ideas.

“Creativity is a lot like happiness. It shows up when you’re thinking of something else.“ —Bert Dodson


Inspiration comes in many forms and can be very elusive. It can be the bane of any artist, but it can also be a treasure trove of creativity and ideas, helping you avoid the dreaded blank page syndrome. Professional artists know the importance of capturing inspiration when it comes because it is the exception rather than the rule. Painter-illustrator-author Bert Dodson said: “Creativity is a lot like happiness. It shows up when you’re thinking of something else.“

In this post I have gathered ten ways to help you find inspiration and ideas, and encourage creativity for your art.

1) Draw what’s in front of you

No inspiration? No creativity? No problem! Take your paper and drawing tool and start drawing either an object or the whole scene that is in front of you. If you want to draw something else, just bring your drawing tools with you, rinse, and repeat. Great for warming up and getting looser with your drawing.

2) Make a list of ideas

Inspiration will not always come to you, in fact it will usually come to you when you are not doing art, like when you are in the shower, taking a walk, or while working. Because of this, you should have a way to take notes wherever you are. Either get a small notebook that you can write on if you can’t always use your smart phone, or use an app where you can take notes and archive them for later retrieval. Personally I use Evernote since notes get synced automatically between my phone and my computer. You could also use Microsoft Onenote, Notepad, or any word processor. You could also use a draft email, a pinterest board, heck, you could even write your ideas on pieces of paper and put them in a hat to draw from; basically anything you could use to store ideas and retrieve them later.

Whenever a new idea of something to draw comes to your mind, add it to your list. Don’t wait, or just like dreams it will fade from memory and you’ll most likely forget it! It might also be useful and productive to add to your list things that you are struggling with in your art, it’s a great way to improve! I like to classify my list by subjects, and then subdivide the list by specific items; it helps to find things later on.

Here is an example list of drawing ideas to get you started:

  • Inspired by events in my life

    • Trip to Walt Disney World in Florida

  • Inspired by my dreams

    • Flying like Superman

  • Inspired by movies

    • Aliens

      • Ripley with pulse rifle and flamethrower

      • Ripley in power loader VS xenomorph queen

    • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

  • Things I need to work on

    • Hands

    • Eyes

    • Cross hatching

  • Etc.

3) Use drawing prompts

One thing that sometimes helps people fuel their ideas is a list of drawing prompts; it’s basically a pre-made list of ideas often meant as a daily challenge, to get you going. It’s a good way to form the habit to draw every day. It can be very specific, or vague on purpose. You might have seen drawing prompts for challenges like Inktober, Mermay, or Dinovember. A simple search for “art prompts”, “drawing prompts”, or “drawing challenges”, will help you find many of them. You can also find a bunch of art prompts and ideas that I collect on my Pinterest account (as well as many other things art-related).

 
 

4) Try out an art prompt generator app or website

You may have heard of Josiah Brooks better known as Jazza (from Draw With Jazza on YouTube, not a sponsor), he has an app called Jazza's Arty Games which can help you practice and improve your art. It contains several game modes and challenges. It is not free but it is inexpensive, is quite useful and very customizable, and is available for Windows, Android, and IOS. For example, I often use a feature called Custom Generator in which I have configured categories of things I enjoy drawing (for example: Animals, Characters, Environments) but I also have categories which will affect the way the art looks like: Mood, Styles, Position or Action, and Media. And when I run it I may get something like “Kraken – Crawling – With A Simple Background – Story Boarded – Using One Colored Pencil” or “Horseshoe Crab – Laughing Maniacally – In An Arctic Climate – Drawn Like A Caricature – Using Ink And Watercolor Pencils”. As you can see, the possibilities are endless and you can easily randomize the results by simple press of a button.

Another tool which I enjoy using is Drawception, similar to an older game I used to play but has since been discontinued called DrawMyThing, where you get to draw with other people online, and all you need is a web browser, an internet connection, and a mouse or drawing tablet (or a phone or tablet, stylus optional).

It's like the classic "Telephone Game", but with drawing and thousands of players. Miscommunication and hilarity ensues! —Drawception

You might also want to check out these online prompt generators:

5) Experiment with the scribble method

Usually when we don’t know what to draw, we just don’t know where to start but once we get going we can often flow from idea to idea until the artwork or at least the main composition of it is done.

One thing that can help you out is your subconscious and your creative mind. By drawing a few lines and scribbles on your page, and then taking a step back, looking at patterns and forms the lines make together, just like looking at a bunch of fluffy clouds, you might see something in them and you can then use it to start your drawing.

I haven’t used the method in a while but you can check out this drawing on Instagram which I made a while back using this method.

6) Use your own photos as reference for drawing

I find it is a lot easier to draw something from a photo than trying to come up with ideas of what to draw, and sometimes it is just what you need to get better and stay inspired to draw. Whenever I’m on the go and I see an interesting scenery, I make sure to take a few photos for later reference. Gathering all your reference material together in one spot or folder also makes it a lot easier to manage.

 
Nénuphar / Water Lilies, photography by Dominic Beaudoin

Nénuphar / Water Lilies, photography by Dominic Beaudoin

 

7) Do observational drawing to take your drawing to the next level

Drawing from life also known as observational drawing is a tried and true method of training both your eye and your drawing hand. Rather than using the pre-framed and pre-rendered image of a photo, you have control over how you frame your drawing, and you have to make decisions on how to render your image as light and shadow is constantly changing in a natural environment.

8) Make mood boards or use reference pictures

A mood board is a collection of images with a specific theme; it’s a way to give a mood or feeling to a project you’re working on. You can use various tools to make professional mood boards, but the simplest is probably by using Pinterest boards. Just hunt for images or colors that inspire you and group them on a board. You can have several boards, each targeted towards a specific “mood” or theme, for example you could have a board with nature images; animals, plants, landscapes, or you could have one for fantasy with art and photos from Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, artwork by Frank Frazetta, etc. People also sometimes use mood board to group images with the same color scheme.

 

You can find a few mood boards I have made on Pinterest here:

Example fantasy mood board on Pinterest.

Example fantasy mood board on Pinterest.

 

Another way to use images for inspiration, similar to mood boards, would be with an app like PureRef to display a group of reference pictures. It lets you add images directly from the web or your own collection and then you can reorganize them however you like; resize them(including a really neat option to normalize selected images to make them all the same height or width), crop them, display as a window or full screen, and the option to have it always on top or not. I use it often when doing research for an art piece. PureRef is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

9) Travel or go on vacation

A great way to get your creative juices going is by traveling, to see new horizons. It’s usually just the change of pace and scenery you need to resource yourself and start anew. You will see new visuals, meet new people, hear new stories—all of which will enrich your library of ideas. Be sure to take photos of interesting sights and people during your trip!

10) Browse art collections, artist portfolios, “art of” books

Art by other artists can be an immense source of inspiration. Some people may feel discouraged when seeing art that is better than what they could do, but personally, I see it as potential skill I could eventually reach; it inspires me to improve and work harder and smarter. You can find lots of artists to browse from in person by going to art galleries and museums, and online by going to Instagram, ArtStation, DeviantArt, among others.

If you found the article helpful, be sure to share it to your favorite social media, I would highly appreciate and it would be of great help.

Did I miss anything that inspires you? Be sure to comment below to share with others what helps to get your imagination going. Thank you for your support and enjoy your new found creativity! —Dominic