Friday, 21 March 2014


Girls playing on rocks, of course.........but do you feel the sunlight, the warmth, their intense concentration?
That elusive thing..............inspiration...............what inspires you?  And when you paint, do you focus on what inspires you or do you focus on techniques and materials and the business of "how" to?  

So many artists -and not all of them beginners - have a fascination with equipment and materials.  I have been approached so many times when demonstrating and asked what I was if having those items will ensure the production of a similar image.    Of course, what you use and how you use your equipment is part of the process..........but it is nowhere near as important as what inspires you.  It is NOT the materials which make a good painting, or good is what is going on in your mind and in your heart.  That particular brush, or pastel stick, will make no difference.

I recently "critiqued" an artist's work - she had painted a landscape, half of which was a large area of grey tarmac.  The road began at the bottom of the work, and curved into the picture, disappearing behind a central clump of of three clumps - one at the left border, one in the middle of the pic, and one at the right border.

She had picked up a photo and copied it.  yes, I know, I bang on about this...........but when I asked her what had "inspired" her about this particular scene, it stopped her in her tracks.  the answer is, of course, that she had not really been "inspired" at all.  the photo just looked easy enough to tackle.   The result was a picture of a road.  It was somewhat peaceful, because the road was empty, after all............but all I could think of was that it was the kind of road that big lorries and trucks would use, and any minute now the peace would be shattered by a large, smelly, noisy truck roaring along.  The composition was poor - the placement of those three clumps of trees was yawn-making, the sky was dull.  IF THE SUBJECT IS DULL YOUR PAINTING WILL BE DULL. 

nice shapes, pretty colours on the flowers...........flat, uninspiring light

So - inspiration.  What is it for you?  It varies from person to person of course.  I can only talk about what inspires me.  One of the elements of a scene which I inevitably find inspiring is THE LIGHT.  The particular details of the scene are often subordinate, for me,  to what the light is doing. 

The difference between the taking of a photo - ie capturing a particular picture-postcard "view", and being inspired by the subject as having potential for a painting, is how the scene makes you feel.  For me, I need that little frisson of excitement I feel when I suddenly get a sense of the scene's potential - and it is often the quality of light in the scene that does it for me.  I want to create a painting that shows not just the way the scene looked, but if possible, even the way it felt to be there too.

Aha - gorgeous light on the petals, interesting shadows and depths.....I can feel my inspiration bubbling to the surface!

This one is more about the light and atmosphere in the scene than it is about the dancers.  Of course, I worked from a photo...but I had been there, lurking in the wings alongside the dancers in the shadows, occasionally hit by brilliant light when the curtains parted and the dancers went on stage. I felt their nerves, their excitement.    I hope I managed to capture some of those sensations as well as an interesting scene.

Incidentally............"light" does not always mean SUNlight. 

Here,  daylight is filtering through the windows, giving a backlit scene;   colour is subdued, and shadows deep and dark, which adds to the intimacy of the atmosphere


Even a grey, rainy day can have some the light is just beginning to brighten on the right, and the wet ground reveals interesting reflections, courtesy of the light in the sky.  It was the softness of the light, together with the fun element of the umbrellas which echo the curving forms in the building, that inspired this scene.  the colours were not as seen, they have been changed for the sake of pictorial unity.

So - before sitting down to copy a photo, for no reason other than it happens to be handy - do have a think about what it is that INSPIRED you to paint.  See if you can communicate that inspiration to your audience.



  1. I'm inspired by story, and I don't just mean the "story" presented by a scene, but literally by stories. I read, I imagine the characters and scenes, and I want to paint them. This is sometimes not easy because I'm not a painter from imagination, I have to have something to go from, to look at. So I end up assembling random bits of stuff off the internet to bring together in my pictures, and sometimes it works well and sometimes it falls apart. But your point about the light--whether working from life or from photos--is well taken. Partcularly when you are creating an "assemblage" painting, it is crucial to find a light source and paint that into your scene, and forgetting this has made some of my paintings distressingly flat and one-dimensional, in spite of their quirky subject matter. I will remember this post next time. Thank you.

  2. Hi Jackie, this is such a great post. I talk about this type of thing often ... but sometimes I find myself doing the same thing about just "painting" and not really being inspired. In other words, just producing something. I talked just yesterday to my friend, Candy Day, about who is Marsha Savage, and we discussed being inspired by something ... and what is it usually. We had just delivered our two paintings each to a very wonderful group show. So, we had about two hours in the car, both ways to talk! Wonderful conversations and helping each other try to figure out what we need to do with our own feelings in our art. Great post here, and exactly what I needed to read this morning. And, of course, as usual I will be sharing this on my Facebook page because it is so relevant to many artists.

  3. thanks for your comments folks. And just one thing...........this is a blog post, meant to make a point about inspiration. the critique I mention here was real, but only partly so - actually the artist never did share with me her inspiration for her painting........I used the story in an anonymous way because it was part of MY experience - the story simply represents, in this context, the many works I have critiqued over the years, where little or no good reason could be found, by the artist, for the painting of the chosen subject. I believe I have upset the painter, but please everyone bear in mind that no names have been mentioned, which is quite deliberate; the critique could have taken place absolutely anywhere - at an art club critique evening, to a fellow artist, on line on a forum - it is purely an example just used to serve a purpose.


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