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The creative state: how to find inspiration for art-making

Portrait of Symposia author Colin Fisher
Colin Fisher

Mar 27, 2022

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 min read

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There are many different ways to find inspiration for art-making. Some artists prefer to be constantly surrounded by inspirational sources of art, while others need complete isolation to focus on their work.

No matter your preference, it's important to find inspiration to maintain a creative flow and produce your best work. This article will discuss some practical methods for finding artistic inspiration.

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Inspiration for artists, you can't work without it

There is no creative person alive who can work without being inspired. For some, finding inspiration is easy and comes naturally, while it can be a challenge for others. No creative is immune to artist's block; it happens all the time, in every creative practice. There are many ways to spark creativity for art-making, but the most important thing is to be open to it and constantly expose yourself to different sources of inspiration.

You never know when creative ideas will strike. This could mean going to art shows, browsing through books, or connecting with your peers.

man looking at reference photos to create art

What are the most common methods for professional artists to get ideas?

Professional fine artists can find inspiration in many different places. Here are eight of the most common sources of inspiration:

Visit an art museum or gallery

Spending time in art museums and galleries is a great place to find inspiration because they're a calming space to take a break and look at inspiring work. You can see paintings, sculptures, and other types of art from different eras and cultures, all in one place. This can be a great way to get inspired and expand your artistic horizons.

Some museums even have painting days where you can bring a small easel and paint using the paintings in a museum as a reference; professional painters have used this practice for centuries. This is a great way to get inspired and try something new.

Look through art books

Books are a huge source of inspiration that's largely overlooked these days. Go to your local library or museum and browse through the art books. You never know what you might find. There's something about the tangibility of holding a book and feeling the artistry behind the curation of material presented on paper that can be inspiring; it's so easy to keep looking at more and more pieces online.

Staring at people and sketching them from life

Many artists find it helpful to stare at people and draw them from life to find inspiration. By observing the world around them and capturing people in their everyday lives, artists can better understand the human form and how people move and interact. Take a ride on the train with your sketchbook, and see what exciting characters you encounter.

When you're sketching people from life, keep it loose and try to capture their essence. You don't need to create perfect portraits; instead, focus on capturing the person's character and the emotions they are experiencing. This can be an enriching exercise, and it can help you develop your artistic skills as well.

Other artists looking at reference photos for creative work

Look at work from different cultures or time-periods

When seeking creative inspiration, completely different perspectives is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Look at Japanese Edo period paintings, ancient Indian architecture, or aboriginal rock drawings.

Get out of the studio

Most artists find inspiration by getting out of the studio and observing the world around them. This could mean going to a coffee shop, walking in the park while listening to some inspirational music, or watching people. By getting out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to new environments, you can find new things to feel inspired by.


Fine artists often use critique to find new inspiration for their work. Receiving feedback from others can help artists see their work in a new light and inspire them to explore new directions. In addition, critiquing the work of others can help artists learn new techniques and get a better understanding of the artistic process.

Looking back at old work

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "There's nothing new under the sun." Dive into your archives and look for previous ideas to develop new ones. If you're feeling incredibly bold, find a piece you're not happy with, turn it upside down, and start a new painting on top of it. Sometimes just the process of seeing your progress or seeing the start of an idea you never fully explored can help bring you some ideas.

Talking in a work space about how to jump start a single idea

Connecting with other artists in your community

Talking to other artists; dialog with others in the industry frequently can help recognize and define new ideas more clearly. Even non-artists may provide you with fresh viewpoints that can help you progress.

Perhaps all you need is a friend, a collaborator, or a mentor to get motivated to create. The conversation will give you something to think about.

Try something new

Trying new things can be a great way to stimulate creativity. Step out of your usual routine and explore new mediums, subjects, or techniques. You'll open yourself up to new possibilities and ideas by pushing yourself to try new things. Here are a few ideas

  1. Take a class and learn a new technique: Joining a local art group or taking a creative class can help you learn new skills that you can incorporate into your work.
  2. Looking at other art forms:  Inspiration can come from anywhere, so don't limit yourself to just looking at other visual art. Explore different forms, such as music, dance, literature, or film.
  3. Experiment with new mediums: Trying new mediums can also be a great way to find inspiration. If you typically work in painting, why not try working in sculpture? This is a great time to visit your local art supplies store to look for materials as inspiration.
  4. Change up your subject matter: If you're struggling to find inspiration, try painting something you don't typically paint. Instead of painting portraits, try painting still lifes. Or, instead of painting landscapes, try abstract painting. By changing up your subject matter, you can see the world differently and find inspiration for your work.
  5. Work in a new location: Sometimes, all you need is a change of scenery. Working in new surroundings, whether outside in nature or in a different room in your house, can help refresh your artistic practice.
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One of the best ways to find inspiration for your artwork is to get outside and sketch in nature. Take photos or make sketches of the plants, trees, and animals that you see. Once you get home, you can create a mood board of your drawings and photos.

What to do when you are stuck for artistic inspiration?

If you're ever feeling stuck for artistic inspiration, don't worry – you're not alone. Many artists find themselves in this situation at some point in their careers.

First, it's essential to understand that there is no one "right" way to find inspiration. Everyone is different and will respond to other stimuli. You need to experiment until you find what works best for you. That said, here are a few tips that might help:

  1. Finding inspiration from your own life Learn what energizes and stimulates you. Take notice of yourself and use your understanding to go to those specific locations or perform those tasks that will inspire and motivate you if you're ever feeling lost for ideas.
  2. Writing in a journal: This can be a great way to document your artistic process and track your progress. It can also be a helpful tool for finding inspiration, as you can look back on past entries for ideas.
  3. Create a vision board: Put together a collection of images that represent what you want to achieve or find inspiring. It can be helpful to organize your photos by theme so that you can easily see the connections between them.
  4. Take time for reflection: Step away from your work, allow yourself some time to relax and rejuvenate, listen to some classical music. Sometimes the best way to find inspiration is to take a break and let your mind wander. During this time, you may find that the answers come to you more easily when you're not actively trying to find them.
  5. Going out in nature: Certainly the most common source of inspiration. Take a walk in the park or go for a nature walk. Perhaps nature can give you what you seek. Take a trip into wilderness nearby, be it a park, the forest, or even your backyard. Sometimes the simplest things can offer the most inspiration. Being in the natural world and observing the beauty around you can be enough to jumpstart your creativity.
Start creating by taking photos of a new subject

Your creative brain is a muscle

Your brain is the most complex organ in your body. Composed of a network of billions of neurons firing at all times, your brain is the key to opening all your creativity. Try a few sketching or painting exercises:

  1. Blind single-contour drawing: Blind contour drawing is a technique in which you do not look at the surface while you are sketching. The added method here is not to lift your marking tool and let the lines overlap - this is a form of automatism.
  2. Sketching or painting a still life: By setting up a simple still life and observing it, you can practice something easy and let inspiration flow out of you.
  3. Rapid 30-second drawing: Draw an object for 30 seconds without lifting your pen from the paper. You'll be surprised by the results.
  4. Drawing a perfect circle or ovals: This is an odd one, but trust me, practicing circles by quickly connecting both ends of the loop without deviating from the path can help train your hand and, at the same time, let your mind wander.

Like strengthening a muscle, you need to consistently exercise your brain to see things that others don't and piece together different ideas to create something new. As an artist, don't sit around waiting for inspiration; go out there and take it.

The creative process as a pleasure and reward

When you're feeling blocked or uninspired, it can be tempting to force yourself to develop ideas. However, this often leads to frustration and can inhibit your creativity. Remember that art-making should be its pleasure and reward – don't try to force it.

Other creatives in nature listening to music

Focus On The Reason You make art in the first place

When you're feeling uninspired, it can be helpful to take a step back and remind yourself why you make art in the first place. What is your motivation? What inspires you? By focusing on your reasons for making art, you can find the inspiration to continue working.

For many artists, making art is a way to express themselves and communicate their ideas to the world. Artists can find renewed inspiration and motivation to create by exploring their motivations and artistic goals. As Pablo Picasso once said, "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."

Create for the sake of creating

Create for the sake of creating - not for recognition or money. When you make art simply for creating, it takes the pressure off and allows you to experiment, play, and be free. This is when true creativity happens. So commit yourself to creating regularly, without worrying about the outcome. The more you do it, the easier it will become, and before you know it, inspiration will find you.

Use social media sparingly

There is a fine line between looking for inspiration and procrastinating. Most artists find that using social media can be a significant distraction and inhibit their creativity.

It's essential to be selective about the amount of time you spend on social media when looking for inspiration and to use it sparingly when you need to focus on your art. Set a timer for yourself; if you don't find a creative spark on a social platform, look elsewhere. This will allow you to stay focused and avoid getting sidetracked.

Artist who can create work from the most difficult things

Concluding thoughts on finding inspiration

I hope this article helped you develop fresh ideas to jumpstart your creative process; it's important to remember that there is no one right way to find artistic inspiration and cure artist's block. What works for one artist might not work for another.

The most important thing is to keep your mind open and allow the world around you to inspire you. Experiment with different methods and see what works best for you. And don't forget, even when you're feeling uninspired, there are still ways to create something beautiful by practicing simple art-making techniques.

  1. Artistic inspiration can come from anywhere; follow your instincts and act on it when it strikes rather than second-guessing yourself.
  2. The most important thing is to be open to new ideas and experiment with different methods.
  3. Artistic work should have a purpose without worrying about recognition or money. Excellent work never comes from those kinds of ambitions.
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