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Beating the Blank Canvas Blues: How to Spark Creativity for Acrylic Painters

We've all been there. You stare at the blank canvas, acrylics poised and ready, you're eager to crack those paint tube open and get started but inspiration seems to have flown the coop. Fear not, fellow artists! This post is packed with tips to reignite your creative spark and get those paints flowing, from vague and general tips and ideas, to more specific activities and projects to get you painting IMMEDIATELY every time you sit down to create.

I'm also going to share my number one activity that gets me creating every time -later in this post.


First things first. Everyone sees the world differently and thinks differently, arguably from different parts of the brain; either tending to see things from a more analytical and logical viewpoint, or primarily from an emotional and intuitive stance. This means we get inspired in our own unique ways. I can only provide activities, tips and tricks that have worked well for me and a handful of my friends over my lifetime, so first I'd like to start this blog article with helpful ways to spark creativity from a broader sense.

So let's warm up with these more general tips and insights for creating artwork:


Get In Front of Your Canvas:

  • Be Ready: Sometimes the simple act of setting up to paint and putting yourself in front of the canvas is all you need to actually START painting, even if you have no idea what you're going to put on the canvas. The canvas size and shape isn't as important as being there and being ready!

Look Inward:

  • Emotions as Inspiration: Channel your current feelings into your work. Is it frustration? Splatter some bold colors. Joy? Opt for a vibrant palette. Often the emotions you use to create a piece are the ones your viewer will also feel when they look at your art.

  • Memories and Dreams: Tap into your personal experiences. Replicate a cherished memory or translate a dreamlike scene onto the canvas.

Seek Inspiration from the Outside World:

  • Explore the Everyday: Find beauty in the ordinary. Paint a still life of your favorite coffee mug or the intricate details of a houseplant. The corner of that old shed over there? Make a frame with your fingers and look through it to see a potential painting idea.

  • Embrace the Outdoors: Go for a nature walk and capture a scene that resonates with you. Play with light and shadow as the sun dances through the leaves. Or get down closer to the ground, see that unique mushroom? Take some high-quality photos of it from a variety of angles to use as reference photos to take home and try painting later.

  • Art Everywhere: Visit museums, galleries, or even local street art. Let the work of others spark new ideas, but remember, develop your own unique style! (Seeing other artists' work and styles has been my greatest source for inspiration, but more on how exactly I do that later!)

Embrace Experimentation:

  • Unleash the Accidental: This can be a lot of fun! Drip paint, use unconventional tools, or create textures with unusual materials. Sometimes happy accidents lead to stunning results, especially when you're in your first couple of years of painting.

  • Challenge Yourself: Try a new technique you've been curious about. Learn about color theory and experiment with unexpected color combinations. I have some activities you can do right away at the end of this article!

  • Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Don't be afraid to break away from your usual subjects. Abstract art can be a fantastic way to explore form and color without getting bogged down in realism. Or if you usually paint animals? Maybe try a starry sky instead, or some roses in a vase. Even if you aren't happy with the end result, I guarantee you'll learn some new techniques you wouldn't have acquired otherwise painting animal after animal. Sometimes, branching away from our favourite subjects and styles only shows how much we love painting the thing we usually like to paint, and the next time you go to paint your favourite subject in your style of choice, you may find you enjoy painting even more than you did before.



 

So maybe you read the points above, and they had you nodding here and there, but could you go to your easel right now and start painting yet? Maybe not.

I'd like to share with you my favourite, personal magic trick for always being able to have a never-ending well of ideas to draw from.



I use Pinterest as my creative assistant.


And before there was Pinterest, little baby Sam had folders all over her computer of saved images, and magazine clip-outs in binders, and books on her shelf of art that really took my breath away.



  1. I use it to find pieces of work that wow and inspire me, and put those images all together so I can view them as thumbnails and find the similarities. This collection is the most vague and a bit scattered as it could include abstract images, realistic lion portraits, closeups of snail shell textures, and then a moonlit scene with a barn. But every one of these paintings has to have that 'something' that makes me want a print of it framed and on my wall. They're all beautifully done according to my tastes, and fill me with a sense of wonder.

  2. I use it as a 'cork-board' for brainstorming. Maybe I want to start a new painting with roses in it, but am struggling to decide HOW to do the roses. Here I would collect images of rose photographs (my own or taken by others), rose paintings in a variety of styles I wouldn't mind trying, maybe some background details I like and wouldn't mind incorporating something similar in my own work, and color palette choices. Seeing all the images together usually clicks in my brain what I want to create and helps find my direction for the rose painting.

  3. I use it to pinpoint my own style and direction. This one I will discuss further in a separate blog post (and then link it here), but this category helps me refine what I'm trying to create and what my visual style is. I collect paintings done by others that I wish I had created. When you have a collection of 80+ of these images side-by-side you can then look them over and see the commonalities and pinpoint why you're drawn to that style. When you can see a collection of the art style you love, it translates into what you regularly paint.

  4. And I use Pinterest as a reference and 'cheat-sheet' for doing certain techniques: for example a folder of apples painted in ways I admire and would love to see in my own work, or a folder of all-time favourite seascape paintings. The next time I'm painting an apple, I will have a collage of some inspiring apple paintings nearby, or close ups of techniques that I can use in my own work if I'm feeling stumped by a part of the image. Artists have used reference photos, books and paintings in this manner for hundreds of years. Before the printing press, they would collect their own paintings by others or sketch out other works of art they found in galleries, on church ceilings, in studios, or by whatever they found that inspired them.



 

If you're still feeling like the advice given is a little too vague, and you're still staring at your canvas thinking, "I still don't know what to paint, and I'm still feeling stumped, and I don't want to spend hours on Pinterest at this moment looking at art, I want to start painting right NOW !"

Well you're in luck! I have a few activities for you to do that will absolutely improve your artwork, your 'art eye' (the ability to translate what you're thinking about or seeing onto canvas in representational form, aka-a painting), provide you with a baseline you can revisit later to be able to visually see your improvement over time, and result in a pretty cool piece of art. :)


Art Exercises you can do right now:


The first exercise is one outlined and explained in this YouTube video:

This video is about 9 minutes long, and while it's really informative and helpful, you could just watch bits and pieces of it and get by just fine as well.

He explains a technique you can do to improve your art and simplify your brushstrokes. Basically, you set up a very simple shaped object-like an apple-and you paint it in as few brushstrokes as possible with fairly thick paint. You try to NOT blend and do minimal paint overlapping. This forces you to think about what you're putting on the canvas, what direction to move your brush, and speeds up your work. This isn't something to do just one time, but an exercise to do regularly as a warm up, or maybe revisit the same subject (like that apple) again and again to get it just right.


 

The second exercise helps in that it takes away the bulk of your choices. Humans tend to get overwhelmed by too many options. So decide here and now, to do a painting in black and white. Or if grey tones aren't your thing, choose one color. Choose just one color (plus black and white) and create a painting with that. Your end result will be a Monochromatic painting-most people's favourite color palette when viewing paintings. The end product will be especially emotive so keep that in mind when choosing your color. Remember: blue usually looks sad and dreary, green can look full of life or sickly and off-putting, and warm colors like orange and red tends to 'pop' out the most visually. I personally love doing paintings in sepia tones, browns and oranges.

It may sound overly simple to just do one color, but I find this is the best 'launch pad' to just get you started and creating, and if you get really lucky and the art-creating magic juices get flowing, you may find yourself adding a few more colors to the end product and really begin to experiment and play with your product. You can strictly keep it to the one color you picked from the start, or adjust your plan closer to the end, It's your piece of art after all!



 

The third exercise you could begin right now, is to choose a real place that you can see immediately around you and paint it. Are you sitting in front of a window? Are you at an easel in the corner of your kitchen? Are you in a shared art studio, a bedroom, or a dreary office? Paint it. If the thought of painting all that perspective and including all those details is too daunting, maybe just do one part of it: The dining table nearby. The bookshelf next to your art desk. The half-dead plant in the corner of the room in the brown shiny planter. But paint it as if you walked up to it and snapped a picture on a disposable camera; The arrangement you chose isn't staged or perfect, there may be a lost paperclip on the floor in the corner you picked, the wallpaper is peeling, and the lighting is ghastly, but I want you to paint it-just as it is.



This creates pieces of art that are really interesting. If you've never drawn or painted a room before, and you have no idea how to do perspective 'correctly', you can breathe easy and relax. You will become better by PRACTICING perspective, aka-just painting it anyways. Also, slightly 'off' or wiggly perspective can look really intriguing and be the thing that makes your art pleasant to look at. The charm of your paintings are your unique 'Happy accidents' as Bob Ross would say with a smile.


 

Remember:

  • Silence the Inner Critic: Don't get discouraged if your first attempt isn't a masterpiece. Art is a journey, and experimentation is key to growth.

  • Embrace the Process: Focus on the joy of creating, not the final product. Let yourself get lost in the act of painting. You will naturally learn what you need as you go, but if you aren't enjoying making art, it's a hobby that will find its way into a closet.

  • Keep a Sketchbook Handy: Jot down ideas, capture quick studies on the go, or use it for brainstorming sessions.


So there you have it! With a little effort and these tips in mind, you'll be conquering blank canvas blues and creating vibrant acrylic masterpieces in no time. Hopefully you gathered what you need to keep the creative waters flowing for good, or picked an excerise to try out, time to get out there and paint!


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