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Exploring the World Around You: How to Find Inspiration for Your Art

Black text on white background 'Exploring the world around you. Finding Inspiration for your art. Malti B Lee, maltiblee.com'. Square image of St Paul's cathedral, London, with blue skies and a tree in foreground with pink blossom.

As an artist, finding inspiration for that next painting can be a real challenge. At times, it feels like there are no good ideas out there and you just don’t know where to start. We’ve all been there! In this blog post, I share some of my favourite ways to spark that creativity when I feel like this. From exploring the city streets, to reflecting on past work, this list has helped me break through creative blocks and get back to the easel!

Strolling through the city

Looking at my current works, you’ll easily recognise the inspirations I’ve drawn from cities I’ve lived, worked and visited.

With a curious mind, I like to walk through the city’s streets, observing the buildings, natural surroundings, people. I love to take notes of the colours, textures, patterns that catch my eye. I’ll write about how I’m feeling, the smells, the noises, the light as I create quick sketches and take photographs. Take the time to really look around me and notice the details. Be open to inspiration from unexpected places – a simple walk down the street you live on might spark an idea to create that new piece of art!

Exploring nature

The natural world has been a source of inspiration for artists since the beginning of art. There’s something nourishing and refreshing about being surrounded by nature (for us city folk at the very least!) that can trigger a new idea. I’ll regularly go for walks in local parks and on hikes to do just this. Take time to explore and notice everything about the environment you’re in, from the vast to the tiny. Again, making notes, sketching, and snapping photographs will help capture the details for future you. From a wildflower meadow in the sunshine, to the cooler redwood forests where patches of light hit the ground, there’s inspiration to be found in all different environments.

Giant fern leaf in Hawaii nature
As I hiked in Hawaii on a recent trip, I was constantly drawn to these giant fern leaves – the shapes and patterns created are so intriguing! While I won’t be incorporating these ideas into my current paintings, I’ve sketched these ferns in my notebook and will come back them later!

Looking back over past work

On my recent trip to London, I found myself reading through old sketchbooks and reviewing my paintings from the noughties. I realised there were threads from previous works that I was already pulling on, and found other ideas and techniques that I’d love to pick up again. Looking back over past work can be a great way to rediscover your previous ideas and elements that you’d like to explore further. Take some time to reflect and journal on past work, and take your learnings forward through experimentation – I plan to do just this!

Visiting art galleries & museums

As I child (and still today as an adult), I absolutely loved visiting art galleries and museums. There’s so much to be gained from visiting these places, whether you’re interested in art or not. These days when I see works from other artists, I’m study the collection at large, and the individual pieces. On top of analysing the artwork and considering my own reactions and feelings, I love to learn about the stories and context behind the pieces. Learning about other artists and seeing other works can trigger inspirations for my own works; this may be a theme I want to explore, or technique that I want to integrate into my own art practice.

I love the Salon style exhibitions that feature a wide array of artists and styles. This photo was captured on Silicon Valley Open Studios Artist Preview Exhibition at Mohr Gallery in Mountain View. From the colours, to the techniques, there’s something to learn from really looking at the work of different artists.

Attending cultural events

There’s a lot to gained to opening yourself to creative inspiration from all different types of cultural events, from concerts, to plays, to dinner experiences. Immersive experiences that transport you out of your studio can spark new ideas. From the feelings you experience, to the movement and rhythm that you observe. After such experiences, I find myself energised as I step back into the studio!

Staying curious

Inspirations can come from the most unexpected places. I’m constantly on a learning journey – it’s something that drives and excites me. By actively seeking out new experiences and knowledge, I find myself constantly expanding my perspective and opening myself up to new ideas. These ideas often start a new train of thinking about my own works… Here are a few ways to stay curious:

  • Books: Not just books on art or artist! Reading a wide range of topics can expose you to new ideas and perspectives. You may be surprised by the inspiration that comes from learning something new. I recently read a book set in a different part of the world that I hadn’t visited in a long time, but it sparked some ideas about new paintings from that region!
  • Podcasts: From staying up to date on current events to exploring new ideas, there are podcasts on just about every topic imaginable, so find one that interests you and give it a listen. Podcasts often keep me company in the studio.
  • Classes: Taking a class in a new subject can be a great way to learn something new and gain inspiration for your art. Whether it’s a cooking class, a language class, or a photography class, you never know where your next great idea will come from.

Summary

Finding inspiration for your art is all about staying curious and keeping your eyes and ears open to the world around you. Whether you’re taking a stroll through the city or listening to a podcast, there are countless ways to spark your creativity and find inspiration for your work. Any time I’m in a rut, I take this list out and do a bit of exploring and experimenting until I have an idea for my next piece!

Do these thoughts resonate with you or do you have other tips and tricks that I should have on my radar? I’d love for you to share them with me in the comments.

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