Finding inspiration when I don’t really know what I want to paint!?


There are days when we might feel like making a drawing or painting but simply don’t know where to begin. This lack of inspiration feels like a barrier and one that can stop us from even starting ANYTHING!

Start to notice what fires your interest along the way.

Keep a sketchbook or journal.

Do you always have your phone handy to take a photo or to jot down an interesting quote?

This photo is from a family album. It is tiny, old, scratched and only 6cm square, but it inspired  a recent painting  for me. I was fascinated that this moment had been captured on a camera at a time when photography was not as commonplace as it is today. This feels like it is just a regular moment, something that you might see everyday. Something that in todays world we could easily capture on our mobile phones! It is not a posed photograph with considered props and lighting as was more usual in the day, but it captures movement and expression beautifully. I loved the way that it gave me a glimpse into the character of the horse and rider as he sat smiling up in the saddle.

As I was working, I noticed how the intrigue that I felt in an old photograph of a relative (whom I had never met) really did fire my interest! I became totally absorbed in “a world of my own”. I also found joy in the process of discovery. This joy in the art process is what brings a delight to the making and it is somehow revealed in the finished piece. It becomes apparent in the work for sure!

I have just a few old sepia photographs of my Grandfather. This sepia colour also served as a starting point. I set about creating a scene that had a sense of taking you back in time. Bright, garish colours wouldn’t have worked and the burnt orange in the painting came to be stronger in saturation nearer the end of the process.

So this is an important question to ask yourself:

What is it that captures my attention?


Is it something about the colours, the atmosphere, the light, the story, the place, the feeling… that you like? Identify what often inspires you and build up a sketchbook or journal (or the notes section in your phone) of observations, photos, drawings, paintings or quotes.

Do take a browse around my website to see more of my work and inspiration and see how this painting was completed.

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9 replies
  1. Martina Davis
    Martina Davis says:

    Gill I love the three tips at the start, and the way you write so inspirationally. Thank you! What a wonderful story of how you produced your piece, and how to find our own inspiration.

  2. kim kingston
    kim kingston says:

    This is facinating. The photo definitly got my attention and drew me into their world.
    I also loved the colour palette which actually drew me further into the old photograph.
    Thank you Gill, I will definitly come back to your blog.

  3. Jo White
    Jo White says:

    Thanks Gill. This has made me really think about what inspires me.
    Actually, other people’s stories inspire me quite a lot!

  4. sheelagh clarke
    sheelagh clarke says:

    I love these ideas and becoming aware about the subjects that capture your imagination, and take you back into that moment.

  5. Di Alexander
    Di Alexander says:

    Inspirational Gill! Thank you for suggesting old family photos. I am scanning pages from my grandmother’s diaries & sorting old family photos, aiming to create a photo book if her life. I shall look for photos to sketch and see if it leads to a painting.?

    • Gill Drew
      Gill Drew says:

      Hi Di, Thank you for your comments. That sounds like a very enjoyable pursuit! I am sure that her diaries will be fascinating reading and evoke many images in your minds eye. Perhaps you can even link a diary entry to a dated photograph and discover a backstory. How amazing would that be! Let me know how you progress please.
      Another artist that I follow also works from archived photos. She’s from Montana and called Amy Brakeman Livesay if you wanted to look her up. She is very clever at combining realism and abstract.
      I have painted several more recently from family photos and will put them up on the website soon.

  6. Shirley Paul
    Shirley Paul says:

    Thank you for this insight into your creative mind, Gill. The thought-work that you put in to your painting, results in the capture of emotion and movement in your work.
    I especially love the titles you give your art, they evoke recognition of a desire in me!

    • Gill Drew
      Gill Drew says:

      Thankyou Shirley. I really take my time in choosing the title of a piece (unless I have the title before I start which has happened too!)and its lovely to hear that you are enjoying them.


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