Art By Lerri -
Art Tips

Lerri is a visual artist, specialzing in acrylics, watercolor, and pastel representations of the natural world. Here she shares some of her thoughts and tips for artists.

What to Paint

Finding something to paint or draw has never really been a problem for me. I know which subjects interest me and the subjects I find most satisfying. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when I feel uninspired, I think all artists, regardless of fame, fortune or expertise, go through a creative lull from time to time, so it is nothing to be alarmed about as it will eventually pass and there are measures you can take as an artist to help stoke the fires, so to speak. 

If your are a writer, a lull in your creativity would be called “writer’s block” and there are many causes to these lulls no matter what form your creativity takes: Arts, science, business, writing, engineering, cooking – most every aspect of life requires varying degrees of some sort of creative spark. When it seems to go out, it is very frustrating no matter what field you are in and getting that spark back is as individual as the person.

There are many causes for these lulls: Stress in you life, illness – yours or a love one’s, a lack of time, pressure to create whether it is from an outside source (i.e. the Boss) or just from yourself, the list is endless, sometimes getting out of that funk can be almost as creative as the art you want to create. I will go over here some of the ways I find my inspiration which may be a place where you can start.

I teach art classes and my students have asked that I have a project for them to follow along. Talk about pressure! Not only must I find something I want to paint, but I have to find something that won’t scare the pants off my students when I show them the project. What I see as a simple painting, they see as a complex monster and they end up hiding behind their easels whimpering. Part of the fear they exhibit stems more from the fact that the subject matter may not appeal to them the same way it does to me. I have seen these same students find subjects much more complicated than the projects I’ve presented, but because it was their choice it was more of a challenge than a chore. I try to encourage all my students to do subjects they find interesting, I only offer the projects as an option for class.

Igniting the creative spark can be as simple as a break in your daily routine. A walk without distractions, a day at the beach or just a change of scenery can help; just don’t think about not being inspired, that seems to only make it worse. A vacation can work wonders. I remember I was having a lull that was lasting months; I painted but just didn’t feel inspired. Then I went to the canyon lands of Utah and Colorado with my friend and I couldn’t wait to get back to my paints! I took rolls and rolls of pictures and dozens of digital photos as well.

So how do I find inspiration for my painting when I’m home?

I have always taken pictures. I have taken many photography classes trying to improve my photos. However, I never quite got the same satisfaction from my photos as I get from painting so I shifted my creative focus – so to speak – from the camera to the canvas. I didn’t abandon my camera, it has become a most valuable tool in my creative endeavors and since digital photography came along, my camera is more important than ever to that end. I truly believe that learning how to be a better photographer can make you a better artist and visa versa.

While you may run across the purists with their noses up in the air saying “a true artist doesn’t use photographs!” don’t worry with them. As an artist you use what ever tool it takes to get the job done. Not everyone can or wants to go out painting “plein aire” it requires a dedication and an allotment of time that most of us in this day and age, just don’t have. While it is always good if you can sit and sketch when you are on vacation or out for the weekend, you need to find the time and the quiet to just sit for an hour or more and that usually isn’t practical, this is where the camera is an invaluable asset. Learning how to use your camera to take advantage of all its capabilities is best case scenario though taking a snap shot is better than not taking any picture at all. Those images have meaning to you and will give more meaning to your art. It’s like an instant sketch.

Since I’ve been taking my pictures digitally, I keep them in files on my computer. I like to paint from my own photos so when I am looking for something to paint, I will go through my files and have probably looked at my photos more since they are on the computer than when I had to physically go through my images. I may look at a picture several times until something about it catches my eye. I often find that as I go through my images, my brain will put different elements from different photos together forming a composite composition. In a way, this is like a writer being encouraged to write down dreams, keep a diary or just random thoughts that pop into the mind because at some point the brain will organize these things and a storyline will develop. By having photos at hand to browse through, between taking the pictures and seeing the pictures time and again the brain will process those images and, hopefully, find inspiration.

Whether you are a photographer or not, another way to find inspiration is to keep files of photos from newspapers and magazines to serve as a reference source and a source of inspiration, the Internet is also a good place to look, if you know what you are looking for. The travel section of most Sunday papers can have some wonderful pictures of places you might dream of visiting but may never get to and there are magazines with pictures that cover all subjects from every animal to every flower to every beach to peoples from all over the world, you just have to find the ones that interest you and save the pictures that catch your eye. If you are on a trip, look at the postcards you find in every gift store along the way. There are some lovely images to be found in those racks beyond the ones you send to family and friends.

You should know there is a drawback to using the exact images taken by other photographers: They own the copyrights. If you are just painting for yourself or are just planning to give your work to a friend, painting a direct copy of the images from other sources is okay, however, if you plan on selling your work at some point or if you are considering entering it in an art competition you could be in for some trouble. Most competitions will not allow artworks in at all if they are from someone else’s work with or without having permission from the original artist, in this case, a photographer. It’s called “intellectual property” and the fines can be very stiff if used without authorization especially if you are passing it off as your own “original” art. However, you can use these images as inspiration for your own art and they are great when used as reference if you are designing your own truly original work of art.

Finally, but probably not least, in-a-way like the writer who writes down his or her dreams, or keeps a diary, take a few minutes, get out a sketch book and go out into your backyard or find a comfortable chair inside and just sketch what you see in front of you or doodle. The very change of mind that takes place when you go into “artist mode” can relax you enough that the glimmer of creativity can take hold. If you have read the book I spoke about in my article on drawing - “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards - you will know that many business of all kinds have used her techniques to help their personal to kick start their creative juices even if they aren’t artists per se. I think it is because all the creative blocks we encounter are on the left side of our brains, if the left brain is too noisy, the quiet of the right side can’t be heard over the racket, simply sitting down and focusing on drawing shapes, quiets the left brain and lets the creative right side juices flow.  The inspiration, the creativity is always there but it speaks as a softer, quieter voice and as artists, we need to learn how to hear that voice and more importantly quiet the noise we hear banging around inside our heads.

I hope this has helped or has given you some ideas on how to find your creative spark when it goes out. Some times you just have to let life play it’s self out and get over the obstacles that get in the way of your creativity, for others, those obstacles are the source of inspiration so run with it while you can. We are all different and that’s what makes this world such a great place, imagine how dull and dreadful our lives would be if we were all the same and thought the same, to an artist or to those with the heart of an artist, this would be the worst kind of hell, a life without color or inspiration. Get out there and get painting!

– LP

To find out about the classes Lerri teaches through the Torrance Parks and Rec. Department, go to: http://www.tprd/

Lerri is now also teaching classes at the Palos Verdes Art Center.