Friday, March 7, 2014

My Favorite Art Prompts (Great for Writing, too!)

Deciding what to draw or paint every day can be just as worrisome as wondering what to write. That's why I rely on my grab-bag of prompts for both activities, whether they're from magazine cut-outs, art history books, or my handy pile of themed index cards. 

Today I thought I'd share some of my favorite idea-starters, ones that can be used for artwork or sketching practice as well as steering clear of the writing doldrums:

  • Illustrate a fairy tale. It helps to choose a story you truly love, but if, on the other hand, you feel that "Sleeping Beauty" or "Little Red Riding Hood" have been over-done, or are too iconic, try choosing an unfamiliar tale, one from a culture foreign to your own, or one you've made up!
  • Collage your current goals. Magazines are a great way to find your initial pictures, but don't overlook the hidden gems you might discover in junk mail, retail catalogs, or business brochures.
  • Last night's dream. Although it can be fun to reproduce the objects and scenes from a dream, I personally find it more evocative to paint the mood of my dreams. Fortunately, I have always dreamed in color, but even if you're a person who dreams in black-and-white, you can still explore what you think the colors of your dream would be if they appeared on paper.
  • A still life of five random objects. Don't think--just gather items without judging or evaluating their artistic worth. Your job is to arrange the items in such a way that they take on a whole new life and meaning. Aim for, "Wow! I never thought of that before!"
  • Copy an Old Masters painting in pencil. Don't be overwhelmed if the painting you've chosen to copy is too big, too detailed, or just plain old "too good." Instead, play with line work, blocking out the composition, or a portion of the picture, e.g., a section of drapery, the trees in the background, the hands in a portrait.
  • Cut up or tear a reproduction or photocopy of an Old Masters painting and turn it into a collage. Pay special attention to the colors and themes of any materials or ephemera you add to your composition. Try some startling contrasts or harmonious blending. 
  • Your hand holding an object. Sometimes when I'm really stuck for subject matter I'll simply draw my hand and wrist. To make the exercise more lively, I've started adding objects to the mix: my pen, a toy, a cup of tea. Often these drawings can be the equivalent of a complete, but much-less complicated, self-portrait.
  • Draw or paint a landscape with only two colors. Limiting yourself to a two-color palette can be a fun and inspiring choice. Will you use complementary colors (say, red and green), warm vs. cool colors, or two shades from the same range, for instance a light violet paired with a darker purple? It's interesting to note how the colors you pick can often speak more loudly than an entire rainbow of color.
  • Collage with black-and-white photos. Make photocopies or prints of vintage photographs, whether from your own family or those found in used bookstores or thrift stores. Tell a visual story; then add writing or calligraphy to embellish the composition. Alternatively, you can use the pieces to make a strong and surreal abstract.
  • Cut shapes out of various colors of construction paper. Then arrange them into interesting designs you either glue to paper and paint over, or use as a reference to copy and turn into a separate, and original, piece.
  • Draw to music. Never fails. Whether you're doodling or painting a masterpiece worthy of gallery space, listening to music while you work is a great way to loosen up and fully express yourself.
  • Read a poem. Then paint your feelings, or illustrate your favorite line(s).
Many, if not all, of these ideas can easily be turned into writing prompts. For instance, rather than painting a fairy tale, try rewriting one like I did with "Little Goldie"-- my take on "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Happy creating!

Tip of the Day: Write these and any other prompts you can think of on scraps of paper. Fold each one into a square, then place it into a jar or bowl to select at random each day. Be sure to keep the prompts when you're finished; repeating the exercises with new subjects, mediums, and approaches is a valuable practice in itself.


Lisa Handley said...

Thanks for sharing your favorite prompts, Valerie. I'm intrigued by 5 random objects & look forward to trying that one. We use music, poetry & illustration of mood through color in our healing art program at the hospital, & all can powerful sources of inspiration & insight.

Valerie Storey said...

Thank you, Lisa! Your art program sounds fantastic. The 5 object exercise is always a great one for writing, too. I like to analyze each object, where it came from, what are the emotional or other connections to it, what it reminds me of, etc. The results can be very surprising! Thanks again for stopping by.