How to Glean Inspiration

In case you were wondering what the heck does glean mean, it means to take from various sources or to collect gradually. I'm the frequent reader of messages from artists saying the same thing, "How do you find inspiration? I feel like I never have any ideas on what to paint or where to start and I can't make anything unless I'm looking at someone else's painting."

If that's you, don't feel bad. I've been in that exact same place. I have said those very words and I used to be guilty of using Pinterest as means to make "original" paintings (but really, they were just copies).

It wasn't until I learned that you can't paint a picture from someone else's painting or photograph without stepping on their copyright that I really got a good handle on finding inspiration that spoke to ME. I realized I couldn't license or make prints of 90% of my work because I didn't come up with the composition I had painted. Even just a hint of the idea of being sued over copyright is enough to make any artist sweat.

That was the moment when my artwork took on a mind of it's own, that was the motivation I needed. I was committed to creating my own pieces and I no longer needed to see other's paintings to get an idea.

I had learned to find ideas and inspirations in the wild.

I like to use the term gleaning inspiration because it implies that you are always on the lookout for new ideas and inspirations.

In this blog post, I've compiled 5 easy ways to get started with collecting your own ideas for a painting. ( I also feel like it's important to note that just because it may be the first time you had an idea and acted on it, it doesn't mean someone else hasn't already acted on the same idea. Finding your own inspiration doesn't mean you'll just randomly create never before seen art. Everything is influenced by something else). MOVING ON.

1. Make a list of all the people/places/things that currently inspire you

For me, this list includes artist's like Ashley Longshore and Henri Matisse. But it also has places like Wisconsin, Milwaukee architecture, or colorful Floridian homes! I love listening to retro music and 50's doo-wop, songs that make me want to dance and include fun colors in my work. Look for ways to incorporate these things into your art or collections!

The more specific you can get about WHAT inspires you and the WHY, the closer you'll be to knowing more about your own style. It will also give you a starting point for when you go out seeking your next inspiration.

Henri Matisse in his Studio

2. Take note of the little things

Have you ever been out in public and maybe got that itch to paint something you saw right then and there but you didn't have your paints so by the time you got home again, you'd already forgotten it? Yeah me too. Thankfully, your phone is about the only thing you need now to document inspiration on the fly! Start snapping photos of that morning donut, or the way cream looks when it's poured into your coffee. Maybe those shadows filtering light onto the sidewalk or someone's smile. It's the little things that inspire a big painting!

3. Start building your own composition

I used to look at photographs or my surroundings and say, "it'd be perfect but it's missing *blank*" ADD IT! You wield the brush! You're creating the composition! Does that landscape have the prettiest field but it needs a different sky? Swap out blue clouds for a sunset! Get used to telling yourself that found inspiration doesn't need to stay as is. You can make it better, just use your imagination!

4. Stay off Pinterest & Instagram when you're stuck

The worst thing you can do when you're feeling like your creative tanks are on empty is start an endless scroll on social media. If you don't feel inspired to paint anything, paint the thing closest to you. Maybe it's a stapler, your phone, or lunch. Try a new palette or a color combination that you think might be a little crazy. Whatever it is, don't always wait for inspiration to strike, sometimes you have to be proactive and paint the last thing you'd ever think you would.

When inspiration strikes again, let it find you working.

5. Let yourself explore

Just because you started with one medium or subject, doesn't mean you have to stick with it. If you've been dying to paint a beachscape but "that's just not what you do..." give yourself permission and paint the beachscape! Let yourself pivot and try new things. If you aren't connecting with the art you're currently making, what's the point?

Learning to find inspiration in the wild is a learning curve. There's no formula because we're all inspired by different things! The most important thing you can do for yourself as an artist is to stay true to what actually inspires you and add those bits of magic into your paintings. Continue to paint and try on all the hats. Don't limit yourself to what you think you should paint but what you want to paint!

Henri Matisse Image Source: (