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How do you start painting when you don't have an idea?

Stephen Lursen abstract painting coffee cup workshop free Online Workshop painting tutorial stephen lursen

How do you start painting when you don't have an idea?

Question: "How do you start painting when you don't have an idea?"

I hear this question often believe it or not and the answer is actually quite simple! This answer is best suited to those who paint in an abstract way, but could still be applied to others styles as well!

1st: Solve 90% of the problems ahead of time to reduce mental obstacles at painting time! 

      Example: decide ahead of time to paint in a series. Determine up front how many you will make. What size they will all be, what general color scheme to follow, and what your favorite techniques are. I learned this from my time with Professor Tom Stanley, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Winthrop University, while earning my M.F.A.

     Example of decisions: I'm going to paint 8 paintings. They will all be 36"x36" on gallery depth canvas. I want to use acrylics and then incorporate neon colors and neutral + muted colors to boost contrast. I will reserve some mixed media elements to add including gold leaf and glitter. I will use a lot of white to make the paintings easy to see in low light situations. (This is KEY, if like me, you don't have track lights shining on your walls.) Lastly, I'm going to work in 4 layers. 1st, big color fields to cover the primed surface. 2nd, medium to large marks with a large brush to create dynamic energy. 3rd, using a smaller brush I will create smaller painted marks. 4th, I will incorporate my mixed media elements. 5th, I will paint over much of my mixed media elements with a small brush to embed them into my painting so that they are not simply stuck on top of the surface.

This does not mean I can not do more than I plan, we can always do more!!! However, having a plan helps tremendously by offering a step by step guide so that when I hit a creative wall I move on to the next step of the process without having to walk away or search for inspiration and lose precious time.


2nd: Keep a library of inspirational imagery! A.K.A. do "research".

It's hard to call something like Pinterest.com research, but that's exactly what it is! Information is so easy and convenient with the internet that it is a huge disadvantage to not use it! Search on google images for specific styles or names of favorite artists. This self education informs us as artists by exemplifying work in its vast variety of possibilities. Once you find an image you love and want to reference later, add it to one of your pin boards like this. The goal here is not to copy, but to digitally walk through the world's art galleries to grow from the work of others who have gone before us. If you have the opportunity to go to museums, galleries, and inspirational artist areas, then by all means seize the day! Document your favorites with a digital camera and upload them to your library/pin board to make referencing the photos quick and easy.

Artists challenge: When you find a work of art you hate, force yourself to spend more time with it and answer a few questions. 1: Why do you hate it? 2: Did the artist want to upset you with this art? 3: Did this work of art impact you? 3: How can you create art that impacts others in a powerful way?

Benefit of completing the challenge: When you spend time with art that you like, it doesn't change you because it affirms who you already are. Spending time with art you don't like is a wake up call that shakes you and confronts you to become stronger or change. Always looking at art you love and never anything else makes you (unknowingly) weak. I don't say this as a criticism or to be mean. I want you to feel the benefit of growth and being challenged is a tried and true method of growth.

3rd: If you are not a regular painter, but doing it for a fun past time, then here is a great option!

If you're reading this paragraph, then this means that you are not concerned with trying to get your work into the MOMA any time soon. You're wanting to have fun, learn, and grow your creative voice but may not know exactly what to do on your own. I highly recommend learning from a step by step online workshop! You can use your own supplies and work at your own pace by hitting the play and pause button.

Some popular videos of mine include: Coffee Cup Workshop, Hummingbird Workshop, How To Paint The Face Workshop, Magic of Fall Workshop, and Starry Eyed Workshop

Just for reading this blog post I'm going to give you a 30% off coupon code to my online workshops! This is unlimited and can be shared. As long as this blog post has the code, it is active! Just copy and paste the code in the discount code bar to receive the discount. Code: 30%OFFWORKSHOPS 

My goal in creating a continually functional discount code is to develop a greater following to my blog because I will occasionally include a surprise discount or gift in my articles and posts! If you are going to wait to make a purchase, please subscribe to ensure you are in the know when the next discount or give away is happening!

Thank you and happy painting!!!

Stephen Lursen


Important credit: Photo is from Lemon Wars post from July 13th, 2015 

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  • Shauna on

    Very interesting information! Thank you!

  • Stephen Lursen on

    Thank you so much Flo! You are a most wonderful friend and supporter and I appreciate you! :) Sincerely,

  • FLo on

    I loved this post. I just hold you I such high Regard that Ippreciate anything you have to say about art. Praying your website will be very successful. God bless.

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