How to Find New Painting Inspiration: 11+ Simple Painting Ideas

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An array of painting ideas lying on a white table with an artist's paint brushes and palette

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A common question for many is “what should I paint next?…” That difficulty of thinking of new painting ideas, can at times lead to getting stuck and not painting for a while…

Sometimes you just need a few simple ideas, to help find new inspiration for painting! Which is what you will find here – along with a process of how to think about new painting ideas so you don’t get stuck as much in the future.

Try not to overthink what you should paint. Sometimes just continuing to paint a bunch of different subjects, is the best way forward and it will lead you to making great work!

Flower Painting Ideas

Painting flowers is an entire category of its own. As, many great painters of the past have taken inspiration for painting from all sorts of different kinds of flowers.

What’s great about getting painting ideas from flowers, is that you can choose to simplify the focus of your subject OR create really ornate compositions. And either way, be able to create really interesting pieces, that are both challenging and inspiring to work with.

Once you get started, you’ll likely not stop at just one flower painting…. Take it from someone, who keeps coming back to creating different flower painting series and finding something new every time!

Simple composition of single flower

rose flower oil painting ideas for beginners
Elisabeth Larson Koehler, Rose oil painting tutorial

If you have never painted flowers before, starting with a single flower composition is a great place to start! You could tightly focus your painting on the flower head alone, or paint the flower in its entirety (including the vase if it’s in one).

The wonderful thing about painting a single flower, is that the composition makes it a simple idea for painting. As you only have to focus on a single object, instead of getting multiple objects to work together in your composition.

Painting inspiration from a bouquet of flowers

white flower bouquet old master painting ideas with roses and lilies
Henri Fantin-Latour, Roses and Lilies. After painting a single flower you may want to challenge yourself and paint multiple at once.

Painting an entire bouquet of flowers makes for a more complex painting than a single flower but has opportunity for a more exciting composition! Since there is more to paint it might take you a little longer. Just keep that in mind if you are painting fresh flowers. You just want to be sure to have enough time to paint the bouquet before they start to die.

That said, you can still continue to paint flowers as they change. In fact, I have done that and think it is a great challenge as it requires you to be very open to changing your painting and painting over areas that you may have liked before. It can make for an interesting painting!

multicolored aging flowers in a glass vase as an idea for painting
Painting flowers as they begin to age – or adapting your painting through multi sessions as the flowers age, can create for really interesting ideas for painting and realistic subject matter.

Tutorial ideas for painting flowers:

pink rose oil painting in process

Painting of a rose

Follow this step by step rose painting tutorial to learn how to paint a rose. Seeing this example will help you to understand how to find the light and dark value shapes in a flower.

bright yellow sunflower oil painting with blue background in glass vase

Sunflower painting, step by step tutorial

This sunflower painting tutorial will get you started and you will also learn a great deal about mixing different shades of yellow along the way.

dark pink tulip oil painting ideas in process

Tulip painting (with video instruction)

Paint a tulip with this complete video tutorial! Tulips are a great easy painting idea if you want to get into learning more about painting flowers.

Painting Inspiration from Food and Pantry Items

I personally have not painted many food items but it is a subject matter I want to incorporate more in the future. There are so many wonderful examples of food used in paintings throughout art history as well as today.

Detail from Vermeer, The Milk Maid. There are many possibilities when it comes to painting food. You can set up an entire still life with food items or paint a single subject.

There is a huge range of different food items you can make into a still life – fruit, vegetables, baked items, canned foods, or even like these vegetables! The list is endless.

painting of butter on a table with white cloth. Painting ideas of food
Antoine Vollon, Mound of Butter. This painting is a beautiful example of how you can turn ordinary food items into an extraordinary painting. It is not so much about what you paint but rather HOW you paint it. Look through what you have in your kitchen and choose what grabs your interest.

Fruit oil painting ideas

quince still life painting ideas on pink fabric

Fruit still life painting

An oil painting tutorial showing you how to paint a quince. Get some inspiration painting a single subject fruit item.

lemon watercolor painting tutorial how to

Lemon Painting Idea

Paint some lemons with this lemon watercolor painting tutorial for those who love watercolors.

Local Ideas for Your Painting

We can easily take our place of residence for granted as we often do with an area we see everyday. However, there are so many interesting painting ideas to be found everywhere whether in your city or your very own neighborhood.

painting ideas of a neighborhood yellow and blue townhouse with car
Seth Becker, Half and Half, 2020

You could take your sketchbook and viewfinder and start to do some sketching of different areas before you start and commit to a painting. Sketching an area first is also good way to scout out potential painting ideas before setting up an easel out in public in view of all passers by! 😉

Antonio Lopez Garcia, Gran Via De Agosto. A great example of a city painting. You can paint a city view from the balcony of a publicly accessible building or even rooftop deck.

Painting your own neighborhood

If you really want to paint your own area but feel a little shy to do so. Then starting in your very own neighborhood might be a good place to start. You could even stay inside and paint looking out of your own window. Then, if you wish to explore painting your neighborhood more you could venture out to find more painting ideas.

If you are unsure about diving into a city painting right away you can do a city sketch drawing with some pencils or charcoal ahead of time

Inspiration for Painting in Your Living Space

We spend quite a lot of our time inside our own homes and other interior spaces. So, why not find some good easy painting ideas in your own home or other interior space? You can take inspiration from many painters of the past and present who use interiors as ideas for paintings – Vermeer, Vuillard, Hammershoi, and Antonio Lopez Garcia are just a few of many.

Edouard Vuillard, Arthur Fontaine Lisant. Vuillard created many beautiful interior paintings. His work is proof that there are countless painting ideas and possibilities to draw from when looking for compositions in our own home.

If you live with other people then you can take advantage of the times that a family member or friend might be seated on the couch reading or working at a desk. This gives you the opportunity to paint an interior with a ‘mostly’ still model to work from.

Vilhelm Hammershoi, Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25. You don’t need to have a figure or even lots of things in an interior painting. Just the inside space of an empty room is enough to make an interesting painting idea.

However an interior painting can hold on its own without needing a figure to occupy it. It is all about how you paint it and lay out the composition that will make it stand out as a painting.

Portrait Painting Ideas

Edgar Degas self portrait painting ideas with beige background
Edgar Degas, Self Portrait. If you are interested in painting portraits self portraits are the best place to start! You can start small and simple as seen in this Degas self portrait painting.

You may be very interested in painting portraits or just people in general. An easy painting idea and a good place to start would be to create self portraits. Often painting others comes with a little bit of fear and apprehension. There is pressure to make the portrait look like your sitter, as you know that they will want to see your progress 😉

However, with a self portrait you are free to fail as it is only yourself you are painting. Once you build up enough confidence through painting self portraits then it is a great idea to expand and paint others.

Painting Friends and Family

Edgar Degas, Henri Degas and his niece Lucie Degas. If you want to expand further beyond painting a single figure or portrait then start incorporating an extra figure. You could even use family members as Degas did for this painting.

Ask some of your friends and family to sit for a portrait painting session. Many of them will be flattered that you asked. It can be a little taxing sometimes for people to sit still for a long period of time. Some artists combat this by playing a movie for their sitter or maybe even letting them read or play an audio book

Ideas for painting multiple figures

An advanced painting idea would be to paint multiple figures in one painting. It probably would not make much sense to ask a crowd to all stand still and pose for you at the same time. It is unlikely that they would all have availability in their schedule at the same time! To combat this problem you could use photos as reference for a painting.

Edgar Degas, The Cafe-Concert at Les Ambassadeurs, If you want to do a painting with several figures then it can be a good idea to paint a scene that has an activity or action attached to it. In the painting above we see a concert taking place with an orchestra pit and audience members looking on.

I personally do not recommend painting from photographs. However, I think if used correctly and by an experienced painter it is possible to create an awesome painting with photo references. The important part is to not be completely reliant on your references – that is why it is best to first spend a long time developing yourself as a painter before using photographs.

Still Life Painting Ideas

Creating a still life is a great easy painting idea no matter what stage you are in as a painter. They are incredibly beneficial to both the complete beginner and professional painter. Everyone has access to some objects and a surface to place them on whether that be a floor, table or stool.

Using items you find

Here are a few of my still life items stocked in my cupboard. It helps to have your still life items in view as it gives you a lot of ideas to be able to see them all and decide what you want to use in a painting.

You can use found objects in your own home or studio for a still life. Or, if nothing you have excites you then you could head to your local thrift store to look for some interesting objects that might stir up some painting ideas for you. Most of my own still life items were found at local thrift stores.

Or you could take it a step further and create your own objects using cardboard, paper or another material. Some of the best still life paintings are done when people create their own worlds to paint from.

A great way to get strong light and dark contrast in a still life is to cut out a window in a box and set up your still life in it as seen above. Having a strong light and dark contrast is important for painting a good still life.

Still life painting set up ideas

Setting up a still life is one of the most difficult aspects of still life painting as you are responsible for making an interesting and engaging composition. So, give yourself time with setting up a still life painting until you are excited about it. You could keep it minimal by painting a single object, or include a lot of items into one piece.

still life simple painting idea of a garlic and lemon together in a shiny container on black surface
Idea for a still life painting setup that is rather simple but contains intrigue

If you need to some ideas for painting a still life then look at what other artists have done – both past and present. This will really help you to get started! It normal and even encouraged to take some inspiration for other paintings!

Create Master Copy Studies

Doing a master copy is a brilliant painting idea for making a study and getting some painting practice in. Doing a master copy can be incredibly rewarding and fun while helping you to inspire and generate new pianting ideas for the future.

Painting a master copy is a great painting idea to build and develop your skills further. It can also be great to do if you are unsure what to paint. It happens often that after doing a master copy you will have an idea of what to do for your next painting project while also gaining the benefit of learning from the master copy study.

Throughout the history of art, painters are continually borrowing and taking inspiration from other painters. In the same way that writers are influenced by other writers and composers are inspired by other people’s music.

You don’t need to go all out and do a copy that is the exact same size as the original. You could even just do a thumbnail sized master copy!

corot landscape painting ideas small master copy thumbnail
The first painting above is a master copy of the Corot painting seen below it – The Bridge at Narni. Doing a master copy painting does not need to be a big painting – it can just be a small thumbnail study as shown in this example.

Or you could do something larger and more comprehensive if you want to. The most important thing is to choose a painting you love and really study and learn from it. Try to steer away from trying to make a replica of the painting and instead make it your focus to learn from it and capture the essence of the piece.

Edgar Degas (left) copy of Delacroix (right). Take a look at some more Degas master copies.

Portrait master study step by step tutorial

oil portrait painting ideas

Get yourself started with doing a master copy painting with this tutorial of a study after a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Landscape Painting Ideas

Take a drive out to a park or the countryside in your area and take some inspiration from the landscape. If you want to get some ideas for compositions you can look at works by some of your favorite landscape painters to get more painting ideas.

landscape oil painting ideas Italy landscape painting
Elisabeth Larson Koehler, Look for some landscape painting compositions in the countryside. You can learn some landscape painting tips during the process.

If you know that you will be painting a certain kind of a landscape – for example one with a lot of trees – then it will be helpful to look at other landscape paintings with trees. This will help you to know how to handle some of the painting problems you will run into.

Landscape painting tutorial to get you started

landscape painting inspiration of a green valley

Learn how to paint a landscape with this step by step landscape painting tutorial!

Sky Painting Inspiration

When painting a landscape we often paint the sky with the landscape. However, what about just painting the sky by itself? The sky and clouds can make really wonderful subjects for a painting.

John Constable, Cloud Study, Oil on paper laid on board. Learn more about painting clouds and the sky!

John Constable – a notable English landscape painter created a lot of studies of just clouds. The weather and clouds were of really great interest to the painter so he produced a lot of sky studies.

John Constable, Cloud Study

Cloud painting tutorial

cloud painting ideas

Learn how to paint clouds with this complete cloud painting tutorial. Get some great ideas for painting skies!

Seascape Painting Ideas

Change your point of view and go to the sea for some new painting ideas and inspiration. The sea is unpredictable and constantly changing – one of the many reasons why it is a subject of fascination for many painters from the past and present.

Painting a seascape requires some work from imagination. It can be an exciting subject to work from for this reason. Learn about the process of painting an ocean painting and seascape in this full tutorial.

How to Keep Yourself Inspired

As an artist it is important to know what inspires you and then immerse yourself with those things. For example, there are specific artists that inspire me and give me painting ideas – so I look at paintings by those artists regularly. Find out what inspires you and give yourself opportunities to spend time with that.

John Constable, Study of Cirrus Clouds, Oil on paper

Travel is another one for me. Being in a very different environment and seeing new things gives me many painting ideas. I am sure the same is true for many others as well. If so, make time to travel! It doesn’t need to always be going overseas – it could mean just exploring the town next to yours that you don’t know very well.

Want to remember this? Save these Painting Ideas to your favorite Pinterest board!


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    Hello! I'm Elisabeth Larson Koehler

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