Your next painting idea could be closer than you think
After following along with painting tutorials, learning new skills and getting excited to develop your own painting practice, it can feel like a step into the unknown when trying to choose what subjects to paint next.
Should you paint landscapes, still lifes or work towards portraits? With so many choices, it can quickly lead to indecision and procrastination.
I’d like to share with you some of the photos I use as my own visual diary that inspire my sketches, paintings and palette choices. It could be from museum trips or travels to new cities, new paint experimentation in my studio or simply a fall of light through a window that has a great quality to it.
Just as a painter’s palette can give you a glimpse into the painter’s approach, your camera roll can reveal what really interests you. The compositions you naturally create, the repeated colours that keep on cropping up and the patterns of the negative spaces you’ve observed all contribute to your own personal style.
Below are a selection of photos with a brief description of what inspired me at the time, and this first collection comes from my trips around National Trust properties, focusing on historical kitchens. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to start your own visual diary. Then you’ll have a camera roll full of painting ideas!
New @willkempartschool Instagram Collection #1
Also, I’ll be regularly posting the photo collections to my new Instagram account, really hope you enjoy them.
This pestle & mortar really reminded me of grinding paint pigments with the ground spice being such a fantastic intense colour. It would suit a Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber with a little Transparent Red Iron Oxide glaze to finish. The same family of oranges, just with a change in intensity. Also, the cooler, muted blues surrounding the stone mortar acts as nice balance to the piece.
I absolutely loved how vibrant this copper pan was surrounded by the dark range. Notice how, even though the background is a dark subject, there is still a lighter tone on either side of the pan to bring it forward.
I took this photo in diffused natural light coming through a large window behind and to the left of the onions. I loved how they had been positioned in the bowl so all the negative spaces in-between the onions, add this really nice silhouette to the top edge of the bowl. This would make a great painting using a really limited palette.
Notice also how there is a space around the bowl on the left to guide the viewer into the background. The clue to the hardness/softness of the light is in the edge of the cast shadow.
I liked how the taps weren’t on the same level, they had this visual ‘step-down’ between them. This is the sort of subject that would really entice me to do a quick sketch as there’s a variety of shapes inherent in the subject matter and strong lighting that would work great in black and white.
The window light was coming in from the top left-hand side and was just catching on the front of the ladles, bringing them to life out from the dark of the wall. It’s amazing how compressed in tonal range the black on black utensils are, but you can still make out the subject.
The really nice thing was the strong geometric shape of the white edge of the fireplace that crops our viewing position. Notice how all of the spoon handles are giving us these hanging vertical lines, in contrast to the pots on the bottom right that have got a slight angle to them so they separated into visual grouping by the angle of the handles.
I liked the dialogue between the repeated patterns of the small jugs all facing the same way, being ‘kept in line’ by the larger jug hanging on the row above facing the opposite direction it’s like a little family.
The contrast of this one broken egg within the compartments and confines of its sturdy wooden box caught my eye. There was also a nice textural similarity between the marble work surface and the speckled pattern on the eggs.
I loved how the cool blues of the work surface and then the lovely warm oranges in the copper, married perfectly with the warm wooden boards on the left-hand side. It’s a nice mix between warm and cool throughout the whole of the room.
Simple circular and rectangular shapes create this composition.The circular shape of the plate is echoed by the edge of the coffee can on the top right hand-side, as is the back of the wooden paddle to the butter. The diagonal lines of the grease proof paper lead us into the frame and then is continued with the edge of the butter paddles. Notice how it’s darker on the top left corner to bring the viewer back into the scene. Varying sizes yet repeating shapes is often something I look for in a still life composition.
This Post Has 98 Comments
Very inspirational, cheers Will!
Cheers Vernon, pleased you liked them, hope you’re keeping well.
Beautiful photos..Inspirational..I’m much Gaga over photography don’t know why..You made my day..
Brilliant photographs. I don’t know about inspiring you in what to paint next, you could sell these pictures as fine art photography artwork!
Thanks very much Greg, very kind of you to say so.
Great pictures, and thanks for sharing them. Would it be possible for you to also post your corresponding painting of one or more of these pictures (if you have gotten to them yet)? That would be a great source of inspiration and direction.
Thanks in advance.
Thanks Jim, yes on future posts if I’ve worked on a specific painting from an image I’ll share them both.
Love getting your messages, thankyou. I have gone into a “blank” stage, but am sure the energy will return.
Your camera roll is so interesting! I think painting the powder (spices?) Could be rather challenging
Hey Sheila, really pleased you enjoyed the photos, yes a super fine brush would be needed!
Thank you so very much, Will, for the inspiration of using the images already in ones collection as a source. Over the years I have found myself revisiting old photography assignments and slides from trips. Children playing, men working, women gardening, landscapes, the neighbor’s cows in the pastures, the flowers the children gave me for Mother’s Day…
I think that I will use one of these pictures in a drawing or painting, one day. However, that is as far as the idea progressed. One day. I believe that today will be the day. Now the task of choosing the photograph, or slide, is at hand. I wonder where I will begin my search?
That’s fantastic news Donna! I often find starting with a simple theme can help. For this collection, the main focus was an orange and blue complementary colour scheme. For example, you could start with flowers, then group into colours, then group into compositions. Hope you enjoy seeking out your next painting inspiration.
Thank you Will. You are such an inspirational artist/ teacher. I have been struggling with composition, focus, light and dark, in fact on all the topics you touch on your classes and the above arrives just at the right moment. Now I have a lot more on my plate or my palette so to speak. Thank you
My pleasure Marie-Claude, so pleased it was good timing for your paintings.
Will…I want to thank you for the tutorials, tips, and inspiration that has helped me as an artist. these particular kitchen photos are beautiful with shape and color. cheers kathy
Thanks very much Kathryn, that’s brilliant to hear.
Eagerly await your posts, always inspirational.
Now following you on Instagram, love the pics some great ideas.
Cheers Karen, pleased you liked the shots.
Thanks again, Will for all your great teaching. As someone posted earlier, would love it if you would post a photo and the resulting painting, perhaps as a tutorial?
Photos are great, by the way!
Thanks Anne, pleased you liked them.
Thank you sir Will for sharing your wits on arts. So generous to teach and feed us with your talent. Great inspiration!
“What do I paint next” is exactly how I was feeling this morning. And add to that a touch of hopelessness and despair. So I procrastenated, turned to my laptop instead of my brushes and then opened your e-mail.
What an eye-opener this particular commentary was for me. I have thousands of photographs on my “camera roll” and I go through them often for inspiration. However I never thought of looking at them as an ensemble for patterns of composition or colors!
You always give great tips and interesting comments but this idea is simply “génial” . Thank you Will,
So pleased you’ve been inspired Danielle, have great fun assembling your new compositions.
Just reading what you see in the photograph made me see Composition in a whole new way. You learn to think in shapes and tone light source as an artist (like a how too) but what I get from your descriptions of the photograph is to stop and define for yourself what it is that attracts you about that composition in an artist language. I think that I paint a piece because I liked the subject matter but putting the subject matter that you like into words before you start painting adds a dimension to the process of painting right up front. Not something that visual artists typically do, we are visual art painter not writers. I like this and plan to use a journal as a step in my painting process before I put anything on canvas. I get a record as well as the painting in the end. Thanks good lesson.
Really pleased it helped Janette, yes, that’s right, analyzing your own photos can be so handy to capture the essence to what you’re drawn to, good luck with your journal.
Hello Will ,
I really like your photos — especially the pestle and mortar . I also enjoyed your clever observations re the jugs .
Thanks for sharing them with us .
Best wishes ,
Cheers Patrick, glad you liked them.
The photos are food for thought. I also take pictures of any thing that catches my eye and think that it would make an interesting painting. I am still a novice but I try. Thank you for your e-mails like hearing from you.
Spectacular photos !
Will, You have excelled yourself!
I grew up in England and lived in an old house and we had a kitchen like that with a water pump over the sink and a well in the garden.
What a very thoughtful set of photos.
Congratulations on a brilliant idea.
Thanks very much Susan, very kind of you to say so, really pleased you enjoyed the collection.
Thanks Will …. yes have taken hundreds of reference photos since moving to Cyprus and am so spoilt for choice. Yes I should get on with choosing which one I even got out some blanks to start thisafternoon!! Watch this space…………..
ps really really adore your photos
Great to hear it Ann, good luck finding your next subject.
I just signed up for your site. I love it. I’ve come to painting rather later in life and your clear instructions and expertise have really inspired me to learn. Thanks so much!
Hi Tracey, nice to have you along, really hope you enjoy exploring the lessons.
Thank you for sharing..Beautiful pictures!
My pleasure Mary, so pleased you enjoyed them.
Hope you can come to the Bahamas and paint our beautiful waters someday……then I can watch your tips and learn how!!!!!
Thanks for sharing your beautiful photographs. I was in low spirits as couldn’t decide what to paint next. Thanks for inspiring me….
You are more than welcome Promila, really pleased to hear it.
Thank you for sharing your thinking with us. I found your post to be very helpful.
Cheers Maria, pleased you found it of interest.
Lovely photos, thanks for sharing…great idea
Thanks very much Jamila.
I can see lots of inspiration in these photos…What a super idea. I shall go looking around and taking photos and see what inspires. Thanks for the tip. LA
Good one Linda, hope you find some hidden gems!
OMG the spoons! I just LOVE those 4 spoons! 2 copper and 2 dark, all hanging down on that dark blue background with texture on it.
Please, please please make us a tutorial of those spoons! I’m in love with them. LOL. I prefer the picture with only the spoons, not the one which includes the white fire place and the copper pots. On their own, the spoons and the background make a sambre but rich ambiance, and stark opposites, bright spoons and dark spoons, orange/gold in the copper spoons with dark greys in the other two. And, and, definitely the wonkyness and age of them. Blimey I just love that picture!
Thanks for sharing you photos with us. You are such a generous, wonderful, inspirational, amazing trainer. Thank you :D x
Glad you liked the spoons Terri Ann, thanks very much.
How very generous of you to share these great photos. I’m teaching a small group of beginners and have observed how hard it is for them to find a subject…and then decide where to go from there. This will help me, help them! Thanks so much. Honor
Hope it helps out your group Honor.
The copper pan is a very interesting photo reflecting the surrounding room behind the camera. It would definitely be a beautiful challenge to paint. Cheer.
Thanks Dave, yes, some great tones in the reflections of the copper.
Beautiful photos and the comments you have made about your paintings are so useful. You are that rare teacher who says a lot in a few words! Thanks.
Thanks very much Philippa, very kind of you to say so, pleased you liked the photos.
Yes! Half way through “View from Schmitty’s I, our favorite lakefront pub, so working on reflections/boats/clouds based on my photo of Luco Creek opening into Lake Winnebago. “View from Schmitty’s II” will be done following “Cornish Harbor” closely, so fingers crossed I can manage that impressionist approach
Good luck with your painting Mary, hope it turns out well.
Thank you for the great inspirational photos, I am still in a mental block at present and trying to find my will to get into painting after losing my son. Hopefully I will surface soon. Thank you again.
You’re more than welcome Cheryl, so sorry to hear about your son, that’s really sad. I’ve found drawing and painting can have real meditative qualities, even just the act of mixing colours, my thoughts are with you.
Truly enjoyed your wonderful photos and your take on what makes them so interesting. Thanks for sharing them.
Great to hear Steve, really glad you enjoyed them.
Thank you so much for that tip. Yes, it is so easy to get stuck on what you want to do next. Your photo brain-storming is a very good idea and a good way to see some patterns in your natural tendencies and preferences.
Cheers Aya, hope you’re doing well.
Thanks for the superb photographs and your inspiration. Waiting for your painting based on one of these photographs. Do you do figurative paintings too? If yes, would appreciate any guidance/tips on figurative compositions as well.
Thanks Sumita, pleased you enjoyed them.
Thanks for the lovely photographs. I am definitely going to take more photographs on my many visits around National Trust properties. I normally spend much of my time looking at all the lovely portraits that fascinate me & taking photographs of statues. This has inspired me to think of using the kitchen & laundry rooms as material for a painting. I love the copper pan photograph & the spoons. I have almost completed your self portrait, I’m a bit worried about spoiling it with another layer & I’m excited about starting the paintings of Grace & Imogen, especially little Grace with that gorgeous red hair, she reminds me of a baby I used to foster. Thanks for taking the time to share your photographs & inspire us with your thoughts & ideas.
Pleased you enjoyed them Thorla, good luck with the glazing course.
after I studied your color mixing class, it was my next step – to find my motives to paint next. I also find that to take photographs of some random objects make some nice paintings. I love the copper pan!
Thank you for sharing, Galina
Thanks very much Galina, pleased you liked the images and hope you enjoyed the colour mixing course.
Great photos Will.
I quite often do screen grabs of interesting frames from films and tv shows for future reference for paintings.
Thanks Steve, movie stills can be a great inspiration, you might http://www.filmgrab.com of interest.
so inspirational and motivating !! such lovely shots , I always feel so happy to receive the newsletters in my mailbox .
Thankyou very much for being such a great teacher !
Thanks Rohit, pleased you enjoyed the photos.
Thank you will view my photo’s in a. Different light.
My pleasure Dorothy, really glad they gave you a different perspective.
Beautiful photos. Excellent artist and superb photographer. But your precise teaching and skillful observations only excite the ordinary artist. Very inspirational Will. Thank you so much!
Very kind of you to say so Joan, pleased you found them of help in your work.
Thank you Will, I enjoy the still photos for sketching and improve my study of chiaroscuro. I would like to see some of your collection with action and speed as an example racing sailboats which I find very challanging?! Sincerely Andy
Pleased you enjoyed them Andy, most of my reference images tend to be more static for still lifes/landscapes but good to know it would be of interest.
Thanks Will, I often take pictures to use in my painting, but I must say, having some advice as to what flours to use is such a help. Thanks Elinor Aberdeen
Thanks Elinor, pleased you enjoyed them
Thanks so much for sharing your photos. They are very inspiring. Love the bowl of onions.
My pleasure Elaine, pleased you like the onions picture.
i was here today! You stirred me up to rise up and go back to my studio. Thanks.
Good one Olusegun, pleased you found it helpful.
amazing how you can get inspiration from simple things and add your own style , thanks for sharing
Glad you found it helpful Elaine.
Good morning Will.
I just want to say that though I rarely post comments, (indeed I rarely get opportunity to paint these days) nevertheless, I so enjoy your emails and helpful and encouraging posts. You always sound do bright and cheerful and enthusiastic. Keep them coming and thankyou.
Morning Patricia, thanks very much for taking the time to post, so pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles.
Thank you once again Will. I so enjoy reading and learning from you.
Hello Will. This is what I always say to people and my pupils in the past. Stand still and look around. There is the beauty to inspire you. Say never what to draw, paint or even write, it’s there!
With love from Hungary
Hi, Mr, Kemp,
How are you? i hope you’re well. I love these photos so much. Brown, gold and copper colors are very lovely and they remind me of old Dutch still life paintings. Do you do lots of still life, using these photos?
Hi Jin, great to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the photos, yes I really love those Dutch still life paintings! you might be interested in the latest acrylic copper pan tutorial, inspired by this set of images. Hope you and your family are well.
Hi, Mr. Kemp,
I’ve been reading your lessons from time to time and I love to try acrylic copper pan tutorial. Those images are very beautiful, but I’m not good at handling Acrylic. Also I will sign up for Instagram and follow you. I’ve been trying to change my direction of painting from abstract into more realistic, and more narrative way and am very struggling. I hope you and your family are well, too.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am enjoying your classes, am new to the list.
Good one Tom, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons.
Love your tutorials Will, thanks for sharing .
So pleased you’ve been enjoying them Ann.