Three super simple top tips to help abstract painters generate new ideas

In this Blog post I want to share how I use photos I took on a recent trip to Cornwall to help inspire my work and share some image manipulation tips to help spark inspiration for generating new ideas.

The trip was a flying work visit and there really was very little time to be creative in my sketchbook as by the end of the day I was totally exhausted and not feeling at all creative. Yet each day during my lunch break I always managed to get out for a walk, the weather was glorious with wall to wall sunshine and as I enjoyed the beautiful weather I spotted interesting things on my walk that captured my attention.

I always carry my phone so I took lots of pictures of an old rusty roller that I stumbled across on the side of the road.

This type of roller is used for rolling the fields. It improves seed to soil contact across the whole field by consolidating any loose soil left after drilling, this promotes successful and consistent germination which is the basis for a competitive crop.

The roller was pretty big, and very rusty with the ends displaying a vibrant shade of teal blue with deep scratch marks. The blue was in such contrast to the rusty shades so it really caught my eye.  Blue and orange are known as complimentary colours sitting opposite each other on the colour wheel, already this old roller has potential. I took lots of close ups of the colours, marks and shapes, I was starting to get a fizzy feeling about this old, rusty roller. 

So how can these quick snaps help me in my painting? It really is quite a simple process; here are 3 tips to help you get started.

Tip 1

Go through the images and edit them using the cropping tool, picking out the details that have interested you, this might be; colour combinations, shapes, textures or lines.

Duplicate the photo so that you can make several different crops of the same image. Try rotating the image to see how it looks, does it make you notice something different? Try putting the image into black and white, and also simplifying the shapes.

Tip 2

Print the images and make photocopies so you have a selection to play with. Next cut them up, rearrange and stick different combinations together. Be discerning in your choices.

Tip 3

Now that you have a few ideas, take out your sketchbook and create rough thumbnail sketches, at this stage you can tweak the composition. Try using black, white and grey. Concentrate on the shapes and negative shapes and keep it simple.

These three easy techniques start to spark ideas which might later end up in a finished painting. This playing stage is so much fun and there can be endless combinations. 

So even on a busy work day I can find time to see the joy in something that I walk past, elevating the everyday! Whether that is shape, colour, line, marks or texture, I pick out the elements that give me a nudge and that is all the starting point that I need. 

Sometimes these studies remain in my sketchbook as a record of the feelings, thoughts or experience I had at that specific time. They may inform other larger studies or even a body of work at a later date. Either way is fine by me, no pressure to create just enjoying something in what some people would just walk straight past.

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Let’s discuss annual planning

If, like me you are in the middle of your annual planning process you might find these steps useful as a way to reduce the feeling of overwhelm…..

At the moment everyone seems to be busy planning for the year ahead,  working on calendars, scheduling events, courses and generally trying to fit in all activities that they want to get done in the coming year.

I myself am in the middle of planning and I’ve noticed how overwhelming it can feel, so I have taken a step back to apply some of the techniques I have learnt in the corporate world to help me get clarity and progress.

There is so much to do at times it really does seem unmanageable, but a simple step by step approach has really helped me keep focussed and gain momentum.

Step 1

Write down all the ideas you have for the year, these can include the following but you may have many more, so just jot down whatever pops into your head. Once it is out of your head you can see the wood for the trees and more importantly make some informed decisions of which items you want to pursue.

Step 2

Using a priority rating of 1,2 or 3, with 1 being the most important, rank each item. So for example, if you have already signed up for an Art Fair and paid the fee this might be ranked as 1, alternatively if you haven’t yet checked out the Art Fair to know if it fits your work or schedule then I would suggest ranking it as 3.

Step 3

For each priority 1 item you need to think about what does each one actually mean in terms of tasks that you will need to do to achieve them, taking the Art Fair example. Add these as steps beneath each item. For example here are a list of tasks when considering Art Fairs:

  • Research the art fair venues and organisers
  • Make a decision on which location suits you best based on location, cost, dates and any feedback you can gather from other artists you know.
  • Understand what will be available on the day; table, light, stand to display your work
  • Think about creative ways to display your work; step ladders or small easels
  • Do you need help at the fair on the day?
  • Do you already have the work available or do you need to create work
  • Arrange Insurance
  • Arrange transport & parking 
  • Think about food and drink on the day
  • Order labels and price your work
  • Order business cards or flyers to give to customers
  • How are you going to market the event
  • Will there be promotion done by the event organiser, maybe you will need to provide a brief statement of your work.
  • Do you have packing for purchases made at the event
  • Do you have a method for collecting for contact details

Step 4

Review your priority ratings now you have a fuller understanding of the amount of work for each activity, you might feel that there is too much to do, or you simply don’t have enough time to carry out all the tasks, in which case you might decide to change the priority or in the example of the Art Fair you might choose to select a different date.


By breaking each activity down into tasks, you are creating a manageable  ‘To Do’ list that makes it easy to see what work is involved for each task, and will keep you on track. It is always nice to be able to tick things off a list and things will seem far more achievable. If you find that you have forgotten something, just add it to the list, and by having said list you can clearly allocate tasks to other people to help, therefore further improving your productivity.

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