The Process of Art – Ideas


Artists work in a lot of different methods or processes. Some are exact and meticulous, planning every step of the way. Some are spontaneous and loose, throwing their ideas out into the world and rapidly as they can. My artistic process is somewhere in the middle.

Looking for Ideas

Idea wall in studio
Sketches, color studies, photographs and other inspirations

Like most visual artists, I keep a sketchbook. Actually, I have a lot of sketchbooks. Instead of working through one, I have a variety of sizes and styles depending on where I’m sketching and what type of media I’m using. I also take a LOT of photographs. While I do occasionally sketch or paint from life, I mainly work from photos. I also use sites like or for reference photos of something specific that I may not have access to or want to find immediately.

Idea board
Idea board with photos, sketches and inspiration

When I’m working out an idea for a painting, I start with my sketchbooks and photographs. Photos are my reference point. I rarely copy the composition from the photo but instead use several photos, using bits and pieces from each one to compose my final painting. Or I just use the photo as a general starting point for shape, such as a flower or fruit. 

I work out the composition in a sketchbook, just outlining the major components. If I’m experimenting with color or trying to figure out the background, I’ll use color (from color pencils, markers or a little watercolor) on the sketch.

The past few years I’ve been working more in series and following themes or ideas through several projects. Instead of just working from my sketchbook, I create idea boards on foam core boards that I can hang on the wall in my studio.

Following Ideas

Usually an idea hits me from either something about the subject or something interesting to try with the media. I love playing with color so maybe I’ll see something and want to change the color or hype it up. Or I may use it as the focal point and build the rest of the painting around the color. Sometimes ideas start with on impression and grow from painting to painting. 

Seasonal Tree Series: Autumn
Seasonal Tree Series: Autumn. Also followed this idea in Winter

After we moved to Virginia a few years ago, it seemed I was surrounded by lines everywhere in my neighborhood. The homes were boxy, Colonial-style with shutters and front porches with railings. A neighbor had a picket fence I could see from several windows. The trees were much taller and more vertically uniform than my previous Texas view. Even my windows had mullions or grilles on them. 

This spurred a small series called Window View where I highlighted all the lines I was seeing. I began playing with just the vertical lines which using the lines as tree trunks in a couple of seasonal tree series. I also pulled the lines as sail masts into my large Seabound series. The lines appeared in various sketches and small works as well. Even though the paintings produced were very different, the starting point with each were the fascination with the lines around me.

Here in Florida, I am overwhelmed by color and contrast…bright flowers, crisp white birds and the frondy (is that a word?), organic tops of palms on stick trunks. The light and brightness, and probably the abundance of water everywhere, have inspired my media choice. I’ve been drawn towards watercolors and markers. I want the lightness of water media but as bright as possible. I’m still following this path of inspiration with sketches and experiments in the studio.

After all the sketching, photographing, doodling and playing, a painting idea will emerge. At this point the process very much depends on what media I am using: watercolor, acrylic, pastel or mixed media. The next few blog posts will go over each one in detail.

Your Thoughts?

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