The Art of Developing Original Art Ideas

The Art of Developing Original Art Ideas

the Art of developing Original art ideas

This week we will be taking a look at a few ideas to get you thinking about how to get into the mind-set of developing fresh ideas to implement into your artwork that will help you to become a better visual artist and give you an insight into developing brand new and original ideas for your work! 

It would be impossible to cover in a single article everything you need to know about developing your own ideas as a visual artist so I have picked the top six to start with!

  1. Inventing your own artistic style
  2. Choosing and setting creative challenges
  3. Setting the back story for your creations
  4. Analysing and Evaluating your art
  5. Experimenting with artistic styles
  6. Using a development journal to become a better artist

More important than marketing…

For once I thought it might be useful to take a break from that whole marketing your art thing and we should take a little time out to focus on something even more important. Yes, I know just how important it is to sell your work, but if you don’t keep building up your portfolio you will eventually run out of art to sell. There you go, an unexpected marketing lesson thrown in for free!

Sometimes it really does feel like we independent visual artists are more focussed on the selling part of art than we are on producing the art itself. I know that a good 50% of what I do is related to marketing my work or working on the business side of things. 50% is I’m beginning to think a little too much! Commissions come in, work has to be shipped, the paperwork is never ending, and then just to add to it I throw in a day job and write a blog. It’s a miracle I ever paint anything at all. 

We often get too wrapped up in the business sometimes that it can be easy to forget why we do what we do in the first place. Of course the business is important but if we really want to get our art hung on walls then just occasionally it’s time to switch off from social media and everything else and actually do something creative.

And that’s exactly the moment when you are so eager to paint or draw something you can’t for the life of you figure out what to do next. The real key to creating great art is to create something that you can connect with rather than just making something that’s safe and sellable. It’s totally okay to go out and do something that’s never been done by anyone before, art doesn’t have to conform to any particular genre or industry or theme, art can be weird and you don’t have to sell or even publish every work you create. 

Sometimes the harder you think about something the more difficult it is to do something. This is usually about the time when I put down the sketch pad and reach for a notebook. Instead of doodling down ideas I often use words instead and pull them together in a mind-map. 

There will be words that come into my head from time to time and I often think they would make a great starting point for my next piece of art, and this is what I did at the very beginning of one of my latest creations, “Moon Over The Cove”.

I had just finished working on my previous piece, “Meet me at the Beach” when I decided to start jotting down a few notes and pull together a mind-map. The central starting point was keeping my theme of a beach and then it was a case of adding words that came from that starting point. 

From here on in the painting started to formulate in my head much more clearly than just sketching out a few ideas as I started to explore various themes and subjects which would be included in the painting. 

Once I had spent 20-minutes doing this I had a picture in my head of what should be included and where everything should be positioned.

same road different destinations Original Art Ideas


Invent, don’t imitate…

Using a mind-map is one of the best ways of coming up with something new to create and it takes the pressure of sketching an idea away, but often we still end up creating a theme of a theme. Something that has been created before but perhaps depicted a little differently. 

Art galleries are always on the lookout for the next new thing but having an idea that will steer you towards creating something that really hasn’t been seen before often feels impossible. 

Picasso did it, as did many of the great masters over the centuries, all producing new art movements such as cubism, expressionism, fauvism, and surrealism. As an artist it is within your gift to create not just a new piece of art but also a new movement. 

I have mentioned in previous articles I have written that I haven’t seen anything that could be defined as the start of a new movement in as many years as I can remember. Certainly out of every piece of art I have seen over the past decade, I really can’t think of any particular piece of work that makes me go wow, this is new. It might look or feel different, but even the emerging artists in the biggest galleries seem to be playing things safe lately with very few exceptions. There’s some beautiful art around right now but too much of it is the same. 

To some extent I think that we have lost the ability to generate original ideas because all too often we are using the same methods to come up with ideas, or we’re unintentionally coming up with ideas that are based on something that has already been done. 

We look at examples of artworks and even subconsciously we end up replicating what has already been created. We might put our own little touches into the work but generally it will still continue to be a theme of a theme. It is the imitation neurone that fires within us. What we need to do is learn to generate new ideas. Looking at examples of artwork produced by others gives us ideas but it doesn’t tell us how to generate new ideas. 

Single sources of influence lead to copies or at best derivative works so if you are influenced by specific artistic styles, try to use a wide variety of influences and synthesize elements from each of those influences to create something new. Try out unlikely juxtapositions and change the elements within other works so that light becomes dark, hard becomes soft, natural becomes geometric, up is down, that approach can really transform a piece of artwork and allow you to create brand new idea to encompass into your works in the future.

Try moving the objects in a still life around or try creating a totally different composition just by creating a drawing within a shape such as a circle or triangle. 

The more you refine your approaches and techniques the better you will be able to experiment and come up with new ideas. Even using negative space to show less detail can really change the picture. Rather than focussing on the detail use leading lines to draw the viewer into a simpler work or just change the viewpoint. How would Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ look from the side, or how would Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ look if the clocks were digital and the background was set in a city?

Set really creative challenges…

We’ve all seen the 10-day or 30-day, picture a day art challenges but mostly they rely on painting or drawing themes of a theme too. If you are going to really challenge yourself then you need to explore the boundaries of your ability and then push them a little further out. 

Instead of going through the usual challenge where day one is ‘A’ so we draw an apple, make day one of your challenge something that takes you out of your comfort zone. If you are a landscape painter try out abstracts but use a completely different medium to the one you use to create your landscapes. 

You could try limiting the number of colours you use, or if you want to practice producing work quickly, set a series of challenges that have tight time limits. Give yourself 60-seconds or 20-minutes to just do something that isn’t what you are familiar with. Again it’s surprising what you can achieve in a short space of time and if the work doesn’t turn out exactly how you want it to, save it or store it and use it as a foundation for another piece of art down the line.

Development as an artist is about selecting ideas, visual elements, compositions and techniques, and then using those ideas in new ways. If the work you have produced when going through these challenges seems unresolved or isn’t perfect, that’s fine. Trying out new ideas to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you is the most important part of the creative process.

Set the scene…

I have noticed that a lot of art recently focuses on the aesthetics rather than a story. Adding a story to your work can draw in the viewer much better than something that just looks pretty. Think of ways to make the viewer curious and think about what’s happening just outside of the picture or what’s hidden behind that slightly open door. 

Think about the composition of a piece too. Changing the perspective of something and finding the right vantage point can really lend a hand in telling the story. One of the pieces of art I am working on right now is intended to give the impression of discovering somewhere completely new. So instead of creating the landscape in a traditional sense, it will be visible only in part from the path being walked on towards the final destination. 

Analysing your ideas and creations…

Analysing the effectiveness of any work you produce will shape how you approach your art in the future. All too often we move on to the next piece and forget to reflect on the work that we have just completed. Reflecting on and analysing your previous work could pay dividends though.

If there is an element, style, or technique that you always put into your works, you need to know if that particular approach is working. Whilst we work on something we are often too close to the piece to notice that we are doing something that doesn’t quite work and if we never stop to reflect, we continue to use the same approach. 

However you analyse and evaluate what you have produced it should start answering questions around your sources of artistic inspiration and help you to reflect on and develop your work further. 

When reflecting on and analysing your work you might have been influenced by certain artists or artistic styles, so considering how and why they influenced you is worth knowing. Understanding your own ideas and how you developed them will certainly help the ideas process in the future.

When analysing your works and ideas you might want to ask yourself:

  • How did you use the influence of other artists in your work and who influenced you
  • What were the challenges in producing the artwork and how did you respond to them?
  • What materials did you select and why?
  • Do you think you developed your skillset during this work?
  • What is your opinion of the final piece of work?
  • What would you do differently next time?

When evaluating your work it is important to know the differences between commenting on your work and evaluating it. Whilst there are some similarities between commentary and evaluation, evaluation goes a step further and provides judgements about effectiveness and success, and also reasoning about what didn’t work and why.

Just to give you an idea take a look at the table below and both will become a little more obvious!



I produced several drafts of this work to test out different perspectives and mediums such as oil and acrylic.

I completed four drafts of this work each using a different medium and each using a different perspective. The oil paint took too long to dry but gave vibrant colour, the acrylic dried quickly but colours appeared faded. Time was important to fit in with delivery timescales, so I used a gesso preparation to make the colours appear more vibrant. Client liked the effect. Need more practice with using this medium.

Evaluations should only focus on the key points and should be short. From the example above we know that this piece was created as a commission with tight timescales for completion, and we know that the artist faced a challenge and how the artist overcame that challenge. We also know that the client was happy with the work and that the artist felt that s/he needs a little more practice with using the chosen medium.

When evaluating your work you will also want to consider making comments not only on the final outcome but whether or not the final outcome matched the initial design brief even if it was your own brief, and identify any areas that you want to develop or explore further. 

Never ignore your weaknesses, these can be used in your development. If you know you are weak in a specific area then those who view your work with a slightly critical eye will notice those weaknesses too. That’s fine for now, but over time you will want to demonstrate your own improvement as an artist, others who previously noticed your weaknesses will then also notice the improvement. 

breaking the rules of art


Many of the young artists I speak too and a few of the more mature ones as well, always ask if they should experiment with their art or whether they should forever pick a theme and stick with it because they hear that the art world loves consistency.

The art world does love consistency. However, that doesn’t at all mean that you should be shackled by it but you shouldn’t ignore it either. The development of a personal style or theme is crucial especially when you are focussing on niche areas, but more importantly developing your own style differentiates you as an individual and helps you to stand out.

Some artists have separate sales channels for different types of work which is something you might want to consider. My fine art landscapes, seascapes and abstracts and other artworks are available through my Pixels site and Fine Art America and a few other channels, but I also have a range of typography and graphic designs which appear on other platforms too. 

Essentially this keeps my graphic design work separate from my landscapes and the other art I produce, if everything was together then it would look like a jumbled and very inconsistent mess! There is though a consistency in the techniques I tend to use for each of my disciplines.

Taking that approach works well for me but it may be different for others who prefer to focus solely on one thing, but it does allow you to experiment a little more and take the opportunity to look at other markets. 

Experimenting should never stop even after you have picked, chosen, and become a master in your own style. As artists we need to continuously improve and evolve and often that means that you will want to introduce something new into your work. Art should evolve with the artist, there are no rule books that absolutely say one way of doing things is the right way of doing things. 

If you are confident in using a specific medium try using it in different ways or try using different materials with your existing techniques. There are no rules either about not experimenting with your art, we tend to conform because it is what is expected but conforming doesn’t always give us the freedom we need to grow as artists. It can tie us up to the point that we are afraid to try out new things and when that happens you stop growing and developing, and your art remains at the same level.

You could do things such as maintaining your primary subject using your existing skillset and techniques but change the background. Perhaps rather than having a plain white background you could create your existing style on newspaper. There are ways of keeping things consistent without having to completely confine yourself to a rigid style or subject area.

Whenever you do try anything new always remember to evaluate it and make notes of what does and doesn’t work and add the areas you are weaker in to a development journal.

Development Journals

A development journal can take many forms. I use a few different notebooks some of which are used to sketch out those ideas I get out of nowhere, but I also use one just to note down points from my own evaluations of my work. 

I will pick out areas for development after reviewing and reflecting on my work but I also use my development journal to develop the other aspects of being an artist. This could be improving marketing skills or writing artist’s statements, or even your artist’s bio if you haven’t updated it in a while. Despite being a writer, artist’s statements and coming up with titles are and always have been my weakest area so these are currently my number one priority just below making a fresh pot of coffee. 

When I read back through the many notebooks I have filled over the years I can immediately see where I have improved and those areas continue to remain on the list. You might decide that you are weak when it comes to painting horses, then you get okay before becoming good or great at drawing or painting them, but your development shouldn’t stop there. 

There’s nothing that says you can’t get even better at something other than your own ego.

Push Yourself Further!

The most important thing that you need to be able to do to enable you to come up with more original ideas for your art is to continuously push yourself. Push yourself to go out and visit galleries or evaluate your own work more honestly. Don’t rely on finding inspiration online because the search engines are the new gatekeepers to the art world, and quality is based on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) or the number of social media likes we get. 

Pushing yourself can also mean taking a step back. We can become so focussed on developing ideas that we forget that there is a great big world out there full of new things that we haven’t tried. Take plenty of breaks and do other things that will broaden your horizons and stretch you a little. Rest is just as important too.  

Do things that have absolutely nothing to do with art. Just because you are a professional full-time-marketer-artist-cook-cleaner-web developer-SEO specialist, and any number of other things you have to do as an artist doesn’t mean that occasionally you can’t sit down or go and do something else. That something else could provide you with the inspiration to come back to your work with a fresh set of rested eyes. 

That’s a lesson I learned a while ago. At one time the 18-hour day was a thing pretty much seven days a week for me. Now I do simple things like putting the phone on silent before I go to bed or I turn it off completely. The more you do the 18-hour never take a break thing, the more it’s expected of you to just be around to answer someone’s question or respond to something that in reality can wait. You can create your own pressures, you don’t need help from other people to find more!

Above all else never forget that it really is okay to break the rules!

About Mark…

Mark is an artist and blogger who specialises in abstracts, landscapes, and seascapes but also carries out a limited number of commissions for book covers, posters, and personal commissions too. 

His work is sold in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada including The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls and you can also buy from Fine Art America or his Pixels site here: 

Moon Over the Cove is Mark’s brand new work and it’s available from the above link now!

moon Over the Cove art by Mark Taylor

All artwork and art collectibles sold through Fine Art America and Pixels also come with a 30-day money back guarantee. Any proceeds from the sale of art through Fine Art America and Pixels go back towards maintaining this site for the benefit of other independent visual artists and art buyers. You can also follow Mark on Facebook here!


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