Feeling Stuck? This Easy Painting Exercise Sparks New Ideas

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You need only look at some of the effortless work of Jackson Pollock to realize that you don’t need to labor over a composition to produce something great. Sometimes all you need is a spot or two — literally — of inspiration to build upon, and boom, an idea is born.

Create simple watercolor art and stretch your imagination!

This exercise is something you can repeat over and over again to jump-start your creativity and to refine your illustration skills. Bonus: it’s straightforward — you start with a brush stroke — and all you need is watercolors, paper and an ink pen.

What you need

  • Hot-press watercolor paper provides a smooth surface that’s perfect for drawing with a pen.
  • Make sure you use a waterproof pen on the off-chance that your paper is still damp.

Step 1: Dab on the color

Using your favorite watercolor pigments and paper, paint a series of brush strokes on paper. Make sure they aren’t connected, and that you create a variety of styles; try strokes that are big, skinny, straight, rounded and more. These strokes will be the launchpad for the next part of the exercise, where we turn them into people, places, and things.

If you already have a subject in mind — such as people — you can create your strokes accordingly (by painting the silhouette of a human, for example), but still be sure to vary them.

Step 2: Use a pen to transform your brushstrokes into imaginative drawings

Once your paint has dried, it’s time to transform the blots into little works of art. Using a pen, draw on top of your paint to create your cast of characters, special landscapes, beautiful flowers, abstract patterns and much more. The watercolor spots should be an outside guideline for your doodle. For instance, if you have a rounded shape, work inside of the colorful stroke and turn it into someone’s head, or an intricate bloom, or a patterned balloon.

There's no such thing as a mistake here — you're just flexing your creative muscles without feeling the pressure to produce something that's perfect. 

Artwork inspiration: Marion Barraud

French illustrator Marion Barraud regularly uses this same technique to create her whimsical works. She uses fine-tipped pens to create casts of characters with big personalities. Notice all of the details she works into these simple brush and pen strokes: There are scarves, hats, short people, tall folks, even furry-chested bears clutching coffee mugs.

After you’ve created one sheet of doodles, start another one. This time, change up the shapes you paint and alter themes. Challenge yourself to draw something that you wouldn't normally sketch.

Quick tip

Keep these exercises once you’re done. Put them in your sketchbook or somewhere that you refer to often. You can look back at them for inspiration. Or, if they’re character-based, make them the subjects of future work.

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Feeling Stuck? This Easy Painting Exercise Sparks New Ideas