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Those four Walls - or how to stay inspired

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Do artists really have to get out to find things to paint, or can you stay inspired from home? Course Director Martin Kinnear shares some pro tips.

At first glance, oil painting might seem to be the ultimate indoors hobby, after all who really wants to cart masses of oils, solvents and what what not outdoors, and then try to get wet paintings home? And yet as the popularity of plein air painting shows, lots of artists really do think that sitting in front of that ideal view is worth the bother.

As the proud owner of no less than three French easels (one nicked, one in good commission and one reversed over and beyond repair!) I can admit that - despite being disabled - I have often done the outdoor painting thing, but never - and this is really important - never to find a view.

As a professional artist the very last thing I want to do is let the subject dictate to me how I paint. I'm not pushing some trendy anti realism, abstract project here, its just that I know that reality is a very slippery concept and creating pictures about how things appear to me, and what they look like are very different things. I never confuse how it looks with what it is.

For me the French Easel is just a means of pushing a bit of paint around while absorbing the sense of a place. Over the years I learned that how I feel about a subject , contributes a whole lot more to finished paintings than merely what I saw.

Painting From Things

There was a thought provoking post on our StudioTalk Facebook group today, asking ' Do You Paint from Photographs?'. I always love these, as nothing is calculated to get artists scrambling to their keyboards quite a quickly as the perceived imputation that real artists don't work from such things.

For the record I work from anything, but never towards it. I'll happily work from a view I'm sitting in front of, a life model, the work of an artist I admire, a sketch I've made, or a photograph I've taken or found.

The key is to use these inspirations as starting points for something much more personal and infinitely more interesting. As Matisse observed, any piece of art should really have a life of its own and exist on its own visual terms, rather than be merely a mirror to whatever its painted of. Matisse and Derain took reality by the scruff of the neck. and turned the commonplace into extraordinary things.

Not just a copy of a view, our Fauvism Masterclass on soon

Constable admitted his frustration with observation, when he wrote that however hard he tried that his pictures were 'A mere trumpery of Nature'. No matter how hard he tried, painting how something looked, was no way to recreate how it felt. His later and far rougher works are celebrated today for their evocative power. The point is this, sources are one thing and what you create from them quite another.

With this in mind my advice is to let go of the tyranny of obersrvation, indoors or out and paint how you feel about what you see. Let the act of painting be the point and the outcome of doing it; that way it really doesn't matter what, or where, or how you get there, the journey; that's the thing.

Some Good Ideas for Indoors Creativity

  • Set up a still life - it can just be one very ordinary thing such as a cup, then use colour to transform it into an extraordinary image. My next Masterclass on Monet will be a masterclass on choosing and using colour, but if you're new to it get to grips with colour on our short dedicated course here.

  • Paint from Memory - paint your garden from where you can't observe it, Memory as Bonnard noted, is the best filter. Check out my Painted Garden video here to see how I did this.

  • Painting for Painting's sake. Take a single colour family for a walk, and see what you achieve. If you are a subscriber to StudioTalk, this is just what I did in my last Mondrian demonstration. Or join us to watch the simplification of line and colour in this week's member's demo here

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Michael  Grant
Michael Grant
Jan 21, 2021

Great blog Martin, all thought provoking stuff. Training in the craft of painting and drawing is necessary, seen time and again. I’ve recently done the simply oils course for the first time, wish it had been done in 2009!

Matisse wrote that if you are technically good then style and creativity follow. Having watched a couple of videos of Fred Cuming RA, he’s in his 90s, it is a delight to see his view of a view, then play and toy with it, ragging off again and again, dab and highlight, scrape, rag off again, making magic from his mind, seeing what may be there or not, sculpting wonders in oil.

Looking at all the artists you use as examples,…


Jill Chaloner
Jill Chaloner
Jan 21, 2021

Thanks for that Martin- however many times one comes to that truth, like any tyranny the "tyranny of observation" keeps coming at you from unexpected directions like a dead hand. David Hockney said somewhere that the point of drawings was the experience doing them after which you should throw them away.

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