Finding Inspiration to Start

A Guide for Newbie Artists

As a self-taught artist, there are some online resources that are my go-to for inspiration, reference photos, and tutorials. I’d like to share them with you and I hope that you share some back. Anyone can create art, but not everyone knows where to start. The following steps will take you towards creating your own art.


“What inspires your art?” (I can’t even avoid an eye roll while typing it.) I mean, how do you answer that and sound legit and not snobby? Now, I’m not throwing shade at the artists that do happen to have a list of inspirations; they are obviously more organized than I. I try to keep lists or post-its of things that I think to paint for later. Then, I either lose the notes or get lost on a tangential path and never look back.

Find inspiration in everything, but more importantly – be brave!

Honestly, to find inspiration, I simply keep my eyes open and study what catches my eye. I find inspiration in the things that are aesthetically appealing to me, economical to try, and are relevant to me. I’ve been training myself to see what I look at. I pay attention to shapes, values, contrast, and movement and it truly helps when I want to recreate a mental image later.

Outside of my environment, my number one resource to find inspiration is Pinterest. It’s so easy to get lost in the wonders of Pinterest. That “More Like This” option is a time void – I swear, every time I look up from a Pinterest binge, I’ve lost hours.

I have a board called Artsy Fartsy where I put all the beautiful works of other artists or photographs to look through when I need a little extra spark to get my creative gears turning.

From new sights, online searches and life experiences, when I sit down to paint without an idea of what I’m doing, I have something to draw on (pun intended). Once I start, the rest follows. Even if it’s a mess, I’ve still learned something.

Reference Photos

One day, I wanted to try out some watercolors of animals. I had only done some landscapes and florals up to this point and was ready to try something new. I wanted to try doing a series of small watercolors featuring small mammals and birds and I had no idea how it would go. I’d managed to do birds well with alcohol inks, watercolors shouldn’t be too much of a leap. Let me just say, fur in watercolor is tough! My ermine was a disaster! Then I thought to try an otter. Otters have fur, but maybe I can do an underwater otter, which should translate to watercolors better.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not have the details of otter anatomy firmly lodged in my memory, ready to use at the whim of my art. I need reference photos to help me. A simple Google search won’t do because many of those pictures are copyrighted intellectual property. I went to There are tons of free-to-use pictures on there. I found this beauty:

Example of a free to use image from
Otter reference photo, courtesy of

And from that picture and others similar to it, I was able to paint this:

"Otterly Adorable"
Small watercolor painting of an otter playing underwater.
Otterly Adorable

Isn’t he adorable? It sure surprised me. I had the least amount of confidence starting this painting. I almost gave up twice, but ended up tweaking until I got him just right. Now, he’s one of my all-time favorite paintings. You can get a closer look at Otterly Adorable in my shop.

I would like to shout this loud for those that need to hear it. Using reference photos is not “cheating” on your art. You are just as much of an artist for using your resources than the one that doesn’t (I strongly suspect that most, if not all, artists use references to create. I’ve found that it strengthens my ability and gives me confidence in my practice. Most subjects are complicated and painting them so that there is movement, tension and interest in the subject, requires work.


When it comes to learning how to do something, if there doesn’t exist a relevant YouTube video, I’m convinced that it is humanly impossible. How did adults function before YouTube? Seriously, as I have entered the world of adulting, I have learned everything from home repair to filing income tax returns, to hair braiding, and to creating art from YouTube. YouTube is an incredible resource to have in your artistic arsenal. You can even check out my fledgling YouTube Channel!

Find me on YouTube!

So, not knowing how isn’t an excuse. Use the collective brain power of the internet to guide you towards creating art. Find inspiration in everything, and then figure out how to do what you want! Everything takes practice and everyone can create art. What have you got to lose?

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