Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00

Creative Inspiration for Contemporary Oil Paintings | Using lighting and colors to bring your art to life

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Have you ever viewed a sunset that was so spectacular that you were moved to create a painting to replicate that feeling? Or how about a moment on the river when everything seemed just perfect? Finding inspiration from nature for contemporary oil paintings can often come naturally, but turning it into a painting takes some practice and thoughtful preparation. Beginner artists may be inspired, but not sure how to turn that inspiration into an artwork that really captures the moment.
This article gives some simple how-to tips to get the best creative inspiration from nature and how to turn those beautiful scenes into a meaningful oil painting.

JBA 2965-1580  Crested-Butte-Mountains

Capturing Inspiration
The first step to turning inspiration into a painting is finding a scene or object that grabs your attention. If you happen to have a pencil and paper, or perhaps even your paints and a canvas, you may sit down and begin composing right away.
However, most of the time you may have to rely on memory, a simple sketch, or a photograph to capture your inspiration. If all you have is a pen and an old envelope, that will work as well. Draw what you can of the scene, then make notes for the colors your see. If you have a camera handy, take several photos at different angles and exposure settings to try to bring home the overall feeling of the scene. Usually pictures from your camera, or even your smartphone, are the best way of saving the scene for your painting later.

Setting the Mood

When you find a scene you find inspiring, try to determine the emotion it gives you. As with the sketch, write down these feelings so you can remember them when you are painting in the studio. The emotion you felt at the moment of inspiration is likely part of the attractiveness of the scene. Find ways to include the emotion through color choices, lighting effects, brushstroke, and compositional arrangements. This is an important step for replicating that feeling for others when they see your finished painting.

While black and white pieces of art can be beautiful in their own way, I often prefer painting colorful scenery, such as botanical gardens, forests, or landscapes. I find the contrast of warm and cool colors, with intricate shades, patterns, and lighting are the best subjects for my paintings; however, whatever you find beautiful or inspiring should be your topic of choice.

Color Choices

Turning your inspiring scene into a painting will require some practice with color. Generally, using paint straight out of the tube will give object a flat appearance. Mixing in tints and shades or other hues will add a lot of life to each petal, leaf, and sunset.

For shadows, don't just mix black with another color. Instead try using the complimentary opposite of the natural color of the item you're painting. For example, a yellow field of wheat might have purplish shadows (yellow and purple are complimentary colors.) Take a look at my gallery of garden paintings for examples of colorful floral paintings.


The lighting of a scene can dramatically affect your level of inspiration from it. A mountain valley with early morning fog and low light may appear mysterious, while the same valley at 4pm with golden hour lighting may seem vibrant with color and life.

There are many techniques for painting light effects, or perhaps you have your own special way of doing it. As with any work of art, it takes time and patience to get the exact look and feel you are trying to accomplish.  Lighting is especially difficult to capture in a painting, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort!


There are many theories regarding the best compositional arrangements for artworks. In general, there are a few tips that can make or break a composition:

·       Don't place the largest items in the front and center.

·       Don't place the horizon line in the middle of the canvas.

·       Allow some of the scene or objects to exit the picture plane - i.e. allow the tree limbs to be "cut off" on one side, etc.

If you're not sure about the composition of a sketch you've made, ask for a critique from a professional artist or online community of artists. It's sometimes easy to make simple adjustments to a sketch to improve the composition, but once you've started with the paint it is much harder to change.

Have fun with your painting!

Enjoy trying to emulate the beauty of nature and capture your inspiration in paint. Don't get so caught up in the technical details that you aren't having any fun. Enjoying the creation of your painting is especially important if this is meant to be a hobby or relaxing activity for your soul. I find painting to be very relaxing and therapeutic, but it certainly requires a great deal of time and patience. If you are find yourself having difficulties focusing or are getting frustrated, simply take a break and return to painting when you feel ready. The enjoyment of viewing and displaying your finished painting is a unique feeling that is beyond compare.

If you would like to view or purchase any oil paintings or digital photography from my online gallery, you can browse and choose options for buying originals, digital prints, or stretched canvases. They make an excellent decor addition to any room or household! If you don’t see any purchasing options on a particular piece, please contact me for more information.


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