Sometimes people ask me how and where I find inspiration for my paintings, and then how I translate that into actual art. It’s both easy and difficult to answer that. The short answer is I find inspiration everywhere and make it into art in all kinds of ways! But that’s not very useful if you’re just starting out and are already feeling somewhat overwhelmed by possibilities.

In the interests of keeping things simple and non-overwhelming, I have broken down my processes into something that I hope will allow and encourage you to develop your own hunting grounds for inspiration. Because ultimately you can take all the advice in the world but you will still need to cultivate that into your own unique process, and even that will likely change and evolve. {Hello art/life metaphor.}

stone with a heart inside

There are three main sections; the places I find inspiration, the ways I record what I find, and how I turn the finds into art. I imagine that most of it won’t be particularly surprising or revelatory, but often the best thing I can do is share my experience as an example, remind you of what you already know and perhaps spark a couple of ideas to try.

Because I apparently have a lot to say on this subject {for a change!}, I have also broken the post into two parts, otherwise you’d probably never get to the end of it.


Out and About

I am a total homebody {with a lifelong love of travel, which is obviously a fantastic source of inspiration}, and when I’m not abroad I tend to stay at home for much of the time. I do however have favourite places to go, the main one of which you will be well aware if you follow me on social media or have been coming here for a while – the beach. I am fortunate to have the sea at the end of my road, and I spend a lot of time there, watching the waves, noticing the way the colour and light are constantly changing, and allowing the energy down there to quiet my mind.

an endless source of inspiration

Inspiration after all is not about thinking something up, it’s about having a space in you for it to appear.

Ooh, that’s juicy. Let’s make a pretty graphic.


In terms of literal inspiration, the beach is an excellent example of something that I think is important to note. For me inspiration doesn’t always mean seeing an image I like, and then recreating it. I don’t often paint the sea, for example, and when I do it tends to be representative or symbolic, not a literal seascape.

Inspiration can be much more subtle and far reaching than that. Perhaps it’s a certain colour combination, or a feeling, or it’s finding stones with lettering on that I can make words with. I often pick up stones just for the patterns and colours on them.

LoveLetters by Tara Leaver

Everything I see gets tucked away in my brain {and heart} somewhere, and while I prefer to use my intuition in combination with images as reference points when painting rather than directly copying anything, those lines or colour combinations can all inform a painting.

Other examples of inspirations I find outside my home include:ย the countryside around Brighton, from the rolling hills of the Downs {below} to details of leaves and branches; lettering on billboards; shop window displays; the plants and the shadows they cast in my little roof garden; seagulls in flight; interesting old buildings; things I notice just walking around my neighbourhood.

Devil's Dyke Sussex by Tara Leaver

Reading, Thinking, Daydreaming and Discussing

This way of finding inspiration is much more cerebral, in that I’m not looking for visuals with my eyes. My mind tends to turn concepts into pictures in my mind as a way to more deeply understand them, and when someone’s explaining something to me or I’m discussing a topic with them, my mind is showing me how that might look in metaphor. Perhaps everyone does this; I have no idea!

What it means is that reading poetry or books of any kind, and talking about abstract concepts such as metaphysics {a personal favourite}, can provide a wealth of inspiration; I might find a short phrase in a book or poem that shows me a painting, or someone might say something that prompts me to think ‘I want to paint that’.

One such example is the Infinite Bowl {below}, a concept that appeared in my mind when I was trying to make sense of the universe {as you do}. I painted my personal concept as a reminder; it was a quick and simple little piece on wood panel and I love both how it looks and what it means to me.

The Infinite Bowl {Tara Leaver}

I love to read, and always have several books on the go, and so they are a natural part of my inspiration gathering process. You ย may also know that I have a huge and ongoing love affair with words and their meanings, and write my own poetry that sometimes shows up in paintings too.

Other Artists

Of course a fantastic place for inspiration is the work of other artists, whether that’s in exhibitions, books or on the internet. The library provides a bountiful free source of art books, exhibitions can be found not just in galleries but in cafes and shops and municipal buildings, and the internet, well, it’s an infinite supply!

Pinterest is a favourite source for me, as is Instagram, gallery websites like and even a good old Google Image search, which is excellent when you’re searching for something specific.

one of my paintings in a ‘gallery’. ๐Ÿ™‚

Two things to note about looking at the work of other artists as inspiration that I think are worth bearing in mind.

One: be careful about your mood when doing this, as it can invite comparison and feelings of inadequacy and that’s a surefire way to kill the possibility for inspiration.

Two: don’t use it as your main source of inspiration. It can be so easy to end up making art that looks like what you’ve been looking at, and while I believe there’s nothing wrong with that as a means of learning, ultimately don’t you want to be making art that looks like yours, not a derivative of someone else’s?

My Own Work

I’ll talk more about this in the next post on this topic, and I also talked about it in detail here, but another place I go to for inspiration is my own past paintings and sketchbooks. There is plenty to look at! I have many half finished paintings, whose original ideas I may still love and want to investigate further, and many many drawings and notes in my sketchbooks, which go back about twenty years.

And more recently I’ve been mining my reams of life drawings from past classes; quick charcoal sketches, more detailed pastel renderings and even some in paint, as I return to my original love, figurative art, and learn to combine it with an abstract expressionist kind of vibe. That’s where ‘Lavender’ came from; a little figure sketch on a torn old scrap of paper. {I love her.}

Lavender before and after

see what i mean?

This list is by no means exhaustive – I meant it when I said inspiration can be found everywhere – but these are my current main processes for sparking mine. I hope that this is in some way interesting and/or useful to you. Next time we’ll look at how I record my inspirations and finally how I translate them into my art.

Where do you like to hunt for inspiration? Do you have any favourite places that always yield something interesting? Do you find inspiration sometimes comes from somewhere completely unexpected?

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I talk a lot more about finding inspiration and using it to create art that looks uniquely yours in Abstractify, my newest ecourse coming in March. Earlybird registration is now open, so if this sounds like something you’d like to dig into more, I’d love to welcome you into the group!