Using old art to inspire new art - a great way to develop your work without extra outside influence.

If you’re in a bit of a painting rut, one very effective way to inspire yourself is with your own art. Most of us have, er, one or two previously made paintings and drawings stashed away, and using them as inspiration is a strong argument for keeping what you make. It’s also an excellent way to build on your own style and stay consistent. What’s not to love? πŸ™‚

I recently used this approach myself, prompted by a studio clear out in preparation for my imminent move. I was sorting through piles and piles of old art, and singled out this white charcoal sketch on black paper.Β 

white charcoal sketch / tara leaver

Something about the lines and the composition pinged for me, so I decided to use it as a springboard for my next painting.Β 

Tip: Old work is often unfinished, or monochrome {like sketches}, or otherwise ambiguous in terms of values and composition. For this reason I recommend using it as a jumping off point rather than trying to recreate it; this can quickly become stifling, and not everything scales up well. Keep reminding yourself that you can move things around, omit or add things, or, as I did, swap lines for collaged shapes to get started.

Below is a video I made of the entire process from start to {somewhat arbitrary} finish. You’ll see the painting changes quite a bit from the sketch that inspired it, and I’m happy about that. It was never meant to be a copy.

I like that I can take a piece of my own work, which carries my energy, and use it to generate new work which uses that energy but evolves and transforms it into something new, while still looking and feeling like me. It has a pleasing quality of integrity and self-propagation about it. πŸ™‚Β 

Things to note:Β 

  • The full video was an hour long {over several days}, so I’ve sped it up to about 20 minutes as we all have lives to lead. There are notes so you know what I’m doing and the thinking behind it as I go along.
  • Because I was in the zone for quite a bit of it, I forgot I was filming and got in the way of the camera a few times. Sorry about that! But I didn’t cut anything out because the point is to see the entire process. If I only showed the tidy bits you’d miss the parts that we don’t always talk about – the mind changing, rubbing out, putting back, rubbing out again, trying stuff that doesn’t work etc. I want you to see that because it’s not just valid but essential to the growth of the painting.
  • I added various tracks to accompany it; if they’re not to your taste it’s easy to mute them!
  • Not shown: the long periods of nothing where I was standing back and contemplating it.


Materials used in the video:

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If you have any questions about the process that weren’t addressed in the video please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll help you as much as I can!