Inspiration and hard times

We can all do with an inspiration hack at the moment, can’t we?
It’s not easy, feeling inspired with an outerworldly situation going on around you or even very close to you. And yet, worrying doesn’t solve anything. As long as you take really good care not to spread contamination and as long as it hasn’t entered your home, the best thing to do, is to get into action. Any kind of action is good. Getting creative the best 😉 At least, you’ll have something to show for the day at the end of the day. Something like this, for example:

The get-busy inspiration hack

But…HOW do you get past apathy or anxiety and feel inspired again?
Well, it’s simple: just sit your bum down at a table with some paper, pencils and some paint and draw something. Anything!

Easier said than done? Okay, then here’s an inspiration hack that works for me every time I feel stuck. I also use it as a warming-up exercise after having finished a bigger project. Then I do this “something small”.

The trick? Borrow!!!!!!!!!!!

The principle is simple. You need instagram for this.
First, seek Instaspiration. You can do that in two ways: 1) you browse your instatimeline until you see an image of a drawing or painting that appeals to you. Save it. Or 2) look at the art supplies in front of you and type the most colorful one in instasearch and then browse until one image really appeals to you. Save it.

illustration by Silvia Romeral
Illustration by Silvia Romeral, @ssarvari on Instagram

You do NOT need to feel you will be able to copy the art. This image your pick, will just serve as inspiration…as a starting point.

Point of reference

Then, take a pencil and draw a little square measuring about 6x6cm and make a super simple sketch of the image you’ve just saved. Below your sketch, try to write down what it is that appealed to you when you first saw this image. In my example I used the image above, of a painting by @ssarvari (Silvia Romeral) that appeared on my timeline. I fell for it because of the super vibrant green colors and the lady in the center of all these plants holding a book. Books and nature do it for me every time!

sketch for "Listening to the wise tree" by Mandy van Goeije plus sketch of reference photo of artwork by Silvia Romeral
thumbnail sketch of the insta original by @ssarvari and what will be my “Listening to the wise tree”

We’re not going to draw or paint exactly the same image. We’re borrowing, not copying.

So…the next step is to draw a new square of 6x6cm. And maybe you need a few of these squares to seek YOUR image.

Something borrowed, something new…

Think of which elements from the reference photo you want to transfer into your own image. What I wanted to take from Silvia’s work, was the girl being amidst plants and the super fresh green that reminds me of spring.

Detail in "Listening to the wise tree", a watercolor painting by Mandy van Goeije
Detail in “Listening to the wise tree”, a watercolor painting by Mandy van Goeije


Think of what is your style.

If you don’t know your style or if you think you don’t have one, then ask yourself in what lies the difference between a drawing or painting of yours and the image you have before you. Keep those differences. MAKE them your style! It can be the media you use that is different; the color palette; the sort of lines you like using (if you use them at all). It can be the level of realism or detail n your work. It can even be the level of skill. If you are not yet very skilled, make your work “naive”…use the “lack of” skill to your advantage.

Part of your style is also the elements you keep drawing or painting. Or, if you don’t draw or paint that much, elements you would like to paint or draw. Bring one of those into your drawing. For me, it’s the tree. With the bark. With the texture. Like I did in a New Year’s design for a card, here.

Tree bark detail in "Listening to the wise tree", a watercolor painting by Mandy van Goeije
Tree bark detail in “Listening to the wise tree”, a watercolor painting by Mandy van Goeije

And then purposefully incorporate something from the original image into your drawing/painting. In my case it’s the gouache flowers in a less textured style.

detail of shrubs and flowers on "Listening to the wise tree" by Mandy van Goeije
Shrubs and flowers detail from “Listening to the wise tree”, a watercolor illustration by Mandy van Goeije

A balanced mix

If all’s well, you end up with a balanced (or not so balanced, but what the heck! You created something artsy, right? THAT’s what matters.) spin-off from another artist’s art. And if all’s well this process has made you think about the art of another artist and about your own work. My students often asked how they could get their own style, as if it’s something you can ‘get’. It’s something that will simply happen as you go and that you will only become aware of by reflection on your work with exercises like these. So copying is not just a good inspiration starter, it’s also a great tool for getting to know your own work.

"Listening to the wise tree", watercolor illustration by Mandy van Goeije
“Listening to the wise tree”, watercolor illustration by Mandy van Goeije

“Listening to the wise tree” is available as an original. Not for prints, unfortunaitely because the background is golden and cannot be affordably reproduced. If you’re interested, you can contact me through e-mail.

Your turn to hack your inspiration

If this mini-tutorial inspires you to give this a go, I’d like to hear how it goes in the comments below. And, if you dare (and don’t be shy, there is no such thing as ‘bad art’, just budding skills) I’d love for you to share your image so that I can check out what you do.

Did you enjoy this inspiration hack / mini-tutorial? Then please consider signing up for MandyMail for future inspiration hacks.

On borrowing and crediting

If you use this hack and publish your work, it’s decent and attentive to at least credit the artist of the reference work. This is an obvious MUST if your work ends up being pretty much a copy. And should your end result be very far removed from the reference and looks nothing like it, like mine, it is not strictly necessary, but by doing this artists can support each other. Just think, if someone uses YOUR art to work from you’d like to be credited as well, right?


Many thanks to Silvia Romeral for her permission to publish her art here. Go check out her work!