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Stuck in a creative jam

It's a myth that all artists can draw from memory. Yes, an artist may be able to draw a shape or form, but many a times one needs a reference image to work on the details or to get the shadows right. On more than one occasion, I have found myself stuck. For example, there have been instances when I have sat down to paint a floral design, but no matter how hard I wrack my brains I can only come up with one or two shapes of a leaf. I call it a "creative jam". There are so many images in my head that sometimes it's hard to single out one and recreate.


There is nothing wrong in being stuck. The important thing is to have the key to get out. By key I mean a reference guide.


The traditional method is to have a live subject in front of you like when you are painting a portrait or landscapes. If you are working on a still life painting, you can also set up the objects you are going to paint beforehand. This gives you a live version of your subject. You can use the natural light or can add your own light to understand where the shadows fall.

However, given our busy schedules, lack of space for art setups or simply because of life getting in the way all the time, it is often difficult to have live setups every time you paint.


There are some other ways to get around this problem. Create a reference guide - a gallery of source images that can help you recreate the shapes, details, shadows and more.


- The easiest way you can do this is by saving reference images on your phone or computer. Pinterest can be a great source for that. Remember to save the images under categories so that it is easy to go back to it. Try choosing actual photographs and not other artists' work. By painting from photographs, you stay true to what you see and visualize. When painting from another artist's work you can knowingly or unknowingly replicate their style, which will make your work less original.


- The other way is to make use of your phone camera whenever you step out. Click pictures of subjects you would like to paint. Make sure you click it from different angles. Zoom in, zoom out. You may need it all when you sit to paint.


- You can also paint a collage of images for future reference. I vouch by this method as it comes handy in three ways. One, you practise the shapes while painting them. Two, you have a gallery of images that you can go back to whenever you feel stuck. And three, you can scan them and have a digital copy that can be used in different ways for different projects.

This image is my reference guide to foliage. I try to include all kinds of shapes and sizes and use different color combinations wherever possible. You can also write down the color used under each leaf for future reference.


No matter what method you use, the fact is that when you create a bank of reference images, you create a world of endless possibilities. It becomes an open door for you to come in and go out whenever you please. The best part is... you will never feel stuck again.



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