How to Capture Your Own Story Through Painting
Painting is, without a doubt, one of the most luminous mediums of human expression. They say that a picture paints a thousand words, and it’s true–visual art can tell a story in an instant that words will never be able to capture.
But the difficulty, of course, is figuring out how. Everyone has an infinitely complex and beautiful story, and it can feel intimidating to try to capture that in painting. In this guide, we’ll tackle that problem, breaking down how you can capture your own story through painting.
Think about yourself
The first thing to do when developing painting ideas is to think about yourself. After all, it’s your story! It might seem like an impossibly big question, but it’s important to get an idea of who you are and what you want to share with the world. Without authenticity, your work won’t be the best it can be.
When thinking about what you want to express, don’t feel pressured to sum up your entire life. Instead, just contemplate some big questions and see what answers arise. You might ask ones like: What do I most want? What are my most important values? What do I like most about myself?
All these questions will help you make sense of what story you want to tell.
Find your Inspiration
The next step in painting your story is to find inspiration in your life to form the basis of your painting.
This might be something you want to represent, like a scene from your life, a landscape you love, or a person who you want to depict. But it also might be something far more abstract, like a feeling you want to name or an idea about life that you want to share. Once you have one or more of these painting ideas in mind, you can think about what you want to paint.
Think about technique
When it comes to painting, technique changes everything. On one level, this is a matter of choosing the medium that suits you best. Maybe you like the precision of acrylics, or maybe you want the deep tones of oil paintings, or maybe you want the wispiness of watercolors. Each of these, or any of the other innumerable ways of painting, can help you tell your unique story.
But even deeper than that, thinking about technique means thinking about how you want to express yourself. Some artists believe that they can best tell their stories through hyper-realistic paintings. Others believe that capturing the fleeting moments of life is more truthful. Others want to use painting to show how their experience of the world feels, which can be very abstract.
None of these painting ideas is necessarily bad or good. The important thing is determining which one is right for you, and what kinds of painterly techniques work best to capture the story you want to share with the world.
Explore Other Artists
We inevitably carry our influences everywhere we go. But rather than trying to ignore your influences, spend time thinking about them–or even finding some new ones!
For example, if you’re trying to use vivid colors to express the fleeting moments of your life, study the work of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Claude Monet, Paul Signac, and Vincent Van Gogh.
If you want to see how painters realistically capture human emotion, study Dutch Masters like Jan Vermeer or Rembrandt van Rijn. If you’re trying to abstractly represent emotions, look at Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, or Edvard Munch.
Examining and studying artists whose styles you admire can be immensely helpful for capturing your own story. On one hand, you can see what techniques they used to depict experience. On the other hand, you can see ways that you can innovate their methods.
In fact, for that reason, it’s also very valuable to study painters whose work is very different from yours. It helps put your art in a new perspective, which can generate new painting ideas.
Just start painting
Okay, you’ve plumbed the depths of your soul, found your muse, developed a technique, and studied the old masters. Now comes the hard part: starting your painting!
It’s a common misconception that painting is as easy as throwing color on canvas and just making something. It can be very intimidating to start–you might worry that you’re not ready, or that you don’t know your story, or that there’s so much more preparation you need.
But the truth is that you can start painting any time, even before you’ve done any other item on this list. Just starting is the most important thing, because it builds your confidence, gets you familiar with the medium, and helps you figure out, through practice, what you want to do.
So just start!
Be open to surprises
When you’re creating your painting, you might find that many surprises come your way. A certain technique might be harder than you expect, or you might realize that you need to represent your story differently, or you might even find that you want to paint something different.
Don’t be afraid of these moments! Painting is all about surprises–the unexpected adds life to a painting. While you don’t want to abandon your work when it gets difficult, you also want to listen to what those surprises are telling you, and see where they could lead your painting. You might find that they produce a better, more truthful painting after all!
At the end of the day, the most important thing in painting is to be yourself. At the end of the day, the whole point of painting your story is to share yourself–to bring your story into existence by painting it.
That means that the last thing you want to do is do something untruthful to yourself. So as you’re painting, keep it real, and make sure that you’re doing it for yourself.