How to Have Drawing Ideas based on a Prompt List

Some of you may be thinking about joining or are already participating in some sort of daily, prompt based drawing challenge such as Making Art Everyday or Inktober.

If you’ve ever attempted a project like this yourself, you may have struggled a bit with making the prompts system work for you. This is totally normal in the beginning, there is nothing wrong with you I promise, and you really have to think of coming up with ideas as a whole new skillset that takes time to develop. It takes practice, and you will get better at it over time.

The more ideas you produce, the more ideas you’re likely to have. Creativity breeds creativity. Think of it as training up your creative muscles.

As you may know, since beginning of 2019 I have been creating a drawing a day as part of Lisa Bardot’s Making Art Everyday Challenge. There is a monthly theme, then often a weekly sub-theme and then a prompt for every single day.

I found at some stage that I had developed something of a system to kickstart my idea-finding process for a piece when working with prompts.

1) The Obvious

First level is to just draw the most literal interpretation of the prompt. When you are starting out or stuck for ideas, this is a great way to practice your skills even if you’re stumped for creative ideas. It works particularly well for individual objects or animals and less well for more abstract ideas such as emotions.

You can just bring up some reference images from Google or Pinterest and start drawing without thinking about it too hard.

2) Getting Specific

Beyond just drawing the most stereotypical, stock-photo expression of the prompt you can then try and get more specific. Let’s take the example of a tomato. Not all tomatoes are red and round, they could be an odd shape, you could add some interesting textures and variations within the colours, it could have bruises, be mouldy or squashed.

3) Collections

Still sticking with a fairly literal interpretation of the prompt you could play with creating a collection of tomatoes of various colours, sizes and shapes, maybe even a squished one all together. Collections can be more exciting than a single object as there is far more for us to discover in the image and your brain doesn’t just gloss over it as something it already obviously knows. For some objects you could associate around it and create a fun flat lay style image, so maybe your tomato could be part of a picknic or you could create a flatlay image of an assortment of different vegetables.

4) Abstract

What makes a tomato a tomato? You can abstract the tomato and change one of its identifying features. What if it were square? What if it were blue?

5) Associations with other objects

You could brainstorm words associated with tomatoes and see if that sparks a different train of thought. Tomato sauce? Spaghetti! Tomato Ketchup? Spilling it on your shirt! Tomato soup? A tin with a tomato on it!

6) Put it in a Scene

Then you can start thinking about the object a little more and putting it in a scene from its “everyday” or even not so everyday life. Where does the Tomato grow? Is it on the plant or on a plate or in a salad? Has someone just picked it? Is someone or something about to eat it?

7) Usage and Abusage

Play with the use of the object. What do you do with a tomato? (Chop it, eat it, make a salad…) What should you not really do with a tomato, which would make an interesting or funny story? (Throw it, eat it whole, step on it, sit on it…)

8) Getting Personal

Do you have any personal stories related to the prompt that you could use? Something funny or interesting that happened to you, a sentimental object or experience that you could create a story around?

9) Give it a Face

You could try turning the object into a character. What features of the object can you exaggerate into character attributes? Maybe she has red shiny cheeks, maybe he is very angry and that is enhanced by how red he is. How would a tomato spend its day? How would a tomato definitely NOT spend its day, and can you create a funny story around that? What would a grand adventure look like to a tomato? What does a world look like in which a tomato lives? What other everyday objects might take on a different significance in their world? I.e. a fork could be terrifying and dangerous, a plant pot might be a cozy home.

10) Interaction

You could have a different character interact with the object. A person, an animal, another vegetable? What would they do, or how would they behave towards a tomato? If you’ve already turned your object into a character, how would it interact with this new character? What would their relationship be?

Be Persistent

Chances are some prompts will immediately spark ideas and some will be an instant turn-off for you.

I would like to invite you to give the ones that you have a “ugh – no way!” reaction to a second chance and sit with them for a bit.

If you immediately have ideas, it’s likely you already have some sort of connection with the prompt or it’s something that’s quite obvious. Getting to something a bit more creative and out there may take a little more probing and gentle pushing outside your comfort zone and maybe you’ll need to spend a bit more time looking up reference and working to understand how your subject is visually made up.

Some of my best images have come from prompts that I hated when I first saw them. Something about not instantly jiving with the prompt makes me think more creatively about what I can do with it to make it fun for me and that often leads to more creative ideas. It also pushes me to draw topics way outside my comfort zone that I wouldn’t even consider otherwise, which is one thing I love about prompt lists, it really helps expand your visual repertoire.

Final Words

Asking these questions can feel a little silly and clunky initially, but basically they just really help me think differently about the object and start brainstorming new ideas that I wouldn’t have hit on otherwise. It’s mostly intended as a kick-start, once I’m in the right frame of mind I’ll often go off on a totally different tangent and might start asking completely different questions, totally just go with the flow once that starts to happen and see where it takes you, then come back to the questions if you get stuck.

Now that I’ve gone through this process so often, it mostly works on a more subconscious level and I’m often not actually asking those questions in my head.

As with drawing itself, it will likely take some practice to get comfortable with this process.

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