Ever get the urge to paint and not know what to make a painting of? You love the idea of painting, and you love the feeling of moving paint around – you even love the hint of satisfaction you get when you’ve created something you maybe don’t totally hate this time. You want to paint! But what’s it going to be a painting of?

Sometime’s it’s a secret anxiety that stops us from beginning a painting, a tiny voice suggesting we’re not going to succeed. You have to paint right past that voice. It helps if you can take your attention away from the act of painting itself and the fearful question of whether you’re a good painter or not, and instead focus your attention on you – your memories, your passions, your obsessions. That’s where you’ll find your work. Perhaps it’s only a general idea for a series – look for something that you feel excited to find a way to paint.

For artist Michelle Ashby, inspiration came in the form of a very personal decision to paint small still lifes showcasing some carefully chosen items from her late mother’s old wooden sewing box.

Michelle Ashby, Grandpa’s Missing Button, pastel

Depicting her mother’s sewing notions became, she says, “a way of helping with the grieving process; but more importantly, I felt it would be an appropriate way of keeping her memory alive.”

Michele Ashby, “The Big Scissors,” pastel

Artists who keep going become passionate about discovering and rendering what moves them in paint. The dedication to a subject emerges from the process itself. Ask yourself what kind of art should exist in the world and then make that art.

Falling in love with “a way of painting” or with an idea for a series, automatically gives you a reason to paint. Understanding that painting is about feelings and ideas, not just well-rendered images, will make you passionate.

Think of painting as an expression of your truths, on a both personal and social level, and you won’t want for a subject for long; your subjects will find you. It helps to fall in love with truly great paintings and to fill your head with ideas about what can be conveyed with paint.

Why wouldn’t you want to work with the widest possible knowledge of the tradition? Learn all the art movements, drink in the best of what’s been done by the world’s greatest, historical and living. Pro tip: It’s always more inspirational to find out why (not how) the greats did what they did.

Keep looking, thinking, and painting.

Connect with Michele Ashby: micheleashby.co.uk
Learn more from Michele at the upcoming Pastel Live online art conference: PastelLive.com.

Female Artists Kicked Butt: New Textbook Sets Record Straight


Art history has propagated a myth about women artists of the 18th and 19th centuries – that they mostly painted tame still lifes and florals. New data-driven analyses of who made what when has destroyed that notion.

A Revolution on Canvas from Yale University Press is the first collective, critical history of women artists in Britain and France during the Revolutionary era.  Through an interdisciplinary analysis of the experiences of these narrative painters, portraitists, sculptors, and draughtswomen, this book demonstrates that women built profitable artistic careers by creating works in nearly every genre practiced by men, in similar proportions and to aesthetic acclaim. It also reveals that hundreds of women studied with male artists, and even learned to draw from the nude.

So for once we can say, Hey, maybe things weren’t as bad we thought.

In the paint,