Choosing a Subject for an Artwork

How do artists decide what to paint, draw, or sculpt? When you look at a painting of a bowl of oranges, do you wonder why the artist chose that subject, or does the image captivate you with the colours, textures, and composition of the fruits?

One way to find new subjects is to teach yourself to look at everyday times in a completely different way. Think of the scene in the movie Dead Poet Society where Robin Williams encourages his students to stand on their desks and look at the classroom from this slightly different angle.

Next time you’re planning an artwork, draw it from a completely different angle to the one that it first presents. Elevate yourself and look down at it, or crawl underneath and look up. You may find yourself doing several studies of the same subject once you start exploring it in this way.

Have some fun lying on your back and drawing upside down. Michelangelo did, and if you’re feeling ambitious you can start planning an artwork for your ceiling too.

Another point to remember is you don’t have to use subjects you’re not interested in. I don’t often draw or paint fruit and vegetables unless I find something that really draws my attention, and yet so many other artists love these types of still life because of the shapes, colours, and textures, and their ordinariness. Your art is about what captivates your eye and what you choose to express from this.

On the other hand, is there a subject that you avoid because you don’t think you’re good at capturing it? Many people struggle particularly with faces and hands. Not getting the results you want can put you off a subject, but it is worth practicing these without putting pressure on yourself to create it perfectly.

Try breaking your subject into smaller parts. Practice drawing just the iris and pupil of the eye, for example, and getting the reflection in the right place. Then move on to capturing the shading of the curved eyeball.

Select an item you’re unfamiliar with, such as a tool or piece of machinery, and draw what you see without the bias of knowing what you “should” be drawing.

This article was first published on BellaOnline in January 2007. © Elsa Neal

To help you with subjects you may find difficult, try

Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces
by Carrie Stuart Parks

Drawing and Painting Animals : Problems and Solutions
by Trudy Friend



2 thoughts on “Choosing a Subject for an Artwork”

  1. I am a very young artist, hoping to become a really good drawer and painter and sometimes I have trouble picking something to sketch or draw. By reading this i realized that i can draw anything that relates to me and inspires me!

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