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Ideas for Paintings and Works of Art

I enjoy doing DIY projects and crafts. It's a great way to make use of free time.

Octopus painting I did

Octopus painting I did

Ideas for Creating Art

My husband and I are both artists. In fact, having the same hobby in common is one thing that got us together. Neither of us had much time to paint when we were working full time and taking care of three young children, but now that the kids are grown and we’re retired, we have time to indulge in our creative urges.

I paint almost every day. It’s therapeutic for me, and it gives me a way to express my creativity. Opening up a brand new canvas is exciting to me, but it wasn’t always that way. Before I got into the practice of painting regularly, I sometimes found facing a blank canvas rather intimidating. I’ve talked to several beginning and part-time artists who feel the same way. They want to paint, but they’re not sure of their subject. If you find yourself in this metaphorical boat, I have some painting ideas you might find useful.

Great blue heron I painted

Great blue heron I painted

Painting Inspirations

Like I said, I used to have trouble with inspirations for paintings. Now, however, I have too many ideas in my head! The images bounce around in my brain, and I can’t wait to get them on canvas. So…where do I get my ideas? Everywhere!

I think artists see the world differently than non-creative people. I know I do. I find myself looking at how the light hits things, at how shadows fall, and at form and shapes. I study the movements of animals and the gestures and expressions of people. I sometimes try to picture things I see in a different light, too, perhaps combining reality with fantasy.

You can get painting ideas from TV, books, and movies, too. The internet can also be a great source. Browse online art galleries to get some ideas. Don’t copy someone else’s painting. For one thing, doing so is unethical, and for another, you need to make your painting yours. Looking at artwork done by others can give you some wonderful ideas for paintings, though.

Painting on Wood

Some of my best-selling items are images painted on wood planks. These are simple creations that have no background. We buy the planks or use old wood. Hubby makes wood panels from the planks and sands them. I then stain them dark and apply a homemade glaze to create the look of barn wood. When the painting surface is dry, I use acrylics to add a single flower, a hummingbird, starfish, horses, or numerous wildflowers. When everything is dry, we seal the pieces with spar so they can be used outdoors or indoors.

Of course, you can do wood plank paintings without the barn wood effect. Sometimes I paint the boards after staining them. I might do a crackle finish or a distressed finish.

Horse painting on wood

Horse painting on wood

Coastal Art and Nautical Décor

No matter which part of the country you live in, I’ll bet you know someone who uses nautical or beach décor somewhere in their home. My family loves the beach, and even though we live two hours from the closest coast, I use lots of coastal art in my home, and I love painting such items for others. These include starfish, sand dollars, conch shells, seahorses, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, coral reefs, and different species of fish. I do all sorts of coastal-inspired paintings, on canvases, on wood panels, on old boards, on furniture, and on wood plaques.

One of my biggest sellers is a reverse-stencil image of a mermaid. I even sold one of these to a famous couple! I first did a large drawing of a mermaid on a poster board. Then I cut out the shape with scissors. Hubby makes me an 18 x 34 panel out of wood planks, and he sands it and stains it with dark wood stain. Then I place the mermaid cut-out in the center of the panel and paint all around it. Sometimes I also use a crackling medium with the paint to give it a crackled finish.

Once everything is dry, the cut-out is removed, and the entire piece is sealed so that it’ll be protected against moisture. We add a rope hanger at the top, or we place metal hangers on the back, and it’s ready to sell.

Flower Paintings

People love flowers, and there’s a never-ending supply of colors, types, sizes, and varieties of flowers, blooms, and blossoms. Sometimes all you need for a great painting is one detailed bloom, or you might prefer to paint an entire field of flowers. From my experience with customers, the most popular flowers to paint include sunflowers, tulips, daisies, hibiscuses, poppies, roses, and birds of paradise.

One popular trend is to paint just half a flower, especially when done on an interesting background. You can see one of these in the photographs below.

Horse Paintings

The horse is another popular subject for paintings. As I’m sure you know, many great works from history depict horses, ranging from ancient cave paintings to contemporary art. I enjoy painting horses. I’ve been a horse-lover my entire life and have owned numerous equines, so that’s pretty understandable.

Even people who might not be horse-lovers, or who might even be afraid of the large quadrupeds, usually appreciate the beauty, power, and grace of horses. Your horse painting can be realistic, abstract, or something in-between.

Dog Portraits

Paintings of dogs or ones that include dogs are often big hits. And they don’t necessarily have to be breed-specific. Look at the famous paintings that depict dogs! On the other hand, if you have a talent for painting canines, you can opt to offer custom dog portraits. Owners love their pooches, and many like to have their furry companions immortalized in oils or acrylics.

I do dog portraits from photographs emailed to me by customers. I have them send several photos so that I can get a good “feel” for the dog’s appearance and hopefully for its personality, as well. Custom dog portraits make wonderful gifts, especially as a tribute to a beloved companion that has passed on to the Rainbow Bridge.

Dog portraits make great gifts!

Dog portraits make great gifts!


Seascapes are wonderful ideas for paintings! Few people are immune to the majesty of the ocean, and a nice seascape is a great way for someone to bring a little bit of beach life into their home, no matter where they live. You can paint just the water, like during a storm, or you can include a stretch of sand or focus more on a boat on the waves.

If you want to paint a beach scene, you might want to add something interesting on the sand. As you can see in the painting below, I used an old beached boat as a focal point in my seascape painting. You might want to use an interesting seashell, a shorebird, a unique dune, or a child playing on the sand.


Landscape paintings have always been popular, and they can include just about any setting you can imagine: a meadow, a field of ripe grain, an old barn, a mountain range, a stream, a forest, a country lane, or an old farmhouse and its immediate surroundings.

Getting ideas for painting landscapes is easy. Just take a drive! You’ll probably see lots of great ideas for paintings along your route. If, however, you live in an urban area and don’t get inspired, just flip through the pages of a book. I have a book about national parks that includes many beautiful photographs, and they’ve inspired several of my paintings.

Bird Paintings

I figured out pretty quickly that we’re a nation of bird-lovers. I’ve had lots of orders for paintings of birds, with the most popular being cardinals or redbirds. These bird paintings sell especially well during the Christmas season, but they sell all year long. Sometimes a customer asks for the cardinal to be perched on the limb of a birch tree, and he or she might also want a name or some initials “carved” into the tree trunk.

Hummingbirds are popular, too, as are bluebirds, great blue herons, bald eagles, peacocks, flamingos, roosters, and seagulls. If you’re targeting hunters in your customer base, you might want to consider painting game birds like quail, doves, pheasants, or ducks.

Once you acquire the skills necessary to paint any bird, I think you’ll find that those skills largely transfer to painting other avian species.

Mandala Art

Are you familiar with mandala art? It’s based on concentric circles and is often in bright, vibrant colors. I’ve sold several paintings of mandala flowers. These particular paintings were done on large wood panels. The flowers themselves were pretty much based on sunflowers, and I included a few leaves at the edge. You can see one of my mandala original paintings below.

Large mandala flower

Large mandala flower

Abstract Art

Abstract art has been popular for decades, and it’s still sought after today. Abstract doesn’t mean your subject is unrecognizable. It can be a perfectly mundane object that you depict in an unusual way, or it can be painted in unusual colors.

On the other hand, you might choose to paint non-representative paintings—depictions focusing on shapes, lines, colors, or implied movement that don’t indicate anything specific from the natural world or reality.

Abstract paintings aren’t as easy to do as you might think. Such paintings still need to have a sense of balance, and they must provide some interest to the viewer.

Something I enjoy doing is painting semi-abstracts. I like to paint a realistic subject against an abstract background. You can see what I mean by checking out the birch tree painting below.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 17, 2018:

It is nice that your husband also shares your love of painting as well. You are brightening many people's lives with your artwork.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 14, 2018:

Many thanks, Tom!

habee on April 14, 2018:

Awww...thanks, Tom!

Tom Cornett from Ohio on April 09, 2018:

Hi Holly. I love your paintings. I see you post them on Face Book sometimes. You have a wonderful talent for choosing colors to mix with characters. I see your paintings and smile. :)

Dianna Mendez on July 01, 2016:

I enjoyed the photo tour. You have a beautiful talent and so refreshing.

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on June 27, 2016:

Beautiful country! I used to live in Florida.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 26, 2016:

Thanks again, GB! I'm in South GA.

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on June 26, 2016:

My sister painted many canvases from my photos: she lives in ackworth, Georgia. I really love your abstract trees!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 26, 2016:

Thanks so much, GB!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on June 26, 2016:

Your work is fresh and delightful!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 26, 2016:

RD, I had forgotten all about that painting. I'd like to go see it one day.

As for the dog comment...I know the rest of it! bahahahaha

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 25, 2016:

My Mom treasures the painting Johnny did for her of the old Nesmith home place. You know, the one where the young girl committed suicide in because she made a bad grade at school. And the dog in your picture looks real sweet. :P

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 25, 2016:

He's hiding, Clive!

Clive Williams from Jamaica on June 25, 2016:

Nice clownfishes, but where is Nemo?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 25, 2016:

Thanks for the kind words, Stella! We enjoy creating original paintings. It's therapy for me. lol

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on June 25, 2016:

Awesome paintings I really like that you paint dogs. I had a lare painting done of my ridgeback before she died. The painting never really captured the look I wanted to see. Lovely, Stella

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 24, 2016:

Karen, I sell on Etsy, also. I'm in GA!

Karen Hellier from Georgia on June 24, 2016:

Wow you and your husband are both quite talented. I am very impressed. Love the idea of painting on old wood and the mandala painting was great too. I have never heard of that type of painting. Thanks for sharing your talent with us through pictures and your ideas. Do you sell only locally through Facebook? Do you ever do arts and crafts shows?