Beat Art Studio Boredom with Prompts

cate prato"I'm so bored."

Now there's a lament anyone who's around children is bound to hear over the next several weeks.

art studio prompts
"Doodles," by Robin Olsen, designed by
using prompts.

But let's face it: boredom happens in the studio, too.

Maybe you're tired of the same themes and motifs that come out of your head. Or maybe the art is fine, it just lacks spontaneity. Or maybe you just don't know what to do next. That's when I find it handy to work with a list of prompts.

It can be so hard to venture out of your creative comfort zone or to risk putting something down on paper or canvas that might not work out. Prompts help me get over the fear factor. They take the onus off of me and put it on the prompt, as in, "Hey, if it were up to me, I wouldn't doodle over that collage, but I'll give it a try if you say so." (Yes, I talk to my prompts.)

I'm almost always rewarded for taking this spontaneous and playful approach. Even if the experiment is an aesthetic disaster, I always learn something I can use next time.

Artist Robin Olsen offered a terrific list of prompts and advice on how to use them in the September/October 2009 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. She prints up prompts on small pieces of paper, folds them, and tosses them in a basket. She then keeps drawing prompts from the basket and acting on them until the piece she's working on feels complete.

These prompts are not complex or mystical. They can be as simple as "add a new shape" or "make dots on the piece and connect them with wavy lines." But they can have a profound effect on your work.

Here is some of Robin's advice:

  • Try doing one small piece from start to finish using prompts. Don't give up too quickly. Some of my favorite elements came from prompts that seemed impossible at first.
  • A prompt does not have to be a dominant element in a piece. Think of ways it can be incorporated subtly, using soft colors, sheers, fine lines, or as small background details.
  • Customize your list of prompts for how you like to work. You might add mixed-media or embellishment techniques to your list. You can also customize how you use them such as just using one or two prompts to get started or only at the end of a piece to add final embellishments.

Robin walks you through her entire process and offers a page full of prompts in her article "Spontaneous Combustion, Using Prompts to Spark Design." This article, and many other inspiring processes, techniques, artist profiles, and galleries of artwork, are available on the new Cloth Paper Scissors 2009 Collection CD.

Now, I'm off to make a new list of prompts for myself. And if my teen says she's bored this summer, I'll say, "Pick a prompt and let's make art!"

Do you use prompts to spark creativity or evade boredom? Share your favorites in the comments section below.


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