Choosing a Theme for Your Art

Choosing a Theme for Your Art

Today, I want to talk about choosing a theme for your art.

This post begins a series of posts based on questions asked by a good friend and fellow artist. They’re not necessarily the type of “how-to” questions I usually get, but experience has shown that if someone asks a question, others often have the same question.

So after answering my friend, I decided to expand on my answers for the benefit of others who have the same questions.

This first question concerns selecting subjects or themes. In short, is choosing one theme for your art better or is it better to work with several themes?

Let’s talk about that.

Choosing a Theme for Your Art: One Theme and Only One Theme?

In my opinion, there is no “right answer” to this question. At least, there’s no “yes” or “no” answer that works for every artist.

A lot depends on your level of experience and your personal interest, to name just two things.

For example, I knew from a very young age that I wanted to draw horses. I also knew I wanted to draw them so they looked like horses. So horses where my “theme” and they’re all I drew for many years.

Choosing a Theme for Your Art
A New Day ~ Oils

What if you like horses and florals and abstract art? Do you have to choose one? No. There’s no reason you can’t pursue all three.

You can pursue them all at the same time, switching from subject to subject drawing by drawing.

Or you can work with one until you’ve gone as far with it as you think you can go, then move on to the next theme.

You can also set a specific length of time to explore each theme—say six weeks. When the six weeks is up, move to the next theme.

Creativity takes many forms, and if more than one form of creativity suits you, there’s no reason to tie yourself to one.

So don’t feel locked into any one theme. It’s okay to have just one theme (like I did,) but it’s also okay to paint or draw a lot of different things.

Moving From One Theme to Another

Let’s say you have a favorite theme and have stuck with that for years. Then one day, you find yourself tired of it. Maybe you can’t find any reference photos that really sizzle. What then?

It’s also okay to move from one theme to another. In the past, horses were my main theme. Then landscapes. The most recent theme has been sketching. I enjoyed all of them and I still do. But interests do change, and that’s okay, too.

Spring 2012 ~ Colored Pencil

Sometimes, your creativity will take off in a totally unexpected direction. That happened to me when I decided to try designing websites, and again when I started publishing a magazine. Both of those things are creative outlets.

Sometime ago, I wrote an entire post on this very subject and it got a lot of comments. You can read it (or reread it) here.

A Couple of Warnings

There’s nothing wrong with rotating through a series of themes, so long as you’re not thinking about all the other things you could be learning while you’re doing whatever you decide to do! As an example from my own experience, I used to sit down to write fiction and start thinking that I should be painting. When I’d go to the studio, I’d start thinking I should be writing. That is not productive!

Some skills are basic to every subject and drawing style. It doesn’t matter what subject you draw, every time you draw something, you’ll advance those skills.

But some skills are specific to certain subjects. Hair, for example. You can improve your skills in drawing realistic hair by focusing on subjects with hair. Like horses.

If you switch to still life subjects, you’ll learn other skills, but won’t improve your ability to draw hair as much.

Blizzard Babe ~ Colored Pencil. The lovely, flowing mane was a major reason I chose to draw this horse.

So be aware that drawing in different themes has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that you’ll gain a lot skill drawing different things.

What’s the disadvantage? You may not advance quite a fast in specific areas as you would if you concentrated just on those subjects.

Choosing a Theme for Your Art

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s really no right way to go about making art. If you feel led to a specific subject drawn in a specific style, then go for it.

If your interests lie in different directions, find ways to combine those interests or pursue them all in their season.

The basic skills you learn in one medium will transfer to another medium. The details of application will be different, but you’ll still need to use values, accurate drawing, and so on, no matter what you draw.

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10 Comments

  1. RhiannonLewis

    Exactly what I needed to hear, especially at the end of a troubled day. You have no idea how much this reassured me. thank you so much! I’m a very avid reader of yours and sometimes lady you are just a God send.

  2. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, I really appreciate that you encourage us to be flexible and just do what we are interested in. When you shared with me the idea of setting goals for something specific for a certain amount of time and then going with something different later, after that, I really wanted to do that. So, for this next year, my main goal will be pastels with Colin Bradley’s school. That is not a specific theme but more of a specific medium. Still…. same principal of one broad focus for a while. But I still may work in that odd project that doesn’t fit with that, every so often. This flexibility makes the art journey much more fun for me, than if I stuck with one theme for the rest of my artistic life.

  3. Rice Lee Williams

    I like the idea of choosing a theme, it has helped me clarify what I want to draw now that I’m retired and have the time to devote to it. Mine is portraits of family members, especially ones that are “iconic” in the sense that it tells you something important about who they are, their personality.

    1. Rice,

      Thank you for your comment. Your reason behind choosing a theme is a good one. Whenever you decide what subjects you want to focus on, that certainly narrows down the opportunities!

      And since your focus is family members, you can spend your time looking for or taking photographs of them! An excellent idea.

      Thank you, again!

  4. Patricia+E+Wilson

    WOW! How interesting is this article. Loved the last picture of the horse with the blue dressings on. Amazing. Wish I was that talented but will eventually come to me. Thanks for all the great articles that you present to us.

  5. Viola

    hello, i am a young (15) “artist” (don’t know if i deserve the titel yet) and I paint (mostly) horses. I have sold a few things for over 1 000 SEK (around 100 dollars) and I am very proud over my work. Your drawings are very inspiring and I hope that I will become as good one day. I just wanted to say that I love your art! 🙂 love from Sweden!

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