Painting a Day: 31 Ideas

A month's worth of painting ideas, to help and inspire you paint every day.

If you're wanting to do a painting a day but are stuck for ideas, here are 31 suggestions to keep you busy for a whole month.

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An Apple

Painting a day ideas -- green apple on reflective surface
"Green Apple" by Papaya. 5x5" (13x13cm). Watercolor and acrylic on watercolor paper. Painting © Papaya

Painting an apple may seem a bit of a cliché, but if it were good enough for Cézanne, then who are we to reject it without trying? Up the challenge of painting an apple by placing it on a shiny or reflective surface such as a high-gloss table or a mirror. A piece of black paper beneath a bit of glass from a picture frame may work too.

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An Apple Core

Painting a day ideas
"The Good Apple" by Bunny Brady. 5x8"(13x20cm). Watercolor. Photo © Bunny Brady

Sprinkling some lemon juice on the apple core may help prevent it turning brown.

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A Bottle (Wine or Otherwise)

Ideas for doing a painting a day
"Vino" by Kelly Cochrell. 6x10" (15x25cm). Watercolor paints, oil pastels, and wax resist on watercolor paper. Photo © Kelly Cochrell

A bottle creates interesting distortions and reflections. Having some liquid in it changes these part of the way down the bottle. (See also: Tips on Painting Glass). If you drink wine, have a glass to celebrate doing a painting a day for a month!

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A Single Tree

Limited colors painting project
"Dogwood Tree" by Jlamons. 4x8" (10x20cm). Acrylic on textured panel. Photo © Jlamons

If you've a garden with a tree, paint it from life. If you haven't got a garden, paint the tree you would have if you did or go to a local park or public garden.

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A Single Flower

Painting a day ideas
Flower by Angela Lester. Acrylic on canvas board. Photo © Angela Lester

If you can't get the flower to stay upright in the direction you want, crunch up a plain tea-towel or cloth underneath it. Don't go picking one of your neighbor's prize roses without asking first now!

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The Heart of a Flower

Limited color palette painting
"Bee See's" by Rich Mason. 16x20" (40.6x50.8cm). Acrylic on Canvas. Photo © Rich Mason

Shift your focus and composition to contain only the heart of the flower. What the bee sees when its collecting pollen.

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A Handful of Pebbles

Limited palette painting project
"Rocks" by Dalhia Cavazos. 9x12" (23x30.5cm). Acrylic on paper. Photo © Dalhia Cavazos

If you wet the pebbles with some water the colors show up more intensely. Let them go off the edges of your composition, not restrain them neatly within the edges of your canvas or sheet of paper.

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A Bunch of Flowers with an Insignificant Vase

Limited colors painting project
"Tulips" by Lena Levin. 40.6x30.5cm (16x12"). Oil on canvas board. Photo © Lena Levin

Make the flowers the focal point not the vase. Let them fill and dominate the space. Don't constrain them within the area of the painting, but let them extend beyond the edges on at least one side.

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A Bunch of Flowers with a Vase

Painting a day ideas
Valentine Roses by Bernard Victor. Acrylic on paper card, 10x7". Image: © Bernard Victor

Yesterday's flowers should last long enough to paint them again, this time giving the vase or container as much prominence as the flowers.

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A Watering Can

Painting a day ideas
"Watering Can" by Patricia Jessup. Photo © Patricia Jessup

Whether an old, metal one for the garden or a cheap plastic one for houseplants, a watering can creates interesting negative space around the straight spout and curved handle.

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A Puppy

Limited palette painting project
"Puppy Love" by Jane Kolbaska. 6x8" (15x20cm). Water-mixable oil paint on canvas. Photo © Jane Kolbaska

Avoid the temptation to paint every single strand of fur if you want to get the painting done in a day. Instead, use brush-mark texture to convey a sense of the fur.

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A Cat

Ideas for painting a day
"From Girl With Love" by Papaya. 9x12" (23x30.5cm). Acrylics on Frabriano's Oil Painting Paper. Photo © Papaya

If you're going to paint a cat from life, best wait until she's asleep! Get the overall shape down first, then focus on the individual limbs. And remember the pupils of a cat's eyes aren't round; forget that and it'll never look right.

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A Goldfish

"Bubble Fish" by Lane White. 6x9" (15x23cm). Acrylic on acrylic paper. Photo © Lane White

Get out your oranges, yellows, reds, and white for some fun color-mixing to capture the shimmering colors of a goldfish.

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Inside a Fish Tank

Painting a day ideas
"Fish Tank" by Tulika Mukherjee. 12x15.5" (30.5x39cm). Acrylic on Canvas. Photo © Tulika Mukherjee

Paint the landscape the fish sees every day.

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A Butterfly with its Wings Open

Painting a day ideas
"Beautiful as Feelings" by Preeti Chaturvedi. 28x38cm (11x15"). Watercolor. Photo © Preeti Chaturvedi

Positioning a butterfly so you're looking down on its open wings, rather than from the side, maximizes the amount of color you see. Decide whether you're going to paint a realistic one from reference photos, or use imaginary colors and pattern.

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A Bunch of Garlic

Painting a day
"Knife 'n Garlic" by Patti Vaz Dias. 15x15cm (6x6"). Acrylic on Hardboard. Photo © Patti Vaz Dias

Decide whether you're going to open up the bunch to have some individual cloves of garlic or just keep it as a whole. The skin or leaves are a good opportunity for glazing in some delicate color.

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A Vegetable You're Going to Have for Supper

Painting a day ideas for a month
"Veggies" by Pratibha Pathak. 14x18" (35x45cm). Oil on canvas panel. Photo © Pratibha Pathak

Get something more from your veggies than mere nutrition by using them as the subject for a painting. Variations can be created by chopping or peeling the item, and including the knife and cutting board.

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A Handful of Pears

Limited palette painting project
"Pears" by KC. 11x14" (28x35.6cm). Acrylic on canvas. Photo © KC

An odd number of elements makes for a more interesting composition because we don't mentally tidy them up into pairs. So have three or five pears rather than two or four.

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A Chocolate

Chocolate painting
"Hot Chocolate" by Pat Grant. 9x12". Acrylics. Photo © Pat Grant. Used with permission.

Treat yourself to a box of fancy chocolates, then take a bite out of each to see which will make the most attractive subject. If you want the filling to run down onto the surface you'll need to move quickly, or put the chocolate down and break a piece off with a knife. Just remember to be totally sure you have finished the painting before you eat the model.

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Self-Portrait Using Unrealistic Colors

Painting a day ideas
"Don't Shoot till You see the Whites of My Eyes" by Marion Nisbet. A4 (210x297mm / 8x12"). Mixed oil pastels and oil paints on heavy watercolor paper. Photo © Marion Nisbet

Pretend you got food poisoning from last night's supper and your skin's gone strange colors.

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Ideas for painting a day
"Fireworks" by Kathleen Godshall. Acrylics. Photo © Kathleen Godshall

Close your eyes and remember the best fireworks display you've been to. Now paint the impression that evening left with you, the sprays of light and color against the deep darkness of the night sky.

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Your Palette Knife

Painting a day
Palette Knife Still Life by Buff Holtman. 10x12" (25x30cm). Acrylics on Paper. Photo © Buff Holtman

Palette knife, painting knife, what's the difference? It doesn't matter when it comes to using it as the subject for a painting. If your knife is nice and shiny, position it so it has interesting reflections in it.

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Abstracted Flower

Painting a day ideas
"Portrait of a Rose" by Christy Michalak. 15x15" (38x38cm). Oil on canvas. Photo © Christy Michalak

Use a flower to create a painting of a pattern of shapes and tones, moving it from the realm of realism into abstraction.

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Clouds (Without Land)

Idea for a painting a day -- clouds
"Above the Horizon" by Karen Vath. 14x18" (35.6x45.7cm). Water-soluble oils. © Karen Vath

Paint the colors in billowing clouds. Just the clouds, no land beneath them.

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A Water Drop

Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc

Sprinkle some drops of water from your fingers onto a water-repellent surface (not a piece of paper as they'll just sink in). Set up a strong light source using a lamp or torch to try create a sparkle and bit of a shadow.

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A Single Leaf

Painting a day -- leaf idea
"Leaf Close-Up" by Jan Jones. 16x20" (40.6x50.8cm). Acrylic. Photo © Jan Jones

Pick one up outside or take one off a pot plant, it doesn't matter if it's dried or still green, nor what species of plant it comes from. If you're using watercolor or acrylics, which dry quickly, try glazing the colors to build up the subtle variations in color you get within a leaf.

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Lemons and Limes

Painting a day ideas -- lemon and limes, yellows and greens
"Lemons and Limes" by Barbara Adams. 12x12" (30.5x30.5cm). Acrylic. Photo © Barbara Adams

The yellows of lemons and the greens of limes, being analogous colors, can make for a painting with a lovely harmony to it. Consider mixing your yellow with blue to make the green rather than using a from-the-tube green. (See also: How Do I Mix Greens?)

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An Open Book

© PB. 20x16", oil on canvas.

Don't try to replicate exactly what's on the pages where you open the book -- you do after all want to finish the painting in a day. Rather, paint what you see when you stand across the room from the book, the shapes and colors you see, not individual words.

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A Pair of Shoes

Painting a day ideas -- a pair of shoes
"My Red Shoes" by Barbara Adams. 9x12" (23x30.5cm). Acrylic on canvas paper. Photo © Barbara Adams.

Or just one if you're not up to two. It doesn't have to be a pair of dressing-up shoes; Van Gogh painted his scruffy old work boots, which definitely had seen better days but had lots of character.

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An Empty Vase

A month's worth of ideas to get you painting every day
"Taos Vases" by Margaret Hoffman. 22x26" (56x66cm). Watercolor. Photo © Margaret Hoffman

A vase doesn't need flowers in it to make an interesting painting. The shape can make for a great composition if you position it so you're looking down into the vase and the light is such that the inside is in shadow. (See also: Painting Ellipses)