Using prompts to generate ideas

Getting the paws dirty with prompts… Where the wolf puddles around to uncover a story.

I keep files and little photobooks full of things I find interesting – logos, photography, phrases, bits of packaging and illustration. There’s also a folder on my computer called ‘prompts’, chock full of stuff dragged and dropped from the web. Here’s a pasteboard of collected visual stimuli:


Some of the images are beautiful, some thought provoking or funny. I go through the folder every day or so – to study an illustration technique, for reference, or to generate ideas for a story or my folio.

Here (below) is image I found on Tumblr. It spoke to me. So, between jobs, I thought I’d have a go at copying the composition of the image – roughly, in ink, hoping I could get to the bottom of what it was that spoke to me. And what that idea scratching around in the back of my brain might be.


I wasn’t precious about my painting. I listened to some dark, spooky music (the theme music from ‘Les Revenants’ over and over…) while I slapped the ink down on scrap paper. I got into a weird mood – and that was fine. I couldn’t be bothered doing the cliffs in detail, or working out the sea. I tried not to look at the original image too much. I was thinking about the actual story in the picture. It’s a nice composition alright, but there’s a threat there. What is it? Is it just my own fear of being isolated? Was the house slowly sliding down the cliff? I painted a sea monster in the foreground, but the paper was still wet so the sea monster dissipated into the sea (a sea monster was probably a bit obvious anyway).


If there’s a threat, perhaps it’s coming from the flock of birds to the left of the island. What’s on the other side of that huge escarpment? And what if you had to spend a whole winter in that house?

The painting is on the studio wall – slowly getting covered in scribbles, not all of them promising.

The next image is a photograph taken by someone I know – Shona Brethouwer, a wonderful photographer based in Haarlem, NL. I love the image and, again without copying too closely, tried to work out what it was that appealed to me.


My painting here is less interesting to me than the previous photo – maybe because the original says enough. However, it was good to think about the rhythm of the facades in the picture (I missed out cars, boats and a house or two because I could), the differences in scale and what made the original composition work.

It’s a shameful thing, but I have forgotten where in Belgium above town actually is. In an attempt to appear less ignorant, I tried to look it up. No luck – but I did find this lovely pic of Ronda for my ‘prompt file’:

Panoramic view of the old city of Ronda, one of the famous white villages in the province of Malaga, Andalusia, Spain

Panoramic view of the old city of Ronda, one of the famous white villages in the province of Malaga, Andalusia, Spain

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