how to use art prompts

Hi everyone, I’m sharing my gouache painting process videos for another ten prompts of the 30 day challenge that I did in January. I’m talking over the time-lapse about using prompts for your own intents and purposes, with tips on how to plan your challenge as well.

You can also watch on and subscribe to my YouTube channel. There are subtitles available, and the transcript is below if you need to read as well as watch. I’d love to hear what you think, so leave a comment here or on youtube, or email me. Sign up to my email list as well for more at

00:00 Introduction
00:56 Materials
01:31 Interests and Intentions
06:37 Imagining Ideas
08:24 How do Prompts Help?
15:35 Planning an Art Challenge
17:25 How I Use Prompts
22:02 Bonus Tip
25:28 End Comments

I am not sponsored by any brands; here are the origins of each of the materials used in this video:
– Seawhite of Brighton A4 sketchbook with all-media, acid-free cartridge paper (purchased)
– Dr PH Martin’s Bleed Proof White (purchased)
– Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache paints in a stay wet palette with a rag (purchased)
– Assorted brushes from Daler Rowney, Cass Art, Pro Arte and other brands (purchased)
– Derwent Inktense pencils (purchased)
– Faber Castell Polychromos pencils (purchased)
– Caran D’Ache non-photo blue pencil (purchased)
– Faber-Castell Kneadable Art Eraser (purchased)
– Sakura Gelly Roll (pictured in process not initial roundup; won in competition)

My instagram:
You can follow Ohn Mar Win at
Check out the #30daychallengewithOhnMar posts on instagram!


Hi everyone, I’m Arati Devasher, welcome to my studio! As you would have seen from my previous videos, I spent January doing the 30 day challenge following Ohn Mar Win’s prompts. And every day, I did a little gouache painting in my sketchbook and posted it to instagram.

I’ve previously shared the first 10 prompts, fruits and vegetables, and shared the process videos for those while I spoke about the five things I learned from doing this 30 day challenge. Today I’m going to share with you 10 more prompts, but they’re out of order. I’ve chosen the ones that I found it difficult to draw because they’re not subjects that I usually paint. While I do I’m going to speak with you about adapting prompts from challenges to suit your own intents and purposes and your own style of drawing or painting. I hope that this will inspire you to do your own challenge, and as before please do click like and subscribe if you’re interested in the content that I post. Now let’s get started.

To start, let me introduce you to the materials that I’m using in this video. First of all my Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook which is an A4 size and it is an all media acid-free cartridge paper… an assortment of brushes from various brands, Dr PH Martin’s bleed proof white, Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache in a stay-wet palette with a rag, some Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils, Derwent Inktense pencils, a Caran D’Ache non-photo-blue pencil and a kneaded eraser. I will link (list) all these down in the description box below.

In a previous video, you would have watched me draw and paint fruits and vegetables. These are the usual things I draw. Food, glorious food. Delicious, fun to draw, delightful to imagine… easy-peasy… well, not quite, but you know what I mean, right? Drawing and painting things you love to draw and paint is enjoyable, creates a bubble of happiness inside you, and is endlessly inspiring. Drawing things you don’t draw either from disinterest or just plain dislike is a whole other kettle of fish, isn’t it? Even if you have ideas about what to draw, nothing you sketch or paint ever feels quite right. And that’s if you can come up with an inspiring idea involving the subject you are not remotely interested in drawing in the first place.

As an example, take the 100 heads challenge created by Ahmad Aldoori that’s been doing the rounds. I’ve picked up a pencil and sketchbook and opened up that Pinterest inspiration board many-a-time. But I am JUST NOT INTERESTED in drawing people. This definitely stems from the fact that I am, in general, an introvert. I prefer dogs and books and food to people, and that shows in my art. It doesn’t mean, though, that I never will draw people. It’s just got to be the right sort of people… and what I mean is that I’d be happy to draw people in the company of dogs, books or food… my subjects of interest, and not just people’s faces as the challenge seems to require – mainly for improving your skill more than anything else, I suppose. Now that I’ve said that, I might retry the challenge, adapting it to my own intents and purposes! After all, that’s what I’m talking about today, isn’t it?!

And this is where the prompts I worked on for this set of little gouache paintings in my sketchbook come in… they too are subjects that, in general, I am uninterested in painting. Insects – though I have long been obsessed with drawing ladybugs and bees – are not my cup of tea. I find them creepy and quite disturbing. Despite being in my 40s, I still yelp when I spot a spider or other creepy-crawly of that nature, and though I have learnt to put them outdoors rather gingerly, I don’t really wish for them to adorn the pages of my sketchbook giving me the heebie-jeebies every time I peruse the pages, right? And as for other animals, I’ve drawn them before too, but rarely, and only for a specific purpose, most likely another art challenge! I painted a jellyfish, a shark, an otter and a fish, all dragging miniscule silhouetted human figures around, telling a story that nature is larger than humankind and beyond being bound by us – I made them a part of MY story, MY artistic voice and MY own imaginative exploration.

So when the first ten prompts passed with relative ease and I got to the first bug – ‘butterfly’, I was stumped. What kind of butterfly should I draw? I’d been taking the challenge literally so far, to build up a bank of images I could use later on in my work or make into products, and this was now a choice of whether to draw an actual butterfly or one from my imagination. In the end, I went with a real one, a Common Blue Butterfly, having done some pretty thorough research into British butterflies, about which I now know way more than I did before, obviously all to the good, given that spring is in the air! But in taking these 5 insect prompts literally, I wasn’t quite happy. Oh, I drew them just fine, painted them in quite a satisfactory manner, but in my head I could hear a little voice going “Really? You just drew the insects as is?! Whyyyy?” So disappointed in myself.

So, the next week, I went off piste and did the flower prompts differently – as I will show you in a future video – but the week after that, it was animals, and those are the prompts I’m showing you here with the insects, because it was those insects that inspired me to do something different with the animals. And I did… using the concept of sugar biscuits (or butter cookies) with royal icing on top, I painted those 5 animal prompts as iced biscuits… not revolutionary, probably, but a great deal of fun, and I relished doing it. It’s a subject I haven’t drawn before, incorporated into something I had drawn before. See what I did there?

And that, after all, is the entire point of prompts in art challenges. As they say, creativity is never lost, it’s just hiding. All you need is some way to jumpstart your imagination, and what better way to do so than to meld the prompt’s subject with your own interests, thereby making it more appealing, and also breaking through that creative block that you may have upon seeing that unfamiliar prompt. There is, also, the option of making up your own prompt list, but I, personally, have not done that yet. Perhaps it’s an option to try at some point, based on my own plans for products for my online shop and my ongoing creative journey.

I was often asked, as I shared each painting on my instagram, how I came up with an idea so quickly, painting it within 15 to 20 minutes. Here’s how. Each day, when I finished a painting, I would look at the prompt for the next day. And all the rest of that day and overnight, it would sit in my mind and grow into an idea. This processing of a word or an idea in your brain is the key to being an illustrator, an artist, an inventor or a creative person in general. And the more you practise that, the better you get at it. That’s where the ten thousand hour rule comes from, and why the more experience you have the faster you do things. Because it’s not about thinking while you make, though that is also required. It’s about thinking BEFORE you make, mostly.

Thinking before you make, though, can make you hit a wall occasionally, especially if your job is to make art all the time. Sometimes taking a challenge and working away at it can help with the creative block, and sometimes it doesn’t. Creative jobs are like any other, though, and often putting in the work will aid you in bulldozing that wall right down. Making art as your job can be fun, right up until the point when it isn’t!

That said, it isn’t uncommon to hit a creative block, particularly, as I mentioned, if being creative is your bread and butter… but if you do hit that wall, often it just takes time to dissipate. Ideas fall into place when you give them time to ferment, just like bread dough. They rise, and then are beaten down, whereupon you reject them, and then there’s a second rise and then you bake! See, all my comparisons are to food! It’s inevitable!

Anyway, as I was saying, many have said it’s the journey that counts, and here is where art prompts and your own intents and purposes join together. It’s important to focus not only on the actual making of the image, but also the creation of the concept behind the image. That said, conceptualisation for me happens both ways. Often I’ll have a finished idea in my head that I put down as is on paper and I’m happy with it. And at other times, a concept in my head morphs as I paint, turning from one thing into another in a manifestation of processing an idea while the actual creation is happening rather than prior to the event.

That said, using prompts helps creativity in many ways. You could call them gateways to new methods of learning, creating and ideating. The key, though, is not to take them as gospel, as I did, for many of the prompts in this challenge. But then, my aim was to create a library of images that I could then use for various purposes… to make art prints, cards, stickers and much more besides. So in that way, I did fulfil my purposes, despite the literal interpretation. Here, is where I come to my main point.

Prompts are a guide, a springboard for ideas and a creative expression… meant to lead you in a certain direction, or even away from that point, not to push you into a specific interpretation of its meaning. They are a stimulant, not the end goals. They are meant to begin the process of brainstorming within the creative centres of your artistic brain. Take them as a ‘nudge’, not the final idea itself.

Now, you could see art prompts as a threat, rather than an opportunity, as I have myself, on occasion, particularly when the prompt list is made up of concepts rather than objects. But, because of this, prompts can do several things for your artistic development.

First, obviously, they develop creativity and exercise your brain. They inspire reflection and increase observation and reasoning, the tools required to create an idea from that prompt word or phrase. As Ben Orlin has said, “Creativity is what happens when a mind encounters an obstacle. It’s the human process of finding a way through, over, around, or beneath. No obstacle, no creativity.”

Secondly, prompts can encourage deep thinking, helping you to develop intuition and express your inner voice. By using intuitive creativity and your own awareness through the process of meditative reflection on the prompt, you generate ideas, thoughts and images of nature, people or things, and therefore can analyse your own motivations, feelings and emotions. I will probably expand on this in another video, but it links very closely with the concepts attached to art journaling for mental health.

Thirdly, using art prompts can lead to an innovative use of methods and materials. You might think you know all about your tools, but in making something inspired by an unfamiliar prompt, you may use them in a different way, thus learning more and choosing to use them in your own unique manner. Sometimes, working as I do with gouache, a non-erasable medium, stretches my creativity and mistakes can make the piece ‘perfectly imperfect’, bringing a fresh naivete to your work and perhaps elevating it from being too tidy and neatly crafted. In fact, I’ve learned, during this challenge, that I actually prefer the wonky lines and scratchy techniques I used in my sketchbook to the smoothness and cleanliness of some of my previous work! You live and learn, eh?

Additionally, THAT innovative use of methods and materials can, for a beginner, be translated as ‘learning by doing’. A new artist can use the prompts to inspire educational experimentation, using brainstorming to make notes and then to create thumbnails in a sketchbook, see what works and what doesn’t, and figure out how to use that new set of paints they just bought or were gifted. Those prompts can also inspire research and end up opening up a whole new world of possibilities for a student. I would suggest choosing to work with the same materials throughout, like the Inktober challenge, among others, requires, for a first-timer at least. Later on, you can increase the complexity of your challenge by changing it up or even restricting yourself to one or a few materials in order to make it more difficult.

Now, I’ve lost track of what number this point is, but using my sketchbook to draw the paintings in was one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time! I’ve spoken before about the ‘fear of a blank page’ and that is never more true than when attempting to paint something based on a prompt. Previous challenges I’ve done have been ‘finished paintings’ on individual sheets of artist’s quality paper. Working in a sketchbook means that the scariness of making an error on ‘nice’ paper or with expensive materials is taken away.

I will say, though, that ‘wasting’ art materials is not something you should think of in that manner. Wastage, in my opinion, is not using your materials at all or throwing out paint that’s in a palette just to clean it off when you could have painted with it, and – the ultimate sacrilege – letting them sit for so long that they become unusable. Using paints and pencils and markers and whatever else you want to to make art – good, bad, or just for practice is NOT a waste of art materials, and you should not hesitate to use them for whatever purposes you wish. I think that Josie Lewis will totally agree with me on this point, because she gets tons of trolling for using large quantities of paint in her beautifully colourful works and is told that she is ‘wasting paint’…. No, she is not. She’s making art in her own, unique way. Anyway, I digress.

Using a sketchbook – a tidy one, a messy one, one for display or just one that no-one else will ever see – enables you to ‘just start’ and possibly end with something brilliant. I’ve done whole paintings in my sketchbook that I then turned into prints because they started out as doodles and ended up being some of my favourite work ever. Your sketchbook is a mirror of you, your thoughts, ideas and ruminations. It should be whatever YOU want it to be and you never have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to.

And in the situation where you’re using prompts to inspire creativity, it can be the place where you create mind-maps, thumbnails, sketches and final paintings, meandering from one to the other as you please.

You may choose to create word-associations, draw the actual subject in different ways, or ponder the meaning of the prompt and see what comes up, then possibly drawing it in various styles, or anything you like, really! Your sketchbook is where you GROW as an artist.

There comes a point, though, where you need to have some sort of plan on how to work on a challenge. I did a 30 day one, with a small piece to be done each day. My schedule at the time allowed this. January is always a slow month for me, and taking less than half an hour at a time to do one painting every day wasn’t a stretch – choose how complex you want your work to be, and be realistic about how long that will take you. Try not to overextend yourself, setting it all up for failure in advance.

Some prompts could require more time and rumination. This month I’m doing another 30 day challenge, but only 5 paintings in total… I’m taking a week for each, and in fact am already behind due to other work commitments. But, because I’m flexible in my schedule, it’s not such a big deal. Perhaps I’ll do two of the prompts next week and catch up, or just subtract this unproductive week from my challenge and move on. It’s really up to you.

If you don’t plan ahead, though, you might find that you have trouble keeping up with the challenge, simply through lack of time or inclination. Something as simple as keeping your sketchbook or paper and paints and materials set up in a particular spot can make it easier to just sit down and do your challenge painting. Wasting time setting up each day can also turn into faffing about to procrastinate. And you definitely don’t want that!

Recording your painting sessions, again, with a camera or phone setup that’s already in place can also inspire you to keep going, because I definitely feel that watching yourself work can provide a great deal of feedback – it’s why I began filming my painting sessions to begin with. Don’t feel pressured by anyone else to do anything, however, go at a pace that feels comfortable to you, as I did.

So, here’s how I like to work on prompts, reeling them in to work for my intents and purposes, and perhaps you might find this useful too.

Number 1. Define the word (or phrase). What does it mean? Is it an object? A noun? A concept? A feeling? Roll it around in your brain, think about it and its associations in your mind. Let it cause a mini-brainstorming session of its own, and maybe thinking of synonyms and antonyms for it would help you further define the prompt. Use a thesaurus if you need to. Write it down – I’ve mentioned mind-maps before, so try doing that, perhaps with doodles instead of actual words. It’s quite fun, and helps to solidify the prompt in your head.

Number 2. Find meaning. I don’t mean the literal meaning of the word here, as in its definition. Find its relationship to you, and what you think and feel about it. Does it spark an emotion? Or are you left cold? Did one of its antonyms create a feeling in you that you could use to bring some meaning to the word if it doesn’t inspire you? Think about these things. Take your time. Let it ebb and flow, maybe relax and meditate on it while you do other, more practical things, like cooking dinner or washing dishes. Let your brain do the work while your body keeps itself busy.

Number 3. Contemplate. Ruminate upon the prompt. Ponder its definition and meaning, and then build a story around it. Add some concepts. Basically, use your imagination. You know you have one, and even when you think you don’t, you DO have ideas roaming around your mind, waiting to be caught and expressed on paper or canvas or whatever surface you use. I definitely feel like this particular point is applicable in more areas of your life than just finding art challenge prompt ideas. I contemplate many different things in this manner, from ideas for my book design work to concepts for marketing my art, and even in my home life and relationships, to improve them or to solve problems.

In fact, I had an idea a couple of years ago, did some sketches, and have been contemplating it since then. This year, I finally decided to take it further, and apply for permission from a corporation to use part of their trademark in my work… and permission was denied, rather as expected. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained – I was a small fish attempting to swim in a very, very big sea! But, later that night, my habit of contemplation came into its own. I woke my poor long-suffering husband up at 4 am with a NEW concept for the execution of the very same illustration – a bigger, better idea, that involved no trademark or copyright licensing at all! And I think it’ll be so much more wonderful when it’s finally done. As to how I’ll do that, I need to move on to the next step, don’t I?!

Number 4. Create an idea. Using everything that’s in your brain now – definition, meaning and contemplation – you might find that an idea or two have already popped up. Challenge yourself to find a complex idea rather than the basic one. Of course, sometimes basic isn’t always easy to execute either, but it’s often the complex ones that will build your creative muscle, as it were, and challenge you to do better each and every time. Don’t take it easy. Do the hard work for your own sake. It’s always rewarding. At least, I find it so, and hope you do too.

Lastly, number 5. Execute the idea in your work. This is easier said than done, but, going back to my previous point about choosing to walk the harder road rather than run down the simpler one, building your skills, finding your artistic voice and the ability to execute what you imagine in your head comes only from pushing your own boundaries and going further each and every time. That’s how practice makes perfect, or, as I repeat endlessly, perfectly imperfect! Aim for perfection that is unique to yourself. As Lindsay Stripling says, your hand is not a camera. Your individuality should show through, and you must be yourself, whether in your secret sketchbook or in a public piece of work.

Here is one last bonus tip. Don’t draw the first idea that comes into your head. Or, rather, draw it if you need to get it out of your brain and then improve upon it, and go with the creative flow. As you progress, you will build momentum and perhaps even be inspired to do multiple iterations. I generally find my first try is always a very literal one – I’ve spoken about my literal non-subtle tendencies in the last video… and I really get into the meat of things by ignoring it and moving on to my other ideas, possibly more difficult to execute, but infinitely more satisfying. It helps you become more clear in your artistic vision and practice. This always helps me to be at peace with my work, not going back to criticise and leaving it to be what it is. Perfectly imperfect.

Now, if you stuck around to listen all the way through to this point, thank you so much! Please do leave a fun, animal emoji in the comments and we can have a little chat! I’ll see you again at the end of this video.

Hi again everyone. I hope that you enjoyed watching me paint and also found what I spoke about useful. If you do like my content, please do click the like and subscribe buttons. I post every two weeks, usually on a Friday night and I premiere the video so that I’ll be there in the live chat, having a little chat with you or answering any questions that you might have. I hope to see you there. Thank you for watching and I’ll see you in my next video. Bye!

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