How to get started on a new piece of artwork

How to get started on a new piece of artwork

You know that feeling only too well; staring desperately at a blank page waiting for something to happen, for a spark to fly. This inevitably occurs at the start of a project when inspiration is in dire need. But rest assured you are not alone judging by a number of emails we receive asking just how to get started on a new piece of artwork.

So we put that very question to some of our favourite textile artists and this article is the result of their musings. We hope that it helps to get those creative juices flowing and start you on your journey to creating something that fulfills your vision and is worthy of your talent.

Sue Stone

Sue Stone New Writing

Think ahead and always have a notebook with you to record your ideas. Thoughts and ideas can emerge from the strangest places so write them down straight away in order to build up a reference pool. Sometimes it may be a long time before the idea is used or it may not be used at all. Don’t worry about that, just carry on recording. I usually make my work as a series so I am often thinking 2 or 3 pieces ahead whilst I make my current piece. That way I always have something in the pipeline.

Clarify your thoughts and generate new ideas by making further notes. Mine sometimes reference where I will look for images, what I want to tell the viewer or what I want them to discover for themselves. Notes and sketches can also be used as a means of problem-solving in advance of the actual making process.

So this is my way of starting a new piece of work; think, record those thoughts to clarify them, and gather images to inform the work. The idea behind the work needs to be clear to me before starting, however nothing should be set in stone at this point. Put together the basic composition either on the computer, as I do, or in a sketch book. Once the composition and size has been decided make a simple full sized guide, usually just a simple line drawing, of what will go where. Transfer the guide to your fabric, enjoy the making process and always remember the only rules are those that are self-imposed and they may sometimes need to be broken as your work evolves from your idea.

For more information visit:

Priscilla Jones

Priscilla Jones New Writing

I tend to start new work by thinking about what it is I am going to make and what the work is for – if it’s for an exhibition or for a particular person say that has commissioned me to make something especially for them. If I am working to a theme and I know I will need to make several pieces I think mostly about the materials I am using – because I use found objects and a variety of vintage fabrics in my work I need to consider if I will have enough of a particular thing to complete the work or if not how to source more.

Once these decisions are made I then look at the materials I have to work with and consider what the scale might be. I then spend a long time playing with the materials and trying out what works till I am happy with the results. This doesn’t mean to say that after completing the piece I am satisfied and I often take the work apart and re form it into a new piece. It’s important to take risks all the time and not be to precious about your work. It can seem a brutal thing to do but it is necessary sometimes to discard and idea if it’s not working – however I rarely discard a piece completely and it is nearly always recreated into new work.

For more information visit:

Meta Heemskerk

My work often evolves naturally; one piece of work leads to the next. I’m mostly an intuitive worker and as soon as I have an idea for a piece, I work this out in my head and then begin; the work develops as I go along. However, I do like the process of designing and developing a theme until it becomes my own.

One way of doing this is by finding as much information as possible. The Internet is often the best source for this, but I also like to read books, watch TV programmes or visit places where I can find information on the subject. I keep a file on my computer, in which I store all the information that I’ve gathered, which I can go back to whenever I like.

Meta Heemskerk New Work 1

An image can be the start for a design. I choose a photo from my computer files and play with it in Photoshop to see what I can come up with. In this photo that I took of a rose I reduced the details to a minimum. The final image ended up being completely different from the original, even more so by altering the colour, but for me still represents the rose.

Another way to start a design is by doodling a particular subject over and over again; it then gradually develops into a simplified version of the subject.

Meta Heemskerk New Writing 2

Meta Heemskerk New Writing 3

I often use older pieces of work as the start for new. For example, I wanted to make a piece with water as a theme. I remembered that I had several stitch samples based on water patterns. I turned photos of these samples into black and white images of which I made Thermofax screens. These could then be used for a new series of work.

Meta Heemskerk New Writing 4

The same stitch samples inspired me to use stitch to make patterns in concrete, a material that I’ve recently begun to explore. Some of these patterned and coloured concrete blocks were then combined with copper plate.

Meta Heemskerk New Writing 5

And this idea has inspired me again to think of more ways of achieving textile-like concrete surfaces. These are some of the first efforts and I’m currently working on developing this further.

I’ve always kept records of my work process, first on a blog, and since I’ve stopped blogging, in a Word document, and have these records printed as an on-going series of books. This way, whenever I need to refer to some earlier work, I can just flip through these books to find it.

For more information visit:

Dee Thomas

Dee Thomas New Writing

I have never lost my initial excitement at starting a new project. There is a big difference between how I approach the work if it is for a group project or whether it is just for me.

A group project often has a theme, which might be an obscure word that requires you to think of a personal direction or a more focused idea based on a place, museum or person. Every theme always begins with research, then equipped with a sketchbook and camera I visit the location and make numerous notes as I do not know at this stage which aspects will be developed.

I make notes about the environment that might only be relevant on that particular occasion, for example, the sound of seashells crunching underfoot, the sharp feeling of the wind in my face and the smell of the sea. The weather, light and season are constantly changing so the notes are a way to capture a glimpse of the place at that time.

Working in a museum I generally use only pen or pencil so writing copious notes is essential.  I note down all information given as well as size, colour and material. This is something I have done for many years and have learned to make quick sketches. Often a chance remark by a museum curator or a small note describing an artifact will trigger an idea.

Dee Thomas New Writing 2

My sketchbook has to encompass all the information I need but when it comes to developing the ideas I prefer to work on individual sheets of paper. Back at home I will play around with the images and having begun with a fairly realistic drawing I then extract details and work out a colourway relevant to the location. There is often an overload of inspiration and learning to recognize which response is the most usable can be difficult. I often make several false starts and tend to jump between ideas. Having gathered suitable fabrics, I then make lots of samples, I love this stage.

There is always a time when the work fills me with anxiety, some pieces end up in my rag-bag only to be recycled later while others are cut up and rearranged. Often a break is all that is needed and time away from the workroom to refocus is beneficial.

Without the discipline of a group project and deadline my work tends to stay unfinished, I procrastinate and become even more of a butterfly jumping between ideas constantly. I will refer back to old sketchbooks and find that my sampling of ideas, free from any restraint can produce some interesting work. This playing around with materials is valuable as it can inform later work and is often the starting point for future techniques.

For more information visit:

Judy Merchant

New work for me usually means a new body of work for a planned exhibition, a commission or continuing the development of my own personal work. For any new piece, I always gather together a range of ideas relating to the piece. This might include previous work which I am wanting to develop, new images (drawings and photos), words, a title or theme.

The details of the information depend on the particular circumstances of the new piece

For example, for a commission, I will collect together as much background information as possible which will provide a range of ideas to develop but also puts constraints on the piece. I will talk to the commissioner to find out:

  • what they want: any ideas they may have related to the commission
  • what they imagine it might be/look/feel like
  • any particular work of mine that they like or dislike
  • where the piece is to be hung
  • what space is available for the piece
  • what colours are already in that space.

If this commission is for a domestic space I want to know something about the particular interests of the person who has commissioned me. For an organisation, I would want to know the nature of the organisation and their purpose and values.

Judy Merchant New Writing

Is there something that you always do at the inception of a new piece?

Having collected together the information I will always start by drawing.

For a recent commission, I started by drawing organic forms from nature. I began with representational drawings using a variety of drawing tools including graphite, charcoal,

pastels, and coloured pencils on a small and large scale. I might take photos and even use them as a source for drawing too. Then the drawings become the focus and I draw from the drawings, varying the scale, colour, form and composition until ideas evolve for the new piece. I might cut and tear paper, cut and paste and begin to compose within a frame.

I can then begin to think about suitable fabric and media to use.

From the beginning of this process I use my sketchbook to make notes and little sketches of any ideas, colours, words relevant to the new piece which occur to me in thinking and also in my dreams. I find when I have started thinking about a piece I can often find options or solutions in my dreams.

What challenges do you generally have to overcome?

I am inclined to compile too many ideas which can lead to overload and confusion which creates the first challenge. I will need to make choices from the ideas and simplify by following a focus but this can often cause further challenges as ideas come to a dead end. I know from experience the importance of accepting that this process of trial and error is an important part of the creative process as I weave my way through the ideas until something grabs me.

Then the work begins to take on a life of its own as if there is a dialogue between me and the materials evolving like a journey. I need to constantly make decisions while I respond to little accidents or unexpected events in the making of this piece.

If I have a deadline to produce a piece, I always try to set aside plenty of time as I can easily panic (another challenge) and think I haven’t enough time.

Another challenge is the other demands on my time. Then I need to make my artwork a priority until I feel that it is flowing and I know that I have sufficient time to complete it. This means saying no to other requests for my time.

I always work on several pieces at the same time because this gives me more freedom and often ideas which evolve from one piece inform what I might do in another.

Another challenge is choosing materials appropriate to the piece which will probably again involve trial and error.

The creative process can evoke a roller coaster of emotions as I think…yes this is good…I’ll go with this to …this is rubbish….I don’t know what I am doing!!

Now that I am familiar with this I just accept it and try to be patient when things are not going smoothly. What can help is making little samples and often, when I am working with the materials, ideas flow again especially when I have some good music in the background!

Something else that can help is showing and discussing the work with other artists in my group and getting feedback from them.

I might spend a lot of time on a piece only to be dissatisfied and turn to something else which almost immediately works. This second piece is of no less value just because it took less time; it may only have happened as a consequence of the work that failed.

Keeping faith in oneself and the process is essential to overcome all these challenges!

For more information visit:

Paulina Ortiz

Paulina Ortiz New Writing

Photo courtesy of VED Magazine

How do you get started on a new piece of textile art?

These pieces are commissioned or prepared for some special exhibition and I almost always need to somehow disconnect from the world to focus on drawing passionately on the experiences that inspire them.

When I create a work of art, I always do it in some time or space that moves me emotionally and sensorily. This process becomes a spiritual refuge.

Is there something that you always do at the inception of a new piece?

Yes, I try to have most of my pending tasks resolved in order to free myself from them mentally as much as possible. In addition, I turn off the computer and the phone maintaining communication solely with my family, converting this process practically into a retreat.

What challenges do you generally have to overcome?

Choosing the most appropriate option according to the situation. If the piece of art is not commissioned, then the creation is much freer, practically flowing according to my inclinations as an artist. There are very few restrictions.  The challenge is in the choice of the design in terms of scale, texture and color.

If the work of art is commissioned, I believe the greatest challenge lies in being able to meet the client’s expectations without betraying oneself. In my case, very few clients dare go much further than defining the scale and perhaps a color scheme. On the other hand, the time a client spends waiting to receive my proposal generates a certain degree of anticipation which later turns into excitement when they finally receive the finished piece. For me this is a very moving experience filled with uncertainty for me because one never knows how they will react.

The work of art “At last all the mist has cleared…” is inspired in the Poas Volcano crater as the culmination of an ascent with very dear friends. We began our climb at daybreak and the landscape varied from a very intense green to the aridity of the volcanic layers beyond the paramo. The textures and the color of the piece of art celebrate the ludic experience of being there at the precise moment when the mist cleared for a few minutes allowing us to admire the beauty and magnificence of the crater.

Paulina Ortiz New Writing 2

Photo courtesy of VED Magazine

For more information visit:

Pat Bishop

I don’t have just one way of getting started on a new project. Sometimes it is inspired by a photo, sometimes a simple sketch and sometimes by the fabrics themselves. But I like to do a tiny thumbnail sketch. I will use a Post-it Note, approximately 3 inches square for this tiny sketch, big enough to get an idea and small enough to not be intimidating.

But, one thing that is a must to end up with a good piece is that I must have some passion for my subject. When it is something I am excited about, or really care about I have a much higher percentage of success.

Is there something that you always do at the inception of a new piece?

Something I have started doing in the last year is at the start of a project I do a value study. I have found this very helpful in ending up with a successful composition. I will do value studies testing the lights, mediums and darks in different areas:  the fore-ground, mid-ground, background as well as switching the values of the objects in the composition. This is extremely helpful to do with pencil rather than using fabrics. The black and white contrast gives the true test of a good composition.

What challenges do you generally have to overcome?

The challenge I always have to overcome is starting. I am a pro at procrastinating, I will do just about anything to avoid starting a piece, such as clean the toilet, balance the checkbook or make a dentist appointment…. I read somewhere that deadlines are the dynamos of getting the work done, this is so true for me. I tend to never start a project early, I think I get a thrill out of having a photo finish. It’s a challenge that I don’t always meet, unfortunately.

New Work Pat Bishop

This piece was made based on the fabric combinations with no real thought in mind ahead of time. I started by combining segments of some fabrics that I thought looked good together. After I had assembled the smaller pieced sections I layed in some subdued background areas without stitching together.

Then hi-lighted some areas with the bright white skinny strips and added some curves for interest still not stitching it together. I take photos with my phone as I work on the composition and make changes in values and placement based on those previews. The camera gives distance and helps you step back from the work. When I am satisfied with the placement I will then do the final piecing.

There are hand dyed and recycled linens, silks and commercial fabrics. This was 99% pieced and machine quilted.

For more information visit:

If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to share your thoughts on how to begin a new piece why not tell us using the comments sectioned below.

Tuesday 21st, March 2023 / 16:50

About the author

View all articles by Daniel



Share in the creative secrets of the world's most celebrated embroidery artists.

And discover how to create breathtaking art with textiles and stitch.

All Inspiration. No Spam.

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter

3 comments on “How to get started on a new piece of artwork”

  1. dee thomas says:

    delighted to read many wonderful comments when I shared this on my facebook page, especially from those I do not know. this is just one:-
    ” I shared this with lots of my artist friends in Faversham and it has gone viral round here, as they pass it on to their own networks… Thank you very much! Actually I have never seen such a thing before and it’s a) useful b) inspiring and c) fascinating!”

  2. An awesome blog page, so topical, thank you for compiling such inspiring artists and a great ideas x

  3. Margo Miranda says:

    Thank you all for your generosity x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hello and welcome to is a place for textile artists and art enthusiasts to be inspired, learn from the best, promote their work and communicate with like-minded creatives.



Share in the creative secrets of the world's most celebrated embroidery artists.

And discover how to create breathtaking art with textiles and stitch.

All Inspiration. No Spam.

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter

What the artists say

" is an invaluable resource. I am constantly sending students there and sharing it with other practitioners".

Nigel Cheney
Lecturer in Embroidered Textiles at NCAD

"The beauty of is that whenever you visit you'll discover something that you didn't already know".

Rachel Parker
Textile Study Group Graduate of the year 2012

" gives contemporary textile practice a voice; leading artists, useful guides and a forum for textiles".

Cas Holmes
Textile Artist and teacher

"This website is exactly what we need in the textiles world. A fantastic inspirational resource".

Carol Naylor
Textile and Embroidery Artist

  Get updates from via RSS or Email

Most Viewed