I brought in the shells from the mussels I had for dinner this past weekend for my students to paint. I often find leftovers, dirty dishes and other forms of refuse interesting as subject matter. What I’m painting does not matter so much as what patterns are made by the repeating shapes and colors in whatever the subject happens to be. I don’t look for beauty, but I do find connections and patterns that can create interest from very mundane and sometimes unusal sources.
For example, the mussels and garlic cloves mirror each other in shape. The mussels actually have a boat-like shape that can be very challenging to draw. The colors of their shells have a myriad of textures and value changes, from very rough to pearlescent.
I always encourage looking for subject matter in unusual places. Don’t look for something beautiful, look for connections, repeating shapes, colors and other visual clues that will help build a unifed and unique study in color and composition.