Inspiration Mood Board: Themes

Mood Board 2023

In a few different classes, I’ve had the assignment of making a mood board to inspire artwork. In Liz Steel’s Watercolour course, she suggested making a color mood board to get in touch with your favorite colors, and in Ruth Wilshaw’s Fantasy Landscapes in Watercolor and Gouache, she suggested a more general mood board of any image that inspires you. (I’ve noticed that if I do the latter, it automatically fulfills the brief of the former – pictures that inspire me in a general way often contain my favorite colors!)

Either way, it’s a great exercise because it allows you to hone the skill of identifying joy, which, like any skill, can be practiced! Practicing the skill of noticing joy is great, because it fills your life with more joy.

I also think it’s important to separate the “noticing joy” step from painting. Whenever I go directly from seeing an inspiring image to wanting to paint it, I get lost in the weeds and forget what it was that made me love it in the first place. I find it works better when I do a round of clicking on stuff that sparks joy, and then later, when I’m ready to paint, I pick something off the list.

Making a mood board is also informative because seeing all your joy-sparking images in one place can help you to identify themes. Here are some themes I’ve identified in my mood board.

Nature Themes

The Great Outdoors

  • Moods: Grand, magestic, wild, free, awe-inspiring
  • Recurring Elements: Mountains, canyons, wide open spaces, hiking trails, wild animals, sunbeams, alpenglow, meadows, distant trees
  • Places: Any National Park
  • Favorite colors: Cobalt Blue (for big bold skies), earth colors (for deserts/mountains/canyons – esp Quin Burnt Orange, Raw Sienna, Indian Red), Nickel Azo Yellow (for golden hour sun)

Seaside Vacation

  • Moods: Bright, fun, iconic, nostalgic, Americana, lowbrow
  • Recurring Elements: Waves, sunset, Ferris wheel, boardwalk, seafoam, beach, pool, palm trees
  • Sensory Experiences: Salty breeze on your face, warm sun on your exposed midriff, sound of gulls calling and arcade pings, lapping of ocean waves, smell of fried dough, sting of chlorine in your eyes
  • Places: Ocean City Maryland, Provincetown MA, coastal Southern California
  • Seasons: Summer
  • Favorite colors: Opera Pink, Lemon Yellow, Phthalo Turquoise, Ultramarine Blue

Ancient Curse

  • Moods: Moody, atmopsheric, mysterious, foreboding
  • Recurring Elements: Fog and mist, dark forests, gray clouds, stormy skies and seas, cemeteries, moonlight
  • Sensory Experiences: Chill on the back of your neck, damp cold air, tense air pressure from gathering storm, smell of peat, crashing of ocean waves, smell of brine
  • Places: Salem MA, Atlantic provinces, Pacific Northwest
  • Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Favorite colors: Indanthrone Blue, Payne’s Gray, Raw Sienna, Perylene Green

Art & Fantasy Themes

Much of the art I make is loose landscapes, so much of what inspires me is landscape-related, but that’s not the only type of inspiration I have! In Ruth Wilshaw’s Fantasy Landscapes, in particular, I thought about what other kinds of art, fantasy, stories, movies, TV shows, video games, etc. inspire me, and this is what I came up with.

Elaborately Femme

  • Pop Culture Inspirations: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon, Steven Universe (specifically Rose Quartz), Lord of the Rings (specifically the elves), Labyrinth (specifically the masquerade scene)
  • Recurring Elements: Beautiful ball gowns, elegant rapiers, rose petals, drama
  • Fabrics: Silk, lace, velvet, tulle, black leather
  • Favorite colors: Any kind of pastel pink (or red/magenta and white), crimson, metallic/iridescent/shimmer


  • Moods: Chill, wistful
  • Pop Culture Inspirations: Lo-Fi Beats to Work/Study To, establishing shots in any anime, Life Is Strange, Firewatch
  • Recurring Elements: Gradient skies; lens flares; urban life interacting with nature, such as streetlights against night skies, elevated rail over trees, glorious sunsets through high-rise windows, etc.
  • Cities: Tokyo, Portland OR
  • Times of Day: Golden hour, sunset
  • Favorite colors: Sunset colors such as Quin Red, Dioxazine Violet, and Phthalo Turquoise; golden sunlight colors such as Nickel Azo Yellow or Quin Gold

Now I’m really curious: what are your themes?

1 thought on “Inspiration Mood Board: Themes”

  1. I have never done this exercise, but when I take reference photos for future paintings I seem to focus on tree trunks, rocks, and water. There’s usually foliage, but that’s incidental. I really should get better at texture.

    There are quite a few colors I love that rarely occur in the sorts of scenes I paint. Not sure what to do about this!

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