Wednesday, September 29, 2010

12 Ways to Find Inspiration (part 1 of 2)

One of the hardest things to do in a given project, particularly if it is a commission or a job ordered by your boss, is to find the inspiration that drives it. That star-spangled thwap to the head that sends you reeling off to your paintbox, computer or drawing table. When it comes immediately, great! But there are those days that you can stare at the empty sheet of paper or computer screen and all you see is paper and pixels.

So how do you find it? Well, here are 12 methods I've used in the past to either get my pen writing or my pencil drawing.

1. Put the brain in idle
This is my favourite and often most productive technique. Stop constructive thinking, go off and do something entirely unrelated, preferably something physical that allows your brain to wander off by itself.. Exercise, go for a walk, or dare I say those ghastly words, do the housework. Of course, housework and exercise are not my forte, so I use the shower. Stop what I'm doing, jump in the shower and let my mind wander under the warm water. The only downside to my technique is the mad, naked, wet dash I make across the house to my studio when lightning strikes (and I have done it, trust me).

2. Just do it
Okay, yes, Nike had it right. The best way to get somewhere is to start the voyage. If you don't know what you want to write or draw, just start somewhere, anywhere, and see where it gets you. If you're worried about time constraints, set yourself a time limit, maybe 15 or 20 minutes and just do it. Chances are you'll find something on the way, and even if you don't, you will still have a piece of work that might be useful later, either to spark other ideas or completed as another piece of work. Everything we create has a use.

I wrote this tiny piece while looking for inspiration back in 2003:

A thousand tinkling orbs of silver, sprayed out against the purple of the sky. Thunder in his ears, a whistling of wind passing over the heat of his skin. Glare, as his face was forced heavenward, sunlight etching into his retinas, blinding him.
Trembling weightlessness.
A sudden indrawn breath of disbelieving astonishment.
And he fell.

It sat on my hard drive doing nothing for months. Somewhere in the middle of 2004, it sparked a 10,000 word short story that went in a completely different direction from it original intention. Which leads me onto the next way to find inspiration.

3. Keep a works-in-progress and scraps file.
There will be times where you just don't have the energy to start a new project. You know the feeling, you want to do something creative, but you really would like to finish something as well. Finish off a work in progress. It is already started, half the job is done.

Scraps are also wonderful things (see above). Brief flares of inspiration that flickered and died, chunks of writing, scribbled down ideas for artwork, even notes barely legible left beside the keyboard. You never know how useful these things might be in the future for generating ideas. I have just about everything I've ever written stashed on the computer's hard drive, and just about everything I've ever drawn, well, at least the prepwork, there are many final pieces that I will never see again. Looking for inspiration? Thumb through your pile of scraps and WIPs, you never know what may strike a chord.

4. Keep an inspiration folder, board, list, etc
I'm looking for a phone number, so I look in the phone book. I'm looking for inspiration, is there an inspiration book? Definitely, but you have to make it yourself. After all, you know what can push your buttons.
The unreliability of inspiration is what makes it so elusive. It strikes at the most inconvenient of times (see number one) – while feeding the baby, driving home from work, or at work, usually when you can't really stop to create. If you leave it too long, the flame can sometimes flicker and die or simply be forgotten. So write it down. It only has to be a quick one line note designed to spark your brain into life next time you read it.

When surfing I sometimes come across a pattern or piece of work that sets my brain churning (usually a colour combination, I'm such a sucker for colour). Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, I don't have time to drop everything and go play with my pastels, so I will nab a copy of whatever set me off and stash it in my inspiration folder. Note: Don't plagarise, it's against my religion, and I would break my fingers before copying anything. The folder is just an idea generator, random photos, patterns and stockshots.
Some people keep a board above their art desks full of objects that inspire them. Some keep journals of inspiring things that they see through the day. Do for you what works for you.

5. Surround yourself with creative people
Nothing keeps the brain more in the creative spirit than seeing other people doing the same thing. I went to Cairns in Queensland for my honeymoon, oh so many years ago. I didn't take my art equipment, because whenever I did, I never used it and we were flying. I had never been to Queensland before and so had no idea of what I was in for. Consequently, after touring a bunch of vibrantly coloured art galleries and being immersed in the amazing subtropical environment, I found myself buying pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener and sketchbook in some two bit stationery shop in the middle of the forest just so I could desperately scribble down the ideas that were buzzing around in my head. My new husband was very patient with me as we sat in the middle of a half empty shopping mall so I could draw.

And the creative blogosphere...I have been here since June, wandering amongst all your wonderful blogs and art pieces. I have done more artwork in the last two months than I have done in the last ten years. Ideas generate ideas. In other words, you guys rock!

Which leads me to the next point...

6. Talk to a fellow creative.
One of the best tools in your inspiration basket is a fellow creative. Many a time I have been stuck on a plot line, not sure if my writing is working, or if my artwork is half decent. That's when you call on that special friend that will either thwap you around the head and ask you what you were thinking (either good or bad) or get on the bandwagon and chew your idea with you. In writing they are often called beta readers, in art, a second pair of eyes. This is a trusted friend who has the guts to say exactly what they think, gently, of course, and encouragingly. They are particularly great for mulling over ideas with and giving a new perspective. I've spent ten minutes on the phone with a friend in Sydney and, afterwards, written for hours. Sometimes the spark needs a second source of ignition.

I'll post the second half of this article in the next couple of days – it turned out bigger than I expected. Hope it is useful.

(off the edge, but learning to fly)


  1. I have been looking around on your blog and am seeing so much stuff that is inspiring! I agree with you about jotting inspirations down. I have started to do that and am keeping a computer file broken down into weeks (simply word documents). When I'm at work and have an inspiration, I email it to myself at home so it's there when I get there. I keep a bit of paper in my purse, by my bedside and am often writing down the glimpses of things that turn into art. Great ideas.

  2. Welcome! And thanks for taking the time to look around.

    When I was writing I used to keep a little notebook with me at all times for ideas and snatched moments of time to write. Now I have a couple floating around the house full of scribbled art notes and two second sketches of ideas. There are so many ideas that I've lost simply because I thought I would remember...and didn't.

    Great to meet you.

    (thanks for your lovely comments)