Georgia O'Keeffe found bones instead of flowers when she went for walks in northern New Mexico, so she picked them up, carried them home and began painting them. Susan Burnstinehas vivid dreams, which she recreates in black and white photographs taken with toy cameras. Melanie Rothschild spilled a bucket of paint. When she went to clean it up, she made a discovery that changed the way she used paint to create art. Julie Chen sometimes goes to the art supply store, sorts through drawers of handmade papers and allows them to trigger ideas for new artist books. Sally Mann has turned a fascination with bodies into numerous photographic series—but not the traditional nudes one usually sees in art. Laura Wait sees beauty in words and handwriting, and has found unique ways to use them in hand-painted books and encaustic paintings.
Inspiration. It's all around us.
Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create.” The Cambridge Dictionary refers to it as “a sudden good idea.” I like that.
When it comes to unlocking ideas, just about anything can serve as inspiration. Looking at the work of other artists might inspire new techniques to apply to your own work. Collage artists may be inspired by the papers and materials they have on hand; photographers by light, patterns, repetition or texture; mixed-media artists by found objects; plein air painters by natural light and local landscapes; abstract painters by emotions. Inspiration can be found, sought out, stumbled upon or tapped from within.
Of course, we all have moments when we feel anything but inspired. Here are some activities that have helped me get out of a rut, jump start a new project or just see things with fresh eyes.
- Visit an art gallery or museum. You can either look to see how other artists have solved certain challenges or let your mind wander and see what calls to you or captures your attention.
- Spend time in an antique store or flea market. Just for fun, select random items and ask yourself: “In what unique ways might this object be used?”
- Read a book in a different genre—something you wouldn’t normally read.
- Go on a long, slow walk. Rather than think too hard, focus on being observant. Notice the light, what’s underfoot, the sounds you hear, the colors you see, movement that catches your eye, fragrances along the way.
- Go to the library or an antiquarian bookstore. Poke around in the stacks and see what gems you discover.
- Spend a little time on Pinterest—not looking for a recipe or project, but to see what inspires new ideas for your own work.
- Grab your camera and explore a nearby town. Take photographs of the people, the architectural details, shadows—whatever piques your interest.
What might you do today to help spark a sudden good idea?