Creative Insights: Lesley Riley

Need Inspiration? Try Quotespiration

My first introduction to quotes was my father’s well-worn, blue hardback copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I remember it being quite heavy for my 10 year old hands; a large book with tiny print filling every inch on every page. This book was full of amazing insight and wisdom. I understood the magic it held even at that early age.

Quotes became a visual obsession a few years later when the Abbey Press catalog arrived in our mailbox. They made brightly colored 60s era posters of inspirational quotes. It was the first place I read the words that set me on my path to becoming an artist:

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it”


I have been collecting quotes for over 40 years. Thankfully it’s much, much easier now with word processors, internet quote sites and search engines. But I still love to pull my very 1970s colored journal off the shelf, smile at my teenage penmanship, and read over the words that inspired and influenced me back then.

Today finding a quote takes nothing more than a visit to Google to type in the few words of a quote I am looking for. That is, if it’s not already in my vast collection. I have a two-column, 126 page WORD document that right now contains 41,657 words of wisdom. By the time you read this, I know there will be more. I add to it daily.

You see, I’m fascinated by how much I glean from the bite-sized thoughts of famous and not-so or not-even famous people that have been preserved for posterity. It’s my quotespiration.

Back in 1989, I stuck Goethe’s quote in that tucking space between the frame and the mirror so that I would see it every day.

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.

Begin it . . . begin it. . . . . It took me several years to work up the courage to begin it. 10 to be exact. And I can tell you now, 12 years later, that it’s so true, so powerfully true. Boldness DOES have genius and power and magic in it.”

As a quote collector, one of the things that fascinates me is how often you will hear the same wisdom or knowledge shared over and over by so many different people over time – even centuries.  For example, compare the words of these two, separated by centuries:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.


If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.

—Colin Powell

I believe that the collecting of quotes are society’s way of recording and sharing universal and timeless truth and wisdom. I can find the perfect quote for any situation I am in, any emotion I am feeling, or any question I have. Quotes teach and inspire. I like to think of my collection as life’s little book of answers.

For example, as artists, we attempt to create work that is meaningful and has universal appeal. For many of us, it’s elusive. It’s a know-it-when-we-see-it kind of thing. In this Ian Roberts quote from his book, Creative Authenticity, he gives us a clue as to how to capture it in our own work:

Work that sings to us may be a good indication of where to look, although our positive reaction may simply be due to the fact that the artist has found something so true and real we mistake it for our own.

—Ian Roberts

And there’s this from Ralph Waldo Emerson: What we hold back holds us back. It’s advice that every artist should be aware of and follow.

I tell you – the answers to being a good artist, to creating work that sings, to finding your voice and the courage to express it and share it with the world – can all be found in quotes. Quotes are my touchstone, my quotespiration.

Quotespiration is everywhere. You just have to be looking. To get you started, here are my three favorite online resources. Warning: Make sure you have an afternoon to devote to your quotespiration search. It’s addictive! And you can quote me on that.



Lesley Riley is an internationally known artist, teacher and author with a passion for spreading the magic of art. Though her company, Artist Success, Lesley provides resources, coaching and mentoring to artists, enabling them to achieve their vision of success. For even more inspiration, check out ArtistSEEK a free expert interview series providing Solutions, Experience, Expertise and Knowledge to help you create your Artist Success. For more information and resources, visit


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