Creativity: Where Do You Find Inspiration?

We all know the standard advice on where to find inspiration: go to a museum, take a walk, have an artists’ play date, visit the blogs and websites of well-known mixed media artists. And those work fabulously for a lot of people. You may find they work fabulously for you, as well. They’re excellent places to start when you need some new ideas.

They do not do it for me, however. There is one museum in Midland, where I live, unless you count The Petroleum Museum, where I have never been. I should probably rectify that and go someday. It’s just the name, you know? “Petroleum” and “museum” are just not two words that, together, promise to provide inspiration. Too bad for me; I’m probably missing something fabulous. But never mind. I can visit the one local art museum, which is within walking distance of my house, once every six weeks when there’s an opening for a new exhibit. There’s that, at least. But it’s not like there’s something new every week.

Walking~~I walk at least once a day, usually more, but unlike many people, I don’t get a lot of inspiration from walking. I don’t carry my cell or a camera; when I walk, I’m *walking,* as in “moving as fast as I can without actually jogging, trying to get some exercise.” So I’m thinking more about posture and breathing and stuff, rather than getting ideas for possible projects.

I don’t do play dates. I’m a little envious of people who have a group of creative friends, ones who get together regularly to exchange ideas and share techniques and supplies. I don’t know that that would work for me, though, because I don’t play really well with others. As an only child, I grew up entertaining myself, moving at my own pace, doing things my way. Because I’m what I tell people is a “Type AAA,” meaning I’m moving at warp speed most of the time, making huge messes and talking to myself and working on half a dozen things at once, I’m a little tiring to most people. Not to use the word “irritating.”

For most people, artists’ websites and blogs are a great source of inspiration and ideas. Most of us have a list of ones we visit regularly, checking in to see what’s new. Sometimes, though, visiting those online spaces can be a little depressing, for a variety of reasons. I’m not a fan of what’s popular or what’s in style or what’s trending, so seeing the same things everywhere–birds’ nests, maybe, or clowns (yikes!) or, well, anything that’s currently hip–just kind of bums me out. It makes me worry about whether there’s any innovation and brand-new-to-you ideas left anywhere, and I end up being even less inspired than I was in the first place.

So where *do* I go for inspiration? Aside from visiting the inside of my own head, which is where I’d recommend that everyone start (not the inside of *my* head, goodness, no, but the inside of their own), there are a couple of kinds of places that always spark ideas.

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 17 and was required to start one for a creative writing class in high school. The interesting ones volumes start when I started making stuff. Before then, the notebooks were mostly written, and I’ve thrown most of those away. Here are the ones I’ve kept.

Now, I hardly ever write in them; I use them for notes, ideas, bits and pieces of things I want to save, sketches (in the loosest ever sense, since I am not a sketcher), photos.

I don’t keep art journals, although I love looking at other people’s. I don’t write in a journal: I do enough writing everywhere else, and I don’t have much angst that needs exploring. But I really recommend that everyone who has any kind of creative life keep some sort of notebook, of whatever kind you find appealing, where you can corral ideas, reminders, jump starts, a record of what you’ve done. If you’re like me, you’ve made a ton of stuff that you’ve given away or sold or repurposed. I wish now that I’d photographed all of it–I’m sure some of the things I made in the past and have forgotten would spark new ideas and experiments. Alas, most of it’s long gone, both from my house and from my memory. Some, though, I can come across in the pages of old notebooks, and that’s always fun. “Oh, wow! I’d forgotten all about this one! I wonder what would happen if I made it out of silk, instead?”

For a while, I was really into bookbinding, both re-binding old books and making my own . Here are a couple of the journal volumes I made from old yearbooks and ledgers.

What’s inspiring are ideas I had at one time but never pursued. Here, for instance, I was trying to figure out how to do a very, very simple cartoon sketch of myself, something that I could easily replicate. I never got one I liked, but the idea is still appealing to me. (See? I told you I’m no sketcher.)

I also added photos and scans of stuff I made. Here’s a fetish necklace I made for someone–they sent me a box of memorabilia, and I made it into something they could wear. From this one little scan, I can get ideas by looking at the bits and pieces someone else saved and imagine what I could do with them.

I have an index for some of the volumes, with a few notes about which ones contain some of my obsessions–when I first saw Susan Shie’s quilts, for instance, or Ken Bova’s jewelry–both at exhibits at our neighborhood museum, long ago. Those set off explorations of their own, and I can go to those volumes and see what ideas I had then that I never pursued.

I’m sure we’ll talk more about journals later on, but for right now, think about starting one if you don’t keep one already, please.

Next time I’ll talk more about some other places I get ideas. I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and tell us where you get yours~~

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5 Responses to Creativity: Where Do You Find Inspiration?

  1. Zom says:

    I could spend time in your place like I would a library or a museum, just looking for ages (if you let me.)

    I think my best inspiration, like you, comes from my own head. The initial spark might be from a painting or something I see, but it gets much better further down the line. When I start going into the ‘what if’s’ and following the idea, usually through a series of stages, in more idiosyncratic ways.

    I also get ideas from dreams, and even better that kind of inbetween space when I haven’t opened my eyes yet from sleep.

  2. Jeanie Thorn says:

    I have the same stack of journals: full of doodles, notes, and snippets of ideas that at the time seem to have no purpose. But weeks or months later when I return to them they’re perfect for the project I’m currently working on.

    For a complete opposite view, there’s a 3 minute YouTube in which the famous painter Chuck Close is asked to give advice to up and coming artists. His comment on inspiration, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Pretty harsh but he has a point.

    Which leads me to an observation….women seem to approach art very differently than men. We take more classes and want to be all “touchy feely” about the process. Do you think it holds us back? For the most part I never see many men in a workshop. Would love to know what they think.

  3. i have been journaling since i was 12 and i have every book that i have ever journaled in…..they vary and have grown, some are just words, some have drawings….they have a little of everything…i never did count them but i can easily say i have over a 100 journals….i have not journaled in a while….i have been on what is one of the longest moves in the history of mankind…..
    i carry my camera with me all the time and since i now have no car, i walk a lot and take a lot of photos….nature is a great inspiration to me…..i love words, i like playing with words…..i can take a hatchet to the english language…..books give me inspiration…..i can look through books for hours…..i also have over 35 journal/books that are called glue books….of pictures that i have cut out of magazines….i love adding new pictures to them…..they really do give me inpiration…..now music is another source of inspiration to me…..i like to interpret songs into my art…..children’s books are another favorite. source….i love fashion, and i love to shop…as far as chuck, no matter how good an artist he may be…he has no memory cuz there are only 3 original ideas…..they just keep repeating themselves and showing up in different forms and if i must say it is one of the dumber quotes i have ever heard……you can not live in a visual world and not be inspired by it one way or another, whether you realize it or not….and yes when your alone making your art you do leave everyone else outside the room, but it is pretty hard to leave it out of your head either consciously or unconsciously…wow that statement is really bothering me…..i hope i never become that jaded…..and i don;t care how famous he is….my first thought is he FOS…..and the process never holds me back it one of those things that bring even more inspriation to me….i have not taken many workshops in awhile, but i couldn’t stand it when other people in the class had to go home with something that they could hold in their hands, i would rather be able to hold it in my head…..and the only thing that holds you back is you….not all art is beautiful and not all people that think they make art are making art….art to me in it;s true sense is anything that time holds to be true art…..if in a 100 years from now someone is not calling what you did art…you didn’t make art…true art will stand the test of time…and i hope i will never lose a single cell of my inspiration or where where it comes from……”famous people say dumb things all the time”

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      I think maybe Chuck Close meant that waiting around for inspiration is for amateurs; that professionals know you just get in there and get busy. That’s the way I’ve always understood it, anyway.

  4. emgoh says:

    I get some of my best inspirations walking to and from the bus (mostly work days). In my neighborhood I notice mostly trees, birds, flowers, dogs on walks, etc. I am also keenly aware of the nearness water listening as gulls fly over. When I am walking to/from my office downtown I find inspiration in people watching, listening to the sounds of the city, and looking down (interesting metal grates around tree trunks, interesting patterns from debris on the sidewalk after it has rained, etc.

    I am trying to get into visual journaling. I think it is the best method of journaling for me because I grew up in a family that always warned “don’t write it down! someone may read it!” which, of course, made it really hard in my student days when some of my professors required journals as part of our work! So visual journals are like journaling in code for me. Someone might look at it maybe have an idea about what I am “saying” but only I really know. 🙂