People always ask about where artists get their ideas for art, and most artists are kind of vague about the whole process, as if they’re not really sure–and, indeed, I think this is often the case: ideas come, but you’re not sure when they arrived or where they came from in the first place. Was it a dream you had last night, or maybe was it that movie you watched just before bed last week? Was it a conversation with your chiropractor about bones, or was it a commercial for toilet bowl cleaner? On the one hand, you’re not really sure, and on the other, you really don’t want to admit that you got the idea for the piece everyone is raving about when you were channel surfing and stopped to watch a singing toothbrush.
So lately I’ve been thinking about where my own ideas come from. I make and alter clothing, and most of what I do involves appliquéing images to fabric and then embellishing them. But I don’t get ideas from looking at other clothing. I don’t much like artwear–it’s more about “art” than it is about “wear,” and I want what I make to be completely wearable, over and over. I get a lot of ideas from art journal pages–I love trying to figure out how to translate something from paper to fabric–and I get ideas from quilts when I see how someone manipulated fabric.
Last year at the International Quilt Show in Houston I saw a quilt that had buildings on it with yellow windows that looked like lights at night. I made a rough sketch of the idea this inspired:
I stuck this sticky note into my notebook, and then just recently I was going through a couple of magazines–the current issue of Somerset Studio, on the left, which has an article I wrote, and UU World, the publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, on the right.
What caught my eye in Follow Your Heart by Tatiana Allen and the woodblock print in Mira and The Big Story, by Laura Alary, was the buildings, the simple shape of buildings with windows. I went back and found the rough sketch, and immediately started thinking of ways to create a cityscape out of cotton jersey. I love this–having two or three or four things all leading back to an initial, rough, half-formed idea is just magical for me. Can I make this work? I don’t know. Maybe the little yellow squares would be too tedious to sew, and maybe they would ravel because they’d be so tiny. I don’t know until I try, though, and that’s half the fun right there: experimenting, doing the “what if?” dance.
The key here is to think differently about inspiration. Rather than flipping through magazines looking for something you want to duplicate or a project you want to try, look through the pages with a different eye. Look at things you wouldn’t do–if you paint, look at sculptures. If you make dolls, look at gardening magazines. I don’t look at fashion magazines; I don’t have an interest in stuff that’s already been done, and fashion doesn’t interest me. I get ideas for clothing from other stuff–paintings, collage, stuffed animals, woodblock prints. There’s way more to inspiration than finding something you like and trying to duplicate it; it just requires looking at things from a different perspective, which is, of course, always A Very Good Thing, indeed. See what starts the ideas percolating for you~~
For more about finding ideas, check out Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspirations from Working Artists.
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