Where Ideas Come From, Part III

Yeah, I know: I keep finding more and more to say, and there’s just never enough space. Here are more of the responses I’ve gotten to the question, “Where do you get inspiration?”


~~Museums and Galleries. A lot of people get ideas from seeing what someone else has done. Sometimes it’s because they love what they see and want to try it themselves, and sometimes it’s because they *don’t* much love it and think they can do a better job of it. This sounds like huge ego, but it’s not: it’s the natural response of a creative person. You see something and think, “Wow” and then think, “It would be so much cooler if it were wood, instead of clay. And if it were life-sized, instead of miniature. Reds would work better than greens on that part, and it needs some text here and here, and the horses don’t really do anything useful.” Sometimes you’ll see something you have to rush home and try, like ceramics or  encaustic. One artist told me about the first time she saw encaustic work and asked a ton of questions and went home and tried it herself and was immediately hooked. Years later, she teaches and writes about it. You see nuno felting that’s so gorgeous you travel to England to take a workshop and fall in love with the countryside and never come back. You see portraits that make you sign up for life drawing lessons.


~~Shops. At the other end of the spectrum, some people find inspiration not in art but in anti art: tacky stores at the mall. Rainbow-colored arrangements of kids’ clothes. You never know when some random thing will send your brain off on an adventure. Sometimes the ugliest things—things you wouldn’t dream of buying—will somehow start a chain-reaction of sparks. A basket of cheap tie-dyed socks in a shoe store next to the food court makes you walk out to your car and drive home and haul out your long-forgotten watercolors—something about the way the colors mixed together sets something off that keeps you painting for the next six months. Or window displays, some of which are excellent and are art forms in their own right: lots of artists have said they make it a point to check out each new Anthropologie window display.


~~Dreams. This one drives me nuts: so many people have told me they get their best ideas when they’re sleeping. They tell of naps that inspire new painting and long, recurring night-time dreams that are an endless source of ideas. I envy them so much, I can’t even express it. My dreams are of no creative use to me that I have been able to figure out. In some, I’m the leader of a rat army. In others, I do battle with zombies. There’s a lot of action, but there’s not much inspiration. The people who regularly find ideas in their sleep are luckier than they can imagine: their body is resting, and their minds are providing them with fodder for the next day’s work. Even luckier, in my opinion, are the people who tell me they regularly solve problems in their sleep, figuring out how to make something stand up or move in a certain way. Problems that seemed unsolvable when they were awake are nothing in their sleep, and if someone could only figure out how to enable the rest of us to do this, too, the world would be pretty near perfect, as far as I’m concerned.


~~Journals and Sketchbooks. Sometimes it’s the ideas captured on the pages, and sometimes it’s the working out of specific problems, but the most common explanation I hear is that just the act of sitting down somewhere with a blank book and holding a pen or pencil in their hand is enough to open the floodgates of inspiration. Whether it’s doodling or morning pages or lists or sketches of the detritus left over from breakfast, there’s something about moving your hand across the page that gets things going. The added bonus is that, for many people, opening up past volumes is a guaranteed way to get ideas. Seeing what they sketched two years ago or a list they made last summer is all it takes to spark that “Aha” moment they need.


What about you? Where are you getting ideas lately? We’d love to hear about it~~

Sketchbook Confidential 2_160For inspiration from journals and sketchbooks, check out Sketchbook Confidential 2: Enter the Secret Worlds of 41 Master Artists.



Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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