“The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole.” Neil Gaiman
Although I agree with Neil (I’ve had moments of overwhelm when I’ve realised that I can’t fit all of the things I want to paint into a single lifetime), I don’t think it’s true for everyone. When something comes easy to you I think it’s difficult to imagine the absence of it. “Where do you get your ideas?” is one of those off-the-cuff questions artists get asked a lot which there isn’t an off-the-cuff answer to. In fact, it seems I had to write an essay in order to answer it.
“Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven’t come together before… Good ideas don’t just turn up, you have to go looking for them. Research – reading, looking at pictures, playing with different media – provides freedom from the creative paralysis that comes with infinite possibility.” Shaun Tan
The above picture mosaic shows the inspiration for my next painting. There are three distinct elements of inspiration here:
- I paint things I like.
- I build on past work.
- I combine two or more things that haven’t been combined before
First off, let me explain where these images come from. Like the Shaun Tan quote above says, I do my research. When I see something I want to use in a painting it goes in my epic Evernote folder of Inspiration. Usually, when I’ve saved an image of a piece of art it’s because I like an object in it that I want to use in a painting but sometimes it might be something a bit more subtle such as a posture. I saved the top left image because I like the combination of dangling stars and swing. I saved the bottom images because maypoles are cool. They’re not so much reminders that I want to make art anything like these two pieces, they’re reminders that these are cool objects and I should use them one day. The rest of course is just imagination. I know I want to combine stars/celestial bodies with a maypole in some way so I’ll just imagine various ways of doing this until I find an image compelling enough to begin sketching out.
The image on the top right leads me to my final thought…
Creativity Begets Creativity
I think it’s a natural worry amongst beginners that the ideas might run out; that you might be tapping into a finite resource. I suspect the question “where do you get your ideas?” comes from the same place as this concern. Once you begin creating, however, you quickly realise that creativity begets creativity. You create one thing which generates five more ideas because you want to do something differently next time; change something, add something, subtract something, just generally extrapolate on the theme. Pretty soon, like me, you’ll realise you can’t keep up with the pace that ideas are coming in and the concern will shift to one of how to prioritise. Which idea gets your attention, your most precious limited resource: your time.
Last year I dedicated all of January to doing no creative work except for sketching. The plan was I would only turn the very best of my sketches into paintings. I had an absolute ball but it didn’t work. What I thought were the “best” ideas in January weren’t the “best” ideas in June. I’ve since abandoned the idea of there being a “best” thing to create as far too stressful and inhibiting.
I felt really vulnerable writing this post. I’m probably doing myself a disservice by revealing the nuts and bolts of something so intangible as “inspiration” and making my process a little less magical. Having said that, these are exactly the types of blog posts I like to read most from my favourite artists.