I have been asked several times before: what are the things that inspire me during my painting process? If I were very honest and straightforward, I would say „the works of other illustrators and designers”, but of course, no artist says anything like this in case they are accused of stealing. It is just as well, since inspiration is something slightly more complicated than that, so today I’m going to ramble a bit about this subject.
Now that the academic approach has been cleared, we can admit that the word ‘inspiration’ is one of today’s favourite and most over-used expressions. It is the kind of cliché, which makes my mind switch off at the first mention of it. Under the pre-text of ‘inspiration’ anything can be sold: a kitchy photo, a perfectly banal quote or even a collection of images. Needless to say, I have also jumped the band-wagon, I create inspirational posters, and what’s more, I titled an entire category on this blog ‘inspiration’ – but I’ll tell you a secret: my paintings are hardly ever inspired by such things.
The way it doesn’t work
Inspiration actually means something different for all of us: something might be inspiring for me, which is not inspiring for you. Therefore it follows logically, that what I’m saying here may not apply to you.
However, we all have that feeling in common when we are just uninspired, so we have to accept the painful fact that inspiration is not always at reach whenever we need it. So don’t expect magic to happen if you fill a tub with foamy hot water and recite ‘I’m getting inspired now’ (even though it sometimes helps).
It is more common to search for inspiration online on sites like Pinterest (or go to the library, if you are the traditional sort), but despite appearances, this will not help you find inspiration either. If you are lucky, it might motivate you to create something but more often than not, you just start comparing yourself to others, then decide they are the professional thing, so the best and easiest thing to do is to copy the formula that has already worked for someone.
The way it works
It is probably clear by now, that inspiration is rather hard to grasp, but it is not impossible to find it. You just have to look for it in a much broader circle.
In my case, inspiration is born from the collection of experiences to which I expose myself. I am probably not the only one with this experience though, others have reached similar conclusions. According to Megan Auman you should treat creative inspiration the same way as you treat nutrition: if you take a large scoop and use a wide variety of good quality food (inspiration), then you have a lot more ingredients and therefore a greater chance to build up a healthy body (piece of art).
If, for example, you are looking for inspiration to paint, you’d better not (only) look at paintings. Of course go to the museum, watch movies, but try to look beyond visual art: read books, go out into nature, listen to music! Sooner or later this massa will form an ever growing bubble, which will, eventually, become the thing we call inspiration.
So what about stealing?
Okay, I’ve been very high-brow, but I did say in my first sentence that I am inspired by other artists. I am actually stealing.
However, there are different levels of stealing. The strongest and most obvious kind is when you copy a piece of artwork completely. Sticking to Megan Auman’s metaphor, this is a bit like eating only staffed cabbage day and night. You will not die of hunger, but after a while you’ll definitely suffer from some kind of deficiency.
It is slightly better when you create your own artwork in someone else’s style. You are still living on cabbage in this case, but you mix the differently prepared kinds.
If you are getting bored with cabbage, then you’d better stop stealing the whole piece, try to concentrate on one aspect of your reference.
One of these aspects can be the technique: you can learn the brush strokes of another artist, for example. It is no secret, that I learned all my knowledge of watercolour from the internet. I stole the techniques of others, and with this knowledge, I created my own pieces.
Another version of copying just one aspect of your reference is taking the subject. One of my favourite illustration series is Philippa Rice’s Soppy, where Philippa painted the intimate moments of her relationship in this series. So, I stole the idea, and painted pictures from my own life, which do not look at all like Philippa’s work (this means I don’t only live on cabbage).
When this mental meal reaches its gourmet moments, however, then the artwork is born from the processed experiences of the past and present. This doesn’t happen at 7 PM every Wednesday, of course, and often it is very hard to tell where the inspiration has come from. This is the reason why a lot of artists find it hard to answer the otherwise popular interview question of ‘where does your inspiration come from?’. The answer is simple: it comes from everywhere around me, it comes from everything I stimulate my mind with.
Inspiration vs motivation
It happens very often that we mix up inspiration with motivation – which is an easy mistake to make, as they usually come together: when you are inspired, it usually takes no effort to start working. However, there are moments, when these two come separately.
For me, travelling is a great source of inspiration: I experience a lot of new and unseen things, my head is usually filled with ideas, which I jot down instantly, but I hardly ever start executing these ideas after a tiresome day of sightseeing, I need to process my experiences first.
Motivation can also reach me on its own. When I go to an art supply store I feel totally excited about the wonderful tools I see and I can instantly picture myself working hard on something, but if I’m uninspired, then nothing happens, however motivated I might be.
These are moments, when I am simply not creative.
How easy it is for you to get inspired? What are the things that inspire you to create?
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