“Seeing” Inspiration


A few weeks ago, I wrote about my strategies for getting out of the Creative Desert. Getting out of the Creative Desert is different from seeking inspiration. Just because you are piecing a bunch of squares together doesn’t mean you are inspired. Piecing a bunch of squares together is good because you are working, but you are only at the first step back to your creative potential.

I find that if I need inspiration, it doesn’t work for me to go out and look for it at that moment. I can’t rush outside and look around and expect to be inspired JUST LIKE THAT. The world might be boring that day or I might not be able to see, really see. I have to be prepared. I have to be in the habit of looking for it every day as I go about my business. I have to accumulate possibilities so it is available when I need it.

Teaching yourself to see requires training. Fortunately, the training does not require you to spend time in the gym every night. It requires you to clear out your head for 5 minutes and look. Christi Friesen, a polymer clay artist, described what I am talking about really well in a recent Notes from the VooDoo Lounge podcast episode. She said your mind has to go into “screensaver mode” to get your best ideas. (a creative example of this can be found on writer Deanna Raybourn’s blog in a post from last week) That explains why I get my best ideas in the shower or right before I drop off to sleep. Thoughts about lunches for tomorrow, who has to be picked up from where and what’s for dinner are not on my mind and there is space to be inspired, to put together the bits and pieces of inspiration you have encountered into a logical whole. Listen to this episode, if it is not on your regular playlist. Exercise: go out at lunch, walk around the block with a clear mind. Don’t think about your next meeting or the assistant who won’t do your bidding. Look at the world around you.

1st: Identify: I know what I like: mosaics, leaves, color, architectural details are a few. You have to look at a lot of stuff to know what you like. It doesn’t matter what other people like, because if you don’t like something, you won’t be inspired.

2d: See. Walk around with your head up. Stop looking at your shoes; they are fine. Really. They are fine. Get out of your head and SEE what is around you. See what is really in front of you NOT what you EXPECT to be in front of you. Seeing is different than looking. We look at the things around us so we can avoid the slimeball from the sales department, not get hit by a car, and find the right coffee shop. Seeing is the next step after looking. Something deeper sparks your interest and you pay attention to the thing. The thing gets in your head and your mind starts playing with it, turning it over and translating it into a quilt design or a machine quilting pattern.

Blue Tailed Bee Eater ( Merops philippinus )If you can’t go out or you live in an industrial wasteland, look at sites that provide you with inspiration that you don’t see in your every day life. Flickr and Pinterest can be black holes of creative doom, but they can also provide excellent inspiration. People share photos of their trips to exotic lands and interesting tidbits they see in their daily travels. Put some random words into the search box and see what you get. I found the above photo by putting “Thailand blue” into the Flickr search box. Gorgeous birds, aren’t they? Look at the color combinations! Check out the beaks. I love the feathered tail of the bird flying. Amazing!

Piedmont Ave Mannequin
Piedmont Ave Mannequin

3rd: Document. Having a camera in my phone is the best thing ever. I take photos of the strangest things because of some little detail that sparked some interest. I have photos of half decayed leaves on the street because of the color. I have a corner of a magazine page, because of a star pattern that might be good in a quilt some day. I have a photo of a rack of vintage sweaters, because of the shape. I am focused on quiltmaking, so when I see a pattern or design that I like, I document it for a later quilt or machine quilting design. You may not see what I see, which is why you need to collect your own inspiration.

If you carry your camera around or have a smartphone, remember that your photos don’t have to be professional. The photo of the mannequin above has that commercial door in it, which looks stupid, but I want to photograph the whole mannequin without completely blocking the oh-so-narrow sidewalk traffic.

You don’t need a camera in your phone. If you don’t want to haul your camera around with you, bring a sketchbook. You don’t have to be Degas or Seurat. You aren’t drawing on the street or on the bus to win awards; you are drawing to remember something, for your own use. You don’t have to share. Commit to whipping out that sketchbook to record a line or design. This is your inspiration. What it looks like in your sketchbook will never look like the end result.

4th: Manipulate. Put your photo or sketch (after you scan) through Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or one of the free programs available online. Add filters. Change the pixels to a sketch or a different color. See what happens. Save your creation as a new file and compare to what else you have done.

5th: Use. The inspiration you are collecting will quickly become crap if you don’t use it. Look through your folders or boxes periodically. Don’t review your bits and pieces only when you are in need of inspiration. Look through folders regularly just because. If you can’t remember why you saved a shard, then it is time to toss it.

Sea by Cuba Gallery
Sea by Cuba Gallery

6th: Organize. For every project, I keep all of my notes, swatches, and details in a file folder. Once you have decided to work on a project, put the shards of inspiration into that file folder with your calculations and fabric swatches. Have you ever seen the movie “Working Girl”? She uses her organizational system at the end to prove the deal was her own idea. You can tell where you are and how to move forward if all the pieces are in one place. Also, if they fall out of the folder, the way they land might provide further inspiration. If you let a project simmer for awhile, having your inspirational shards all together will help you get back on track quickly.

Start your training now.