Art + Creativity, Thoughts + Life

In theory

Watercolor painting illustration of a blue merle Australian shepherd dog. Dog portrait on a clipboard with a bright yellow background

For years, I lived by the maxim that inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals show up and do the work. I still see the truth in that, but lately I’m more interested in that amateur space, in making for the joy and the love of making, not because you need to make it work but because you can cause something to happen. Because you can create room for whatever happens to happen. When you focus on that, inspiration comes back into the picture. It can be anything that sets your thoughts and your paintbrush running, your body moving, your words flowing. It can be something outside of your control, and maybe this is an exercise in letting go of control.

For those of us accustomed to tying our value to achievements, letting go of control, taking the risk that we may not achieve, may be a step forward. Maybe, not manufacturing motivation, but opening the door to inspiration is the next right step. Maybe amateur practice is incredibly valuable because you’re not required to make some particular thing happen. You’re required to show up, but you’re not required to do what you expected to do.

Maybe amateur practice opens the door to rooms where the unexpected happens, so that professional practice can learn that that room exists.

In practice

I took a long walk last week under a heavy, stormy sky. The air was electric. As night came on, the sky dropped, and this is what fell from it:

Inspiration is seeing a toad on the road and taking it for a stone until it hops and hops again. Inspiration is Leonard Cohen in the dark. It’s walking fast in lamplight.

Inspiration is the frosted lustrous surface on opaque water under rain, covering for the night as it comes in.

Inspiration is gorging yourself on so much strange beauty it overflows out of your mouth like milk. It’s the red of an odd, gentle, tender, sturdy bush against the red of a hard, brick, encroaching building under an ash grey sky.

It’s the sign of the rain coming, and walking faster into it, harder, harder against the wind. It’s the first fat drops on your skin. It’s the face tilted up to receive, mouth open. Inspiration is the wind. Inspiration is coming. Let it come. Find the path of least resistance. Reduce friction. Let that flow through you, in and out. It will come. It will come. Escape your grind of daily motion. Move. Move.

Watercolour painting illustration of a ballet dancer silhouette in front of a parked car. Dance, night, freelance illustration.

My mother said, “Step away. Step away at the end of the day. Don’t tie yourself to work every hour of waking,” and she’s right. She’s a mother – she’s right.

Inspiration is cupping the flowers of that strange sturdy bush tenderly in your palm, noticing for the first time in months, since it first emerged from the winter, how it’s grown, how it’s come to be what you use to gauge the season as it fades. This bush will fade. This bush will come back to you, in the next winter, in the next spring, forgotten blooms lingering, brown, small, faded. Paint them. Paint them again as you painted them last year.

Lavender, coming forth where you knew not, where your hand runs, scent. Hold it. Hold it in your palm, that scent, between your fingers, to your face. Exhale. Inspiration is the inhale. Let it run through you in your blood, lungs, bloodstream, beat of your feet against the earth, this drum roll. This clink of keys between the hands, this roll. Make yourself this drum of beat. Inspiration is the breath in, reception, sweet, sweet, motion forward.

Let the rain fall down on you. You become cold but not cold, for this heat, this motion moving inside your core will hold you forward.


The artworks in this post are available as prints, apparel, accessories and home goods. Click through for more in each design.

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