Inspiration

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.

Run.


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

Two cats

things I noticed

Two cats, both black and white but not brothers, emerge. Know them by their fears: sleek young one fears the other, his dash, his sudden flash of teeth, barbarity. The other fears me. Yellow eyes askance, we face one another. Black fur grey, an undercoat of dirt. He moves not. Half a cat facing, half hidden in the vert.

The sleek young one rolls on his back on the grass, ecstatic. The other glances, dismisses, retires.

Apples blossom.

The luxury of time to stand before a bloom for as long as is right, for as long as it takes to make the marks I need on my page and the state of my mind. To stand and slowly study light. Luxury, to breath in the wood in a season most alive, to care more for the light and the air than for when I will arrive. Luxury, to have hands that have learned to mark, eyes that have learned to see. To have this capacity.

Gratitude to past me. Only, there is no past. There is no “was”.

What if I am the only one that is? If there is only now, if was is only memory and memory is nothing but imagined sense, if reality exists only in perception, I am indeed alone.

At that thought: lonely?

A little.

Why?

No one is in the mirror.

Why need a mirror?

If reality exists only in perception, to be seen is to be made real. To see is to make real. I am made real by that one’s witnessing, yet even as (s)he witnesses (s)he is not real except in my seeing. Witnessing reciprocal, and therefore circular: therein its downfall.

A yellow smell: sun, new grass and dandelions. Cooler, greener under the maple trees.

Kites in the air

things I noticed

Reluctance waking. Wanting to stay in the warm depths of not-conscious in the blankets. Cool air does not call.

An hour, and by the time I rise the dawn is broken.

I dreamed that due to poverty the young one, the redhead, collapsed. I dreamed in isolated ages the old one, the bedhead, relapsed.

Things are not as they are. Faces flicker. On the wall, marks flicker. From the hall upstairs, voices, insistent, call. Rules are changing and you cannot even defend with the words, “This was never thus.” Cannot even hold to what was.

Today I am a wall awash in waves. A word could cave in the crack.

Smell through a florest’s open door: wet, green, lily-filled

Kites in the air over the hill.

On the corner, a baby’s wail that will take down the world.

Wind has a new voice

things I noticed

The wind has a new voice; “Hurry, hurry!” Playful and insistent.

High, a hawk or a falcon. Blunt head, flat wings, circling. Slivers in and out of the sun, becomes a splinter, is gone. Into the wood we go.

Who knew? The shap little buds become blossoms that bend in the wind, waving tender red leaflets. See!

A haze of green whispers around the elders.

The healing plants have flowered, but their eyes are closed in the morning. Sleeping? After noon, the forest floor explodes in white. Leggy and brazen in the light.

The head of a reed

things I noticed

A cramp in my hand after three hours of painting details. Tightness in my forearm.

Old hydrangea blossoms fade to pale grey-green, to jade, with faint golden hairlines at the edges. Others fall off and are replaced by tiny brown seed pods with two horns each.

The head of a reed is held within its stalk. The stalk ends, and feathery seed-bearing strands emerge. Some spill out through a split in the reed: flesh out of constraint. Flesh pouring over tops of stockings, or else a flash of thigh through a walking slit.

Watercolor painting illustration of reed grasses

Have I been too long alone, that grasses grow sexual?
Don’t kid yourself. Grasses have always been about sex. Or rather, a-sex. Self and self and wings in the air, masturbation with a bestial kink.

I noticed the morning gone all into these paintings of last year’s growth. Not wasted. I pinned them to my wall and reveled in them.

I have noticed that to create can feel godlike:
“There was no thing, and then I took action, and now there is a thing. There was only matter, and now a form. Only idea, and now there is art. All by the work of my hands.”

The pleasure of looking at a painting of grass is mixed with satisfaction, and different from the pleasure of looking at grass. Building my layers of illustration, some need is fulfilled which is more than I knew of when I sat down to draw.

What is this? I don’t want to get too mystical on you, but in creation we transcend our basic matter. We taste a feeling closer to holy. I suspect this is why we have babies.

Or, is it the reverse? Is this strange elation in creation a mirror of procreation, the urge to immortality? Am I afraid to die? Searching for a legacy to survive?