What inspiration is and where to find it

It’s funny how inspiration works. For me different things inspire to different artforms. For example, when I’m down, sad, or sentimental I get inspired to write stories (secret fact: I have about 7 unfinished novels in my ”drawer”). But to get inspired to create patterns, happy moments or seeing something really beautiful seem to be the thing. Like this morning, when I harvested sweet peas and string beans from our own garden I felt a pure moment of happiness and itching to get into the studio. But if I feel a bit depressed I could never squeeze out a single pattern or an idea for one. And if I’m trying to write when everything is jolly and dandy it would turn out reeeeaally crappy and poor. Makes me wonder how this inspiration thing works.

Sweet peas and string beans from my garden. Apparantly inspiring.

Sweet peas and string beans from my garden. Apparantly inspiring.

So what is inspiration in the first place? Well, there has been many theories and explanations throughout history, and those theories are definitely reflected by how they viewed reality and explained the world at the given time. For example, ancient communities like the greek, romans and vikings thought inspiration was something divine i.e it came from the gods/God. The greeks actually thought that inspiration or ”enthusiasm” came from the muses as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysos and that the artist was transported beyond his own mind and that the gods gave him their thoughts to create something with. They also thought inspiration was not dependent of skills, technique and performance, which made it possible for even the non-artist to be inspired.

The vikings believed something similar, the artist would be inspired by something magical and divine and then he shaped that with his own mind.

By the way the word inspiration derives from the latin word inspirare, which means ”to breathe into”. It refers to an unconscious burst of creativity of an artform. Source: Wikipedia

During the enlightenment the principles to explain how the world worked wasn’t based on the works of a god any more, but scientific thoughts, by observing. The philosophers of that time, like John Locke tried to explain what inspiration was and where it came from. Locke said that inspiration was an association of ideas that came together randomly to create a new unity. The romantic theories who called inspiration ”genius”, describing inspiration as something supernatural and divine just like the greeks or Christians, but said inspiration came from within the artist. Some even thought it was a kind of madness or irrationality.

During the 19th and 20th centuries and the modernist era it was explained by a new science that was the new ”thing” - psychology. Iconic psychologists and philosophers like Freud, Jung, and Marx had their own theories to explain inspiration. They all had in common that inspiration was the product of the environment or the physical heritage of the artist and how it had shaped her or him. Freud thought artist were fundamentally wounded by some kind of unresolved conflict or trauma from the childhood and therefore inspiration was a product of their subconsciousness. Jung thought inspiration came from something other than the artists experience, that it was a racial memory. The Marxist thinkers said it was the expression of the friction between economical structures of the society. Of course they did.

The modern psychology hasn’t really studied inspiration. To me that shows that it’s not an interesting or important issue that needs any resolving any more. But if we would use todays thoughts and philosophies that reflect todays society, inspiration would be something completely individual and it’s up to every artist to explain, describe and find it.

Some say that inspiration is beyond anyones control, you either have it or you don’t. But is that really true? Because to me that suggest that it is still something of a divine force and as the agnostic that I am, it’s difficult to grasp. I think inspiration is triggered by things that you interact with, and like dreams, all those different impressions that you are hit by every day, will be processed in your consciousness or subconsciousness and comes out as an idea, either automatically without you forcing it, or by doing the work. 

By that I want to say that sometimes you have it, it’s there to use and to work with. You sit in your studio or kitchen table, with a nice cup of coffee, listening to your favorite music, using the materials you know so well and it just flows. It’s a wonderful feeling, right? But sometimes, it’s just not there.

But if you’re in that dark, empty place where inspiration just doesn’t want to appear like a genie in a bottle, granting you an artistic wish, you can hunt it down. Yes, you can easily go and get some inspiration if you need it. The key is - and this theory of mine is based on a lot of other artists and designers that I know or am following - is to do something new. Get out of your comfort zone, exit the frames you usually work within and new ideas will be served. As long as you do the work, and try.

That is an inspiring thought, right? That we can control inspiration like that. I wonder what the ancient greeks, John Locke or Sigmund Freud would say about that?

So, in case your inspiration is emptied out, here are some ideas to what you can do to go get some refill:

  1. Visit a museum; history, art, architecture, crafts…
  2. Go to antique shops and flea markets
  3. Take a walk deep into a forest, sit down and observe, listen and smell
  4. Visit a flower shop
  5. Go to the beach, doesn’t even have to be summer.
  6. Go to a park or a garden, observe the small details in the plants and flowers, or the overall impression
  7. Get some books about history, portraits, plants, flowers, birds, animals, insects, a specific corner of the world, architecture
  8. Visit home decor or wallpaper stores
  9. Explore a new music genre and artists on Spotify etc.
  10. Take an on-line class and learn a craft you don’t master: like using professional markers, oil painting, watercolor or lettering for example

What tips and tricks do you have to fuel and refill your inspiration?

If you would like to try tip no 10:

Here is a link for a free two month trial of a premium membership on Skillshare. It will give you access to over 17.000 classes within all kinds of creative areas and business (among them my classes on illustration, coloring with markers and crating classic pattern designs) - taught by creators from around the world. There is no commitment to continue after the two month trial and you can cancel anytime.

The virgin forest of Tyresta outside Stockholm.

The virgin forest of Tyresta outside Stockholm.

Hollyhocks at the castle in Varberg on the west coast of Sweden.

Hollyhocks at the castle in Varberg on the west coast of Sweden.

Papyrus from the traveling exhibition of Thutanchamun (the reconstruction).

Papyrus from the traveling exhibition of Thutanchamun (the reconstruction).

Bärbel DresslerComment