“I just can’t get inspired!” How often do I hear that? I feel it too, I have the vague urge to be painting something but can’t find anything that gets the juices going. With me that usually means retiring to the sofa with a book or a bit of gardening is on the cards. I have to note that this feeling only occurs when deciding for myself what to paint. I never once had the feeling in several decades of being told what to paint by others!
So what is it this “inspiration”? The Greeks and Romans believed that it was something breathed into you by the Gods or Muses. IE something coming in from the outside. The same idea held sway when Christianity arrived except it was the Holy Spirit that did the breathing. In the 18th century it became a bit mystical, a sort of divine resonance. In the 19th Freud of course thought it was unresolved childhood conflicts, but he then he would wouldn’t he.
The moments when rudderlessness strikes me are quite distinct. If I am out with the intention of painting and nothing quite takes my fancy. All plein air painters know the feeling of wandering randomly seeking a “subject”. The other time it hits me is on a wet day when I am going to have to paint from reference. Sorting through endless old photos on screen looking for the one that gets you started. Most of those photos you took had some sort of possibility seen in them when you took them. Recapturing that feeling at a later date can be nigh on impossible though.
I think for me the resonance idea of the Romantics appeals most. If a photo or a real scene triggers a cascade of possibilities and potentialities as to how the final thing might be then that prompts us into action. It is not really (or very rarely) a vision of the completed work, but a plausible course toward a hazy and perhaps worthwhile destination.
That “perhaps” tells more of the story maybe. The moment tension between, “Shall I do this? It will be great.” and “It probably won’t work, so don’t bother.” is perhaps the fulcrum of inspiration. We are programmed to avoid disappointment and the less that seems likely the more we will feel inspired! Not that anyone will be impressed if when asked what inspired you you reply, “Because it looked a good bet!” that might not gain you many artistic brownie points.
So inspiration is the imagining what I might make of something, whether idea or something seen, of how I might transform it, refine it from ore to gold. If I see a glittering golden prize then I say I am inspired, but if I see only dull lead sheet then I flop about in consumptive despair.
This means for me I fall between ancient and modern thinking, taking a little from each. As far as I can see all inspiration comes from the outside in, from the world we perceive and live in, rather than any God or some vague spiritual source. Our complex and largely unconscious psyches take this material and return it to the world transformed. Then when a person looks at the result they might see the familiar in a new way. It is this “seeing afresh” I think that is the reward that people who like to look at pictures enjoy.
Advice as to how to get inspired? Well that is tricky. The optimist will probably paint more pictures but plenty of duds. The pessimist might be harder to push into action but the results should be good if only they don’t get despairing halfway and never finish! For me I have several methods of prompting myself into action. Firstly I look at what others have done. This shows you what is achievable and brings the seeing possibilities bit of your head online. Then if you immediately look through what material you might work from you are I find more likely to spot a potential winner. We often say, “Oh I find so and so’s work so inspiring!” so put it to use. Sometimes though I just do it the hard way. I just sit down and start even though I have no proper plan or subject I am confident in. It is a risky tactic but every now and again it will produce something unexpected and exciting which pushes you out of a rut.
I have been hopping about from medium to medium recently so a very mixed bag of pictures.
We have has so many dull days of late, this visit to Knightsbridge was no exception. I had not painted in London for a while so I was determined to get something from the day. The wet street is imaginary I’m afraid as it needed something to tie the background plane to the foreground. 8in by 10in Oils.
This painting occurred in the previous somewhat satirical post… but I painted it straight after the previous one. It only took 25 min but everything seemed to fall into place as I worked. I could see straight away that it had potential. For the stages of the studio picture look at the previous post but ignore the sarky words! 10in by 12in Oils.
On my way back to Dorset next day, this is Farnham. The sun was out for just about 2 min so I had to slap on the highlights with mad abandon. A bit rough and ready but I think I have the makings of a studio picture. 10in by 12in Oils.
A studio picture of the harbour at Tenby based on a very quick sketch. I took the composition from the drawing which is here. I have attempted a big picture of this before and the result was pretty much a train crash so I was pleased to finish this without going off the rails. I have worked a little more on it since this photo, but only to unify and knock back the town in the background. 12in by 20in Oils.
Another visit to London with the Brass Monkeys. This is the ever popular Strand on the Green near Chiswick. It is in sepia because I forgot my watercolour box and only had one tube of paint in my bag! I was fortuitous in the event as monochrome suited the dull light very well. A4 Watercolour.
Strand on the Green again, this is Olivers Island and the only hint of sun we saw… a bit rushed as I needed a coffee badly! Pen and Ink.
Days are so short this time of year so the light was fading rapidly when I got to the perfectly Palladian Chiswick House. I only took me 30 min or so to draw but nonetheless I was nearly locked in the park for the night! I was going to do a painting but the photos I took are just a black silhouette.
This is Spitalfields, all I got done after a nightmare drive across London. I must get some of these drawings printed up as I think they will make attractive cards. Pen and Ink.