Sunday, March 22, 2009


My sister, my mother and I went out for a ladies night out this week to enjoy some delicious Thai food. Jen (my sister) was talking about how she's interested in trying out some creative things, specifically painting and asked me the simple question: "Where do you find your inspiration?".

I was stumped.

I had no idea how to answer that question. Inspiration, for me, is just something that's there. I've never really given it much thought, I mean really thought about it. I get asked this question at shows every once in a while, and I usually respond with simple answers: "Oh, from everything around me!" (Pretty non-committal, really...) But I sincerely wanted to help my sister get started on her creative endeavours.

Later on in the conversation, my sister related a story from her work (she's in early childhood education). She had a class of kids make pepper prints. For anyone who doesn't remember what these are, it involves cutting a pepper in half, dipping it in tempra paints, and stamping it all over a piece of paper. Voila! Pepper prints. One little boy noticed as he was pepper printing, that the paint pulled away from the paper and left little raised spikes if he lifted the pepper away slowly and straight up. He then proceeded to carry on with this 3-D painting all over his page, covering it in tempra mountains and spikes. Jen went on to talk about how children are free from a lot of baggage at that early time in their lives. They have no idea what a 'pepper print' is supposed to look like, what's right or wrong when it comes to pepper prints. And she related how when the parents got involved, it inevitably turned into something to the extent of "oh no dear, that's not how you do it, this is how you do it..."

Dinner continued, dessert followed (mmmmmm, sticky rice with mango....) and we came back to the studio for a quick felting lesson for my sister. The night ended, all was well. But that question never left me. I asked Dan (my partner, also an artist): "Where do you find inspiration?" His response was pretty much the same as mine: "I don't know, it's just kinda there." So where IS there? And that's when it hit me. The pepper print. When that little boy pulled that pepper away from the paper and for the first time noticed the spikes of paint, that's where inspiration is. It's in those spaces where we have no inhibitions, where we have no expectations, where we are seeing things as if for the first time, noticing the details that otherwise get buried in our busy lives. It's in that corner of our minds where we don't know what it means to fail or succeed.

I think people pick up baggage as we pass through our lives. We are told by media what to wear, how to cut our hair, how to decorate our homes. We are taught in english class how to write an essay, in home ec how to cook simple foods. We are told how our lives ought to be. Grow up, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, the end. Some people never quite fit into those preconcieved notions, and manage to eek out an existance that works for them. Others manage to follow those expectations and seemingly make it to the end unscathed. But are they? We get so pressed into the ideas of how to live our lives that we don't really seem to live them. We can miss out on all kinds of experiences and discoveries because we stop looking for them. Our own creativity get stifled as we gain the notions of how hair should be cut, of how an essay should be structured. If we want to be inspired, we need to let go of all of those preconcieved notions. As would be said in Buddhism, we need to see with beginner's mind. Go for a walk and listen to the sounds, see the colours, feel the textures. We are surrounded by inspiration every day, everywhere we go, whether it's in a cubicle at the office (patterns in the carpet/ceiling/from the walls of the cubicles, your coworkers tie) or we're on a nature walk surrounded by beautiful plants, trickling waterfalls abd subgubg birds.

For me, I am inspired by the colours I see in the clothes that people wear. At one of my Christmas shows, a woman walked into my booth and immediately caught my eye. She was wearing a burgandy coat and had on a hand-knit, gray scarf. The colours really struck me and I'm working on some projects that incorporate those tones. Inspiration for forms comes out of the process of making the work. Paying attention to how the clay feels during its different stages of production, pushing it, moving it, seeing how far I can take it. The act of it spinning on the wheel creates rhythms for me to play with, exaggerate, interrupt. I did a lot of sewing in high school and I like to play, transposing those techniques onto clay. Books I have read on mathematics (yup, total nerd here...) got me thinking about how to divide up space, proportions, and balance.

I sincerely wish the best for my sister on her creative journeys. And I'm greatful that I was given the opportunity to explore this topic. I'll definitely remind myself of my beginner's mind, and be on the look out for new sources of inspiration around me.

And I'm curious to hear about the source of inspiration for others...


  1. My condensed version about what inspires me is Curiosity. I let what intrigues--lead me.

  2. Excellent post! If I sit down and try to have an idea on purpose it just doesn't happen -but if I'm working in the clay, the ideas flow freely, often faster than I can keep up with, as I respond to what is happening in my hands.

  3. It is always interesting to find out how people come up with ideas. Thanks for sharing. I added you to my link list on
    I have a lot of mudders there :)

  4. Wonderful post! I've always found "inspiration" to be just like any other part of the artistic process... it takes practice and the more you exercise it, the easier it is.

  5. Anne Armstrong PotteryApril 7, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    Hey Melissa!
    Inspiration/creativity for me reside in my sense of play. In the ups and downs of my life so many answers stem from a good joke...a good laugh... It both invigorates me and calms me.....clears the way for the ideas to flow.