Seeds of Inspiration
Planting Artistic Renewal and Rebirth
To see this essay in its original format please follow this link: https://conta.cc/3zmCzI8
For a seed to achieve its greatest expression it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.
Are you aware that April is the official month of hope? With all of the fear chaos, and overwhelm in our outer world there has never been a better time to lean on hope. Wikipedia describes hope as an optimistic state of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes for ourselves and/or the world at large. Now is the perfect time to plant a garden for your wishes, dreams, intentions, and plans to grow.
Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. Just as flowers grow in fertile soil, so will you. Just as trees grow flowers and fruits, humanity expresses hope through works of art. An artist brings something into existence that wasn’t there before. To live as an artist is a way of being in the world. A way of perceiving. A practice of paying attention - opening yourself up as a conduit for new creation.
Is a new and exciting vision calling you? Can you become still enough to feel it in your heart? Have you noticed your old self feeling constricted and uncomfortable? Could there be a genuine sense of hope rising within you?
Please join me in preparing a garden for artistic growth.
The first step in preparing any garden is clearing away the old growth that no longer serves. At some point the very things that excited and expanded us in the past start to feel stale and constricting. When a style or subject becomes popular and provides a comfortable lifestyle an artist can become trapped inside their own success. The known is safe and familiar, and it pleases others but it leaves us dull and lifeless.
When you stay in the known rather than stepping into the unknown there is a different sort of pain. The problem with refusing growth is the pain of living a life of unlived dreams. There is an almost itchy feeling that you were meant for more than "this".
One way you can recognize overgrowth in your creative garden is you repeat yourself. Fight the urge to repeat what works and sells and instead take risks, experiment, and evolve as an artist.
There is magic in not knowing, the mystery. If you follow your strategic mind, replicating what you already know, you will miss out on this wonderful feeling of being fully alive.
Artists lead an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life. Continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine and challenging art, in and of itself. Aliveness waits for us precariously balanced out on our green growing edge asking us to bring forth new ideas and share them with the world.
You will know it is time to clear the field when your own inner artist begins calling out for you to change. Your next move is already sitting beside you, waiting. It awaits your next step, your attention, and your curiosity. Do you see it? Do you hear it? Do you notice it? It may be a small, quiet voice whispering in your ear, it may be an image that suddenly appears in your painting, or the character who emerges unbidden in your writing.
Inspiration - Preparing the Soil
The most exciting moments for an artist are those when a new idea arrives fully formed and ready for our action.
Elizabeth Gilbert describes inspiration this way, “Both the Greeks and the Romans believed in the idea of an external spirit of creativity—a sort of house elf, who lives within the walls of your home and sometimes aids you in your labors. The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house entity. They called it your genius—your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. This is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius. It’s a subtle but important distinction (being vs. having)” Gilbert also says, “I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
Imagine what’s possible for you if that is true! An incredible idea is seeking you as a partner to manifest itself. To pick up this energy we do not look for, predict or analyze our way in. Instead, create an open space that allows it in - a space so free of the overpacked condition of our minds that it functions like a vacuum. This is what I mean by preparing the soil to plant seeds. We prepare ourselves to receive this ceaseless generative energy by getting still enough to tune in to it.
My best ideas come when I am doing something relaxing and enjoyable. Ideas for art arrive like visitors while my hands are immersed in warm water washing dishes and gazing out my kitchen window, some drop in during meditation, or come and sit with me when I am drinking my morning coffee in a patch of sunshine. Pinterest, museum visits, travel, and reading are other ways I fill my creativity tank. What works best for you? Does inspiration come to you when you are out in nature, in the shower, falling asleep, or driving your car?
Inspiration is always trying to work through us. The feeling is the affirmation we are on the right path. The ecstatic is our compass - pointing to our true north. As artists, it is our job to collect this inspiration, transmute it, and share it. We are translators for messages the universe is broadcasting. We co-create with universal energy as we filter these downloads through our individual personalities and taste.
Notice how new ideas seem to arrive in waves sprinkled around the globe when their time has come. If you tune into this evolution of thought, a crazy idea that's bothering you might serendipitously connect you to an expanding and inspiring art movement.
This video planted a new seed for me. (https://youtu.be/lbaemWIljeQ)
Yes, it is important to lead, but what if we only need to tune into and amplify someone else's evolutionary idea
A seed can be a phrase, a color, a feeling, a need, an idea, a momentary perception, an unexpected thought, or the echo of a memory. Hints of inspiration can be the tiniest whispers, Two seeds of inspiration might seem indistinguishable but one may yield volumes and the other little to nothing. Seeds are potential starting points that, with love and care, can grow into something beautiful.
Elizabeth Gilbert describes how inspiration keeps, “trying to send me messages in every form it can—through dreams, through portents, through clues, through coincidences, through déjà vu, through kismet, through surprising waves of attraction and reaction, through the chills that run up my arms, through the hair that stands up on the back of my neck, through the pleasure of something new and surprising, through stubborn ideas that keep me awake all night long . . . whatever works. Inspiration is always trying to work with me.”
The more seeds you have the easier it is to choose one of them to focus on. If you’ve collected 100 seeds you might find that seed number thirty-five speaks to you in a way that none of the others do. If thirty-five is your only choice without the other seeds for context it’s more difficult to tell. Placing too much emphasis on a single seed or dismissing it prematurely can interfere with its natural growth. Collect many seeds and then, over time, look back to see which ones resonate. Each one should be approached with active awareness and boundless curiosity.
Where do you store your seeds? I have collected seeds from the past thirty years in a three-ring binder. In it, I have sketches, photos, notes, and detailed instructions for myself. I have more seeds on my Pinterest boards, in folders on my phone and computer, and pinned to my bulletin board in my studio. These seeds hold enough energy to get me going whenever I am searching for a new direction. I like to post images of art styles I would like to learn in a place I see them daily for further inspiration.
I find that if I leave my seeds for too long they lose energy and vigor. Something that lit me up a few months ago, is easily eclipsed by the next shiny object. And by delaying it’s not uncommon for my idea to find its voice through another maker. Someone told me that even Michael Jackson was terrified his muse would take his inspiration to Prince if he did not act on it immediately.
Talent is the ability to let ideas manifest through you. Technique and skill allow us a greater range of responses but on their own, they will not allow the seed to reach its full expression. Our work as artists is to collect seeds, plant them, water them with attention, and see if they take root.
Sometimes a small and seemingly insignificant seed will grow into a magnificent tree. Having a specific vision of what a seed will become is helpful in later phases, but it may cut off more interesting possibilities in this initial phase.
Each action you take in a dynamic and evolving environment like a garden changes not only your perspective but also the environment itself. Both are deeply interdependent. Your actions create alternative possibilities for your seed that did not exist before.
Every brushstroke, every decision in your art, creates a set of possible paths that were not only invisible before but didn’t exist before you made that creative move. Each branch that sprouts generates possible new branches. Demanding full control of a work of art is just as foolish as demanding that an oak tree grows according to your will.
The only way to truly know if an idea works is to test it. Ask yourself as many “what if” questions as you can. Should the whole painting be purple? What if you used only two colors? What if you combined your idea with another seed? Each unsuccessful solution gets you closer to one that works. Give yourself permission to play with your seeds. Do not make them too precious.
When a plant is flourishing, we can see the life spring forth from every stalk, leaf, and flower. Our emotions tell us when an idea is flourishing. When something interesting starts to come together, it arouses delight and a feeling of wanting more.
As your vision grows the work reveals itself to you. Allow it all the time it needs to bear fruit. Elizabeth Gilbert advises, “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the capacity to transform you. Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding. Because that moment? That’s the moment when interesting begins.”
All that matters is that you are making something you love, to the best of your abilities, here and now.
Pruning, editing, trimming
Once you have a seed flourishing and bearing fruit you may find a direction that will support your growth for a week, a year, or a lifetime. A single seed can provide all you need to produce a series of deep and interesting artworks. Or, one of your seeds will grow and flourish to the point where it begins to take over the entire garden and block the sun from your other projects.
That’s when pruning, editing, and trimming can redirect you back to what’s essential and what feels joyful and fulfilling. Just as quickly your seed can lose vigor and wilt. If you lack a certain skill or expertise to bring your idea to fruition, set it aside until you attain the skills you need or invite collaboration and guidance from someone with the missing expertise. The beautiful thing about seeds is their patience.
Anyone can take the simple and make it complicated but it takes mastery to reduce a complicated idea to its essence - elegantly right and simple. The point of trimming and pruning is to encourage more vigorous healthy growth. Follow the feeling of joy when deciding between what needs to stay and what needs to go.
Watch for the urge to over-prune or kill a growing idea that scares you. A weed is just a plant growing where you didn't invite it to grow.
Newness always feels awkward and uncomfortable to you the artist and the people around you. Pursuing something new and different will invite criticism and comparison from others. You are not here to create the final statement in art after which no more comments are possible.
Each work you create is a milestone along your lifelong journey, a chapter about where, when, and what you were thinking when you created it.
If you can get your art to the point where when you see it you know it could not have been any other way - when it is balanced and elegant and simply stated - then you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Just as in gardening artistic growth is a seasonal process with periods of rest, hidden growth when everything happens underground, struggle, flourishing, hard work, harvest, and then clearing and starting over. At the end of a productive season rest and restoration are required before starting the process of clearing space for new seeds all over again.
Like gardening, creativity is more about the process than the product.
Our goal as artists is to live a fulfilling and productive life of making art. To be like my mango tree that effortlessly produces abundant beauty year after year. If you follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions they will bring you to life. Be the blooming garden, the fruiting tree, and create whatever it is that fills your heart with joy.
Creative living is always possible whatever form your expression takes.
Comparing yourself and relying on approval from others takes you further away from yourself. Who you are isn’t contingent upon anyone else’s opinion. You decide who you are. You are the author, artist, and composer of your life. It's an inside job. You give your power away when you look outside yourself for validation.
Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert
Making and sharing art is our legacy as artists. Each work we create says to the world "I was here". It connects us with others in a language beyond words. Each work is an affirmation of our time and our experience, it is a calling to the rest of the world to join in the play and light their own creative spark. It doesn't need to be any more than that for us to have pride in our artistic expression.
Here are the books I used as resources for this essay. I found them fascinating and you might too. I especially enjoyed Rick Rubin's book "The Creative Act". I highly recommend it.
Rick Rubin - The Creative Act
Suzanne Hanna - The Wilderness Walk Oracle Guidebook
Nancy Hillis M.D. - The Adjacent Possible
Elizabeth Gilbert - Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear
Create whatever you want to create—and let it be stupendously imperfect, abundant, and joyful because it's exceedingly likely that you will be the only one to even notice. If you would like my guidance and advice in preparing your artistic garden for more expansive growth I am happy to share my insights and my knowledge with you.
Please reach out to me if you would like my collaboration in nurturing your artistic seeds. I welcome the opportunity for conversation, collaboration, and commissions.
With Light and Delight