As an abstract artist, the most common question I receive is "Where do you get your ideas?" Having giving this much thought, I realize that the answer is all around, and inside me.
I am preparing for my third show of the Summer and boy, my soul is tired. I was so excited at the response that I received when looking for places to exhibit my work. It wasn’t expected and so when three different places offered me shows for June, July and August, I knew that I was in for a busy Summer.
I have been working consistently and was able to have completely new paintings for each show. Making the art isn’t hard for me. I don’t really have to wait for inspiration to come. I have a schedule that I’m on the computer the first half of the day doing marketing and admin, and I’m in the studio the second half making abstract art and for the most part, I’ve stuck to it with ease.
The most common question that I’ve gotten is “where do you get your ideas?” and it’s a bit of a tough one to answer. My first instinct is to respond that the ideas happen in the moment as I practice abstract expressionism, which by definition, is spontaneous. But after answering the question for the 15th time, I’m realizing that I may be becoming less spontaneous and more thoughtful as time goes on.
Sometimes the most simple shape can have the most meaningful impact in my abstract paintings.
One of many paper airplane cut outs for my kiddo's birthday gift.
My daughter is turning 16 this month (holy crap) and she asked for a new painting for her room, which we are going to paint and make over for her birthday. When I was beginning her painting, I thought about objects and images that she likes, and a sharp yet light paper airplane shape stuck out to me. And so, I began Nora’s painting with paper cut outs of 16 dark paper airplanes and 16 light ones (she is amazingly balanced for an almost 16-year-old).
The painting came out fantastic. (I'll share it with you all after her birthday.) It was the first time that I used an actual “thing” for my paper cut out instead just a repeating shape like a circle, diamond or hexagon. It was whimsical and fun without being immature and it managed to retain sophistication. And upon completion, my brain was immediately flooded with images from my own childhood growing up in New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana.
Inspiration may come from many different places but images from my childhood in Louisiana are allowing me to create more meaningful pieces.
One of many different pelicans cut for the first of my Louisiana series. (See finished painting at top.)
I settled on pelicans for a second experiment and began a painting using the same process that I used for Nora’s paper airplanes. I'm so pleased with how it turned out. I have sketches now for a Louisiana series that has images of shrimp, hurricanes, fishing hooks, fleur de lis, snowballs… There are a lot of ideas and this is how I plan on spending my Autumn. I’m can’t wait to dive in.
This series is more personal and I’m finding that it is reminding me of some of my old artistic inspirations that I got from children’s book illustrations. I can’t wait to see how the series turns out. In sketching these images, I began to realize that even in the paintings that seemingly come out of nowhere, just as these Louisiana images came to mind and I was able to observe and collect them into my sketch book, I have been collecting ideas for my abstracts in similar ways all along.
"Shrimp Again?!" A common dinner time complaint from me as a "spoiled by fresh gulf seafood" kid. #2 in my Louisiana series.
Want new creative ideas for your abstract art? Just look around. Observation is an important tool.
So, when I’m interested in finding inspiration, here is my tip to myself: Be Observant. I mean this in a few different ways:
- Observe what gives me a “charge”. I took Nora to see Taylor Swift in 2015 and at one point during the show, her dancers had huge paper airplanes on sticks and they were flying them over the crowd. Visually, it was right up my alley. It was playful, whimsical, surreal and a little magical. I felt a fire of amazement begin to burn in my chest at the visual impact that these simple paper airplanes had on the audience. Nora felt it too…we still talk about how amazing it was thus, the paper airplane painting.
- Observe recurring images in my head. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to watch the pelicans sore over the bayou. When I learned to surf as an adult, I was so excited to see them surf the air currents over the waves. I didn’t know they could do that as we didn’t have waves like that in the bayous. After beginning my pelican painting, I realized that I have a ton of these simple images in my head. They are all special to me and I believe that connection can be seen in the painting. It is more personal.
- Observe all the time. One night I was out to dinner and the server brought over our silverware rolled up in napkins. The napkin rolls were secured with strips of paper about an inch or so thick and were covered in an intriguing prism like purple and blue pattern. I took everyone’s little piece of paper from their napkin rolls home and included them in a painting. I also have taken candy wrappers and foils, wrapping paper, cocktail napkins in pretty prints… Art supplies are everywhere. I’m in the habit of being on constant look out for them.
Unbelievably cool paper used as napkins rings at a local restaurant.
It took about 2 years for this habit to develop. But now, I have to carry a little sketch book with me at all times as when I see inspiration in my head (or on my dinner table) I know that I have to catch it quick or it may be forgotten. Last night I thought of another great New Orleans image and this morning it’s gone. I was lazy and didn’t make a note of it and there it goes. Out into the ethers. I hope I remember it later.
So, if you’re wondering where I begin, the answer is that I simply look around both externally and internally for those little nuggets. Who knew a simple paper airplane or a silhouette of a pelican in flight could be inspiration for a painting? A better question is why wouldn't it be? Thankfully there are an infinite amount of ideas flying around and all I have to is pluck them and put it in my pocket, or in my sketchbook. It’s just that simple.
How and/or where do you find inspiration? Please tell me in the comments below. Thanks for your input! Please share this post if it resonates with you.
Photo at top is the first from my Louisiana series. Pelicans 36X36 Paper, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas.