Inspiration Explodes, Ideas Evolve

Creativity is a fast, and slow, process.

How can it be both? Inspiration hits in an instant… I see something that sparks a rush of possibilities. Ideas flood my brain, each more exciting than the last. What provides the spark? In my case, it’s often a glimpse of an architectural detail.

This week, I’ve been particularly excited by my trips in the metro. If you take the metro, bus, train or subway regularly, you may wonder what’s so inspirational about that, but in just the past few days I’ve:

Found a particular spot in one station where as a ascend from the depths (it’s a very deep station!) there’s a spot where the ceiling’s concrete beams, walls, supports and platforms form an amazing composition of lines, planes, shadows and light.

Discovered that through a particular window of the metro station, at just the right time of the morning, the sun rises and illuminates the old wall of an abandoned building, providing the perfect screen for the projections of the bare branches of a tree casting shadow puppets against the warm glow of the orange walls.

Been captivated by an immense Iconic column supporting the station roof that riders circle as we exit the train and move up to the station doors. Right now, I’m thinking this image will become a triptych.

Inspiration strikes like that… one moment its just another day, another ride on public transit… and the next it’s magical.

Turning inspiration into a finished work of art? That takes time. How much time? It can be years between the moment inspiration hits and the day I sign my finished piece. Does that means I’m working on it every day? No. That would make me one of the slowest artists in history! (Although historians believe Leonardo Da Vinci began the Mona Lisa in 1503 and was still working on it as late as 1517… I don’t think it’s ever taken me 14 years to finish a piece. Yet!)

Why so long? Observation and contemplation is essential between each step in the creative process. At each stage, the urge to create something new is almost overwhelming, but experience has taught me that I must respect my inspiration. When I’m inspired by a view, I already have the finished work pictured clearly in my mind. I know exactly what I want it to look like. But I forget.

When I return to my studio, I spend hours sorting through photos, printing them out for display. Bulletin boards surround my desk; my studio wall is lined with cords with clothespins where I display the images. Works in various stages of completion are always within sight. Photographs are tacked up alongside drawings and color studies for my paintings. Even “finished” paintings are displayed for days and even weeks before I’m satisfied.

At each stage of my creative process, I must reconnect with my original inspiration. I’m continually asking myself, “What is this about?” If the answer to that question changes, I won’t be happy with the resulting work. Every time I’ve allowed my work to veer off into another idea, I’ve been disappointed to learn I had it right the first time.