People often ask me where I get my ideas from. In reality, I don’t think they want a running account of every experience, every social or cultural influence, every holiday, every trauma, or intimate details of my childhood, all of which could provide a sliver of the answer to that question. What I think they want to know is, how do you begin to pluck thoughts, words, and images from the ether and turn them in to something real?
While I was at university, I spent a great deal of time looking into very traditional techniques, painting with egg tempera almost exclusively for the final year of my under grad degree and throughout the entirety of my Masters. It led me to look at writings such as those of Cennino Cennini, a 14th century Florentine painter, who created the most meticulous handbook for artists. It covered everything from how to crack an egg, to how to paint green drapes, but it also went in to great detail about the life an artist should live. They should rise early, eat a light diet, have a regular work routine, practice constantly, and under no circumstances should they entertain the company of women lest it made their hands shake! The artist in those days was something akin to a Priest, literally divining information and bringing it to life. That is hard to imagine now, with images bombarding us at every turn. Television screens, iPhones, and advertising hoardings are part of every day life, but for the common man in the 14th century, to walk in to a Church and see the light shining through stained glass windows, or the colour and form of frescos, altar pieces, icons, statues and the like must have been truly awe inspiring.
Am I trying to make myself appear to be something special? Otherworldly? In possession of some super human power? Absolutely not! The only thing that separates me from someone who claims to be “rubbish” at art is the interest and willingness to dictate real time to it. There are a couple of famous quotes that illustrate this quite nicely:
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” ~ Pablo Picasso
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to do an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” ~ Chuck Close.
So where do I get my ideas from? Well, I live an alert kind of life. I keep my eyes open. I take photos of faces that pop out of hedgerows while I walk the dog, make sketches, take note of a particular colour or a composition on an advert; the list is endless. Then I mix all of this visual input with my memories and experience and let it steep in the deep cauldron of my brain. But here’s the secret. Mostly ideas come from not making excuses, from not having that extra job to do that stops me getting in to the studio, from being prepared to prioritise time to draw, to daydream, to rip up paper, to play, often without considering the end result. Doesn’t sound very grown up does it?
Some days I will sit at my desk and draw for hours without major success, other times I will pick up a brush and make a painting with relative ease, but I am ALWAYS engaged with my practice. Always thinking, seeing, mulling, but then committing to devote time to it. To take a risk, and be prepared to fail, and to simply DO something every day.
There is no short cut to authenticity. You want ideas? Put your bum on a seat and get ready to play.