Pictured above: Free to Be by Emma Cavell
It’s always fascinating to find out where artists get their creative inspiration. Here, Rhona Duffy asks four artists what inspires them and what they do when they’re feeling stuck. They provide some top tips for unleashing your own inner, creative genius.
By Rhona Duffy
Monica Brinkman, Canada
- Nature: Anything from a small insect, tree bark, lichen or dramatic skies painted with big fluffy clouds, to rocks, shells, bones, forests and beaches, inspire me. This is my playground.
- Flowers and plant life: I enjoy all their colours and interesting structures.
- Textures: I’m fascinated by the worlds within worlds in nature’s textures everywhere.
- Words and music: They help me connect to other people’s stories, wisdom and culture.
- Museums, concerts and theatre: I love experiencing art live in all its forms, that human connection of collectively sharing this experience of consuming art with a room full of friends and strangers, followed by deep discussion with other artists.
When I’m feeling stuck…
Inspiration is abundant and I find it in every aspect of my life. It took me a long time to realise that the feeling of being uninspired was not real, but rather a form of emotional paralysis caused by my own fears. As an artist, I strive to be authentic and delve deeper into my subconscious through my work. I want to put all that I am into my work. However, this can be a challenge for an intuitive person. When I feel stuck, I’ve learned that there are many actions I can take to get back in touch with myself. One way I do this is by immersing myself in nature. I also recently discovered the pleasure of journaling as an effective way to free my mind and reconnect. Taking a moment to pause can actually help me generate new ideas. Finally, I believe that having a regular art practice is key. Experimenting with different mediums and techniques allows me to continually grow as an artist. By embracing these practices, I have found that inspiration is always within me.
Emma Calvell, UK
- Nature: I’m deeply inspired by the absolute beauty and generosity of our natural world. It offers an authentic, curative ground of endless wonderment, creativity and joy. I have deep appreciation for my early life growing up in a super abundant garden, bursting with wondrous plants, flowers and bountiful blossoms. I feel fascinated by the inter-connectivity of nature and how all her beautiful threads are intricately woven into the garden of our hearts.
- Meditation: I love walking meditation, meandering a way back deep into myself, and feeling a fullness of blessing exchanging through our being together in those magical moments of our true nature. I enjoy meditating in nature, listening to the wild whispers, opening and aligning myself with the many colourful flows, delicate tones and textures, returning me to my soul’s joy. It supports the swells and streams of authentic expression longing to emerge through my being.
- Sounds: I’ve been interested in sound healing for as long as I can remember. I especially love using mantra and intuitive sound. I find it really opens a deeply inspired space of resonance within. And I absolutely love bird song. Receiving the gifts of birds’ sweet sounds is truly a blessing. Connecting in with nature’s radiant sounds and rhythms of each wild moment of being sets the tone for my day. There have been peacocks living in my village for over 30 years now… although their sound is slightly less sweet, they make up for it in character and colour, which seem to meander their way into my artwork!
- Energy medicine: I practice spontaneous, rhythmic movement, qigong, energy medicine and emotional freedom technique. I find all these modalities a great support in the ongoing flow of a creative life.
- Vintage china: It stirs a deep passion within me. I love how it offers endless possibility of pattern, hue, tone and texture. It inspires a floral dance of diversity, curiosity and beauty. The fragments hold a fine body and reliable quality, which allows for long, clean, strong cuts. Gently shaping each piece, I listen from within my heart and miracles transpire through mosaic metamorphosis. My intention is to encourage harmony to emerge from diverse and discarded materials.
When I’m feeling stuck…
I rarely feel uninspired. I begin each day in appreciation and sacred connection, with an intention to embrace each moment in creative potentiality with as much joy as I can reach. But we’re living through extremely challenging and unsettling times, which can often impose disruptive energies of fear and uncertainty upon us. When I find myself slipping out of alignment with the eternal frequency of flow, and my regular practices don’t quite suffice, I turn to sacred poetry. I always feel well and truly opened, returned to love after walking their rich poesy home to my heart. Some of my favourite poets are Rumi, Hafiz, Kahlil Gibran, Mary Oliver, David Whyte and Nancy Wood.
Nikki Sullivan, USA
- An inheritance: I began my mosaic journey in 2005 after inheriting a gorgeous mid-century mosaic coffee table made by my grandmother in the mid-60s. She handed it down to my mother and I was thrilled when it made its way to me. I never made too much of it my whole life until it was sitting in my living room with nothing on it and, suddenly, it spoke to me. I thought: I want to do this! I had always had something artistic going on throughout my life but couldn’t find my niche. I knew that mosaic was going to be it. But so much to learn! I bought my first mosaic book, by Sonia King, and was hooked from there.
- Thrifting: I’m an avid (ok, addicted) thrifter. I love flea markets and antique shopping – basically, junk. Finding bits of this or that to use in my art inspires me to build whatever material I want to use around these discarded items, usually stone. Inspiration at flea markets also comes in the form of vintage textiles and pottery, paintings, furniture and old tools – the list is endless because you never know what you’ll find.
- Materials: I’m particularly fond of the patina of rusty metal in any form. It’s amazing how much of these discarded pieces of scrap metal I actually find outside on a walk. I love stone and using it with found materials. The rustic quality of the stone along with rusty metal, or whatever I’m using in a piece, blend well. Other influences come from my many collected art and interior design books, which I look at frequently. And, of course, the work of other artists inspires me to try something new or just wow me. At the time of this printing, I will have just returned from a summer trip to Paris, Italy and Austria – I am sure I will find much inspiration on my travels!
- Other artists: I’ve been fortunate enough to take some very enlightening workshops and classes with some of the best mosaic artists at various conferences of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA). Most notable was with Verdiano Marzi at the Chicago conference, which took place at the Chicago Mosaic School a few years back. Amazing! I also pore over mosaic art books and Pinterest.
- Weaving and painting: I also started loom weaving about three years ago and I’ve been told my weaves emulate my mosaic style, which is unintentional but I find pleasing. Recently, I started experimenting with chunky, textural abstract painting and hope to someday blend all three mediums together. So much still to learn and experiment with and I’m enjoying every minute of it all!
Emily Lawlor, UK
- Birds: I’m fascinated by natural winged flight – the constant feathered visitors to our cottage garden are my daily inspiration. From my garden studio, I watch their acrobatics at the bird feeder, their swooping and diving, and the muted colours of the sparrows on the Cotswold stone tile roof, like the flash of green or gold from a finch. My creativity is energised by a glimpse of a tailfeather, a striking feathered breast or the whirr of a wing flying past.
- Fairytales: In childhood, my parents told us traditional Irish folk stories along with the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen fairytales, which gave me a sense of magic and fuelled my creative imagination. I still read the childhood fairytales and poetry for inspiration – The Wild Swans that were princes, the Golden Bird, the swallow in Thumbelina. Quite simply the ordinary becoming extraordinary.
- Surface patterns and ornament: I love the history and beauty of the vintage china that I work with, inspiring me to make new designs on a daily basis. Each mosaic is inspired by the motifs, surface patterns and ornament of the reclaimed china that I work with – each fragment of china has its own story and nods at the faded traditions of the Stoke Potteries. A wing might be inspired by the classic components of a weeping willow or a colbalt pagoda-like structure will give intricate detail and texture to tail feathers.
- The natural world: I walk for several miles every day with my faithful companion and studio hound; this is my contemplative creative time before I start making in the studio. Nature is a huge inspiration to me – the flora and fauna – and I have a particular fascination with birds – but also the familiar landscape – the hedgerows, plants and the colours and textures of the Cotswolds.
- Site specific: I trained in Public Art at Chelsea College of Art, creating and making designs that are a response to the surrounding environment. If I am starting a mosaic project or struggling to find inspiration, I always look at the history and context of a place – maps, old field names, typefaces and texts or garden landscapes – to generate ideas as a starting point.
When I’m feeling stuck…
If I’m feeling stuck or uninspired, I go back to the old-fashioned paper sketchbook and work with mixed-media collage. I love the fluidity of working with collage – choosing textures and colours from old magazines, wallpaper, maps, old letters, photocopies and text. Being able to both roughly tear up the paper as well as using the precision of scissors gives a certain freedom to ideas. Most of my mosaic designs start life as a collage.