I often get asked “what inspires you to paint?” My immediate response is: “I walk my dog most days in the English countryside, and seeing and experiencing the beauty of nature gives me inspiration”.
However, when I think about it more deeply, there are a myriad of sources that fuel my inspirations and seep into my work, including external influences and experiences as well as internal ideas.
So here are some of the sources:
Certainly nature, especially my local British countryside, is a huge inspiration. I love this quote by the American naturalist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He encourages you to look more deeply.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”
I have taken gazillion of photos on my phone – documenting horizons, fields, trees, close-up of barks, rocks, edges, hedgerows and many other things. I have taken the same photo in different weather conditions and seasons. Over the years, my skill of seeing has become more discerning and I see more shapes, lines, colours and textures in the landscape, which I was not as aware of at the start. My studio is cluttered with things I collect, such as bits of lichens or mosses, stones or dried up grasses or seed pods.
Memories and my Childhood
Being in nature often reminds me of past memories, such as going on family strolls in our local park or walking on the beach. These childhood memories evoke feelings and emotions associated of a place such as the pleasure of kicking up leaves of the ground and seeing the beautiful autumn colours, or bracing myself against the cold harsh wind coming off the sea – later coming home and feeling so refreshed. These feelings can resurface as I walk the countryside and the pleasure I get from seeing how a bright light falls on a distant field illuminating the colour to a bright green or yellow, depending on the season.
Another influence is that I grew up in Denmark where design is an integral part of life. Danish design revolves around simplicity and is often inspired by nature – you see striking design in homes, shopping centres, schools, etc. Even their rubbish bins or bus stops look stylish! Also I would get dragged to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art every few months by my parents. I now realise these experiences have had a huge impact on me and has definitely filtered through to my likes and dislikes in art. And most of all, I realise how lucky I was to have such a fantastic resource so close but just wish I had appreciated it more!
Seeing Art in Museums and Galleries
I now live just north of London and am so fortunate to have access to the wonderful museums and galleries that London has to offer. Seeing art in the flesh can be transformative and fill me with inspiration whether it is the subject matter, the composition or the colours. I make mental notes, or buy postcards or books which I bring back to the studio and then experiment on paper. However, it’s not just ideas about subject matter or process that I get from seeing art; I also increase my knowledge of art history, and become more discerning as to what I like and what I don’t like.
Looking at Artists on Social Media
Of course, we are inundated with images today, especially through social media. With Instagram and Pinterest, I can scroll through so many pictures in seconds! It definitely helps to find what I’m drawn to, or learn about techniques or process that I might like to try out. It is also a wonderful way to make contacts with artists all over the world, but it can be a bit overwhelming and give you a sense of envy, so I try not to overly rely on it.
In the end, I think inspiration is important, but you cannot wait until you feel inspired to go into the studio and paint. I find painting is a discipline, albeit a enjoyable one, and regular studio practice is essential. Also by painting, further inspiration comes along, especially the internal ideas and feelings. In fact the more I paint the more I get inspired and the internal dialogue starts to go into overdrive, and with the external inspiration brewing in the background. As Pablo Picasso said:
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
You may also like to listen to Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher talking on their podcast ArtJuice (27 April 2021, episode 118) where they discuss “Finding Inspiration for Your Art”.
As an artist, let me know how you find inspiration for your art making? And as an non-artist, let me know if you find anything surprising about how I find my inspiration?