What Makes Inspiration?

by Laureen on February 9, 2012

Studio at work

In my studio today I’m making inspiration. It isn’t a mystical process. It’s more like making bread. Workmanlike. Yeast, water, flour, seasoning. Maybe it’s more like making bread without a recipe. How much flour? Unbleached? Whole grain? How much of each? Now, mix. Too soft. More flour? Which kind? Mix again. Knead. Rise. Punch down. Knead again. Rise again. Bake. For how long? How hot should the oven be? If the bread isn’t good, I could throw it out and start over. But oh, all that work and time! Never mind. Begin again.

Last summer I had an idea about the way a particular feeling might look. It was just a glimpse, caught in the back of my eye. Not knowing quite what to do with it, I let it be, thinking about it sometimes but doing no more with it than that. By December it seemed to tell me what shape it might want. Then the trick is to turn the idea into a painting.

When I begin a new piece I set up the thing I will end up describing. I take its picture. I manipulate the results in my computer, and through that process I arrive at an image that is the beginning of the work. The painting is never the photograph, or the thing I set up. Or the image I originally had that quick look at.

And I wish that arriving at any image was as easy as saying it.

So here I am, placing objects on a board, setting lights, moving the board around, trying different angles and different ways of fastening and more and different lights. My first attempts at showing what was in my imagination look like nothing. No rhythm, balance, interest, life. No meaning. Move the objects. Re-arrange the proportions. Move the lights. Once more time.

Eventually something begins to emerge. It doesn’t look like what I glimpsed in the summer, but it looks like something. Fiddle, photograph, re-arrange again, fiddle, photograph. Now I see something I didn’t expect to. Out of the new vision I have a new idea. Begin again. The first image might work. So might the next one. The one after that – I can hardly breathe for possibility.

I thought this might be two hours’ work. Four hours later I realize I have only started. By this time the process doesn’t seem so workmanlike. Though it certainly feels like work. It feels as as if through the exercise of vision, concentration, will, and sheer belief, I’m beginning to make something where before there was nothing at all.

Not that this small beginning  means I will go from here to making art. That’s the next leap of faith. Between now and then this pixelated representation of an idea will go through my computer, a photo printing process, translation into drawing on a board, and the application to the drawing of oil paint using flat hogs’ hair brushes, by someone who often feels she has neither ever done this before nor any idea what to do next. And who can fail completely at any step of the way.

But today all that is ahead. Today I’m making inspiration.

What makes inspiration for you?


Kristy Reimers-Loader February 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Hi Laureen,

I couldn’t help noticing that the way you describe how you go about building a piece of art is much the same as the way I go about writing term papers for my profs at university. It’s hard work, but the harder I work at it, and the more effort I put into it, the happier I am with the work when it’s done. I clicked on your painting and it’s lovely. Keep up the good (hard) work!


Laureen February 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Kristy, thank you. And thank you for reading and for making the comparison. I love it that my process is like yours! All good things to you with all your (hard!) work.

Dave Margoshes February 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm

you are always inspiring, Laureen.

Laureen February 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

And you are a dear to say so. Happy Valentine’s day!

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