Sunday, August 3, 2008

Enigmatic Inspiration

A guest visited my home for the first time last week and as she wandered around she suddenly stopped, turned to me and asked, “where on earth do you get your ideas?”. Her question brought me up rather short. Where DO I find ideas? Where exactly do ideas come from? This set me to pondering that most elusive of enigmas... inspiration.

Everyone knows the old chestnut about creativity being one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration, and I suppose that is somewhat true. I would certainly never negate the necessity of that ninety percent. But, how about the mysterious ten percent? Obviously, minus the idea, all the perspiration in the world will not create a work of art. For all that I do not know about inspiration, there is one thing I do know. One cannot demand its appearance. No scrunching up the face, stamping the foot, and commanding it to materialize. It wafts in the window when one is not waiting for it. Open eyes, open mind, and open heart seem to help, however. Over the years I’ve learned that the excitement of starting a new project for a client lies partly in the knowledge that, at the outset, I am completely oblivious to just what will be the inspiration for this new creation. Will it be a lovely piece of fabric, an evocative painting, the color of the setting sunlight as it slowly slides down the bedroom wall, the varied shades of garnet worn by a tree seen from the study window in autumn? I have often thought how lovely a room would be done all in the champagne colors of Edward’s glossy fur. Soft whites, taupes, warm browns... I can just see it. There will always be a jumping off point for each new project, but it will be a hidden secret awaiting my discovery. That’s what makes it fun.

There is currently a buzz in the air around the new movie Mamma Mia. Understandably, people seem to be besotted with the sun-drenched Grecian setting. The whitewashed walls, pure sea blues, and happy bright colors will no doubt all be catalysts for innovative rooms and fashions in the months to come. Art direction in film is often so gorgeously inventive and can be a wondrous addition to the bubbling cauldron of one’s ideas. I once designed a favorite dining room for a client only to discover when I finished that its concept had obviously been born when I saw the dining room in the film, Gosford Park, the colors were so similar. From the Griffindor common room at Hogwarts to the boreal ice palace in Dr. Zhivago, film feeds the artistic imagination. And for me, other exceptional wonder boxes of inspiration are the atmospheric old inns in which I love to stay when on holiday . I never know when a notion I’ve unconsciously tucked away while rambling around one of these magnificent places will suddenly swim to the forefront of my mind just when it needs to. And books, of course, offer a marvelous well from which to draw, providing technicolor mental pictures that are unique to each reader. Pure inspiration.

Considering my visitor’s question eventually led me to believe that I know of no firm answer. Inspiration, ideas, visions, are like fireflies. They are out there, in the night, one catches a glimpse every now and then. But they make themselves seen in their own good time. I just keep my eyes open, for like the astonished lady in the Arthur Rackham painting above, I never know when the next door I prise open may release true magic.


  1. You are a girl after my own heart.

  2. A creative read too.

    Dr. Zhivago is one incredible movie. I saw it over two days at a London cinema Even as a teen, i was taken by the beautiful cinemaphotography. I will never forget the sweeeping fields of poppies as the train rushes by.

  3. I reveled in this post as I love to learn what inspires artists and designers. Regarding movie sets as inspiration for design, have you heard about Linda Merrill’s blog Silver Screen Surroundings? Linda examines film sets for interior design ideas. It's really interesting. ~ Kalianne


    Ps. I think Edward’s fur would make a gorgeous colour palette! He is such a beautiful boy. ;)

  4. So true...and why do the best ideas come when you are falling asleep or just waking up? For the same reasons I suppose...when you are too tired or unconscious to pick up a pencil and sketch them out. (Though on the occasions I have, I have always been astonished at what my rambling brain has dreamt up!)

  5. I too find myself noticing interiors and details in film, to the point where I completely ignore the dialogue. I also absorb descriptions of rooms whilst reading novels. I agree that lots of ideas reveal themselves on the point of sleep or awakening but just as fleeting as they are these ideas become lost again.

  6. So interesting that you mention film. I love to study the rooms and sets of old films. Off the top of my head, two stand out: the house in Denmark of Herr Tobin, where Madame X recuperates from her pneumonia, and also the gorgeous apartment of Laura, from the movie of the same name.

  7. The Arthur Rackham is the perfect illustration for what you are describing (and I adore his work). One cannot tame or trap or induce inspiration - one can only watch for it, and be grateful when it alights (which is, as mentioned, most often, when there is no pen or paper near). Lovely post, Pamela.

  8. I've been working in the field of design for over 20 years and the concept of creating new ideas and finding inspiration continues to be a mystery to me as well.

    I often say yes to a challenging design project only to find myself, mechanical pencil poised, staring at a blank clean sheet of tracing paper and thinking to myself - I can't do this - nothing is coming to me. I've been rendered idea-less and I'll never think of another great idea (perhaps ever again). At least that's how it feels sometimes.

    I try and surround myself with things that are inspiring. For me it's mostly books, magazines and hunting on the internet (the world's most incredible reference library at my fingertips) hunting for inspiration specific to a current project.

    After filling myself up with found bits of beauty and loveliness from everywhere I then take a few deep breaths, stop thinking (completely if possible) and put pencil to paper. Miraculously good and often great ideas flow magically out and onto that sheet of paper.

    I've learned, the hard way, that a certain element of trust must always accompany my best inspiration.

  9. ...and I thought it was all inspired from Edward!
    Love your blog and added you to my blog roll.
    Back for more of Edward and your inspiration!

  10. Even your thoughts are poetic...Inspiration, ideas, visions are like fireflies. They are out there in the night and now and then one catches glimpses of them...beautiful Pamela...did I read in your profile that you are a writer? Good blessings for the day...

  11. I loved that you mentioned the Ice Palace in Dr. Zhivago. For me that was one of the most unforgettable scenes in the film. There are a few others that just take my breath. Did you ever see Matilda? The school teachers cottage is just amazing. I get so frustrated when I watch it. It is on the screen for such a short period of time but I want to be able to see more of it. Your posting was wonderful.

  12. I so agree! I think it all comes down to making sure that one's eyes are always open, believing that inspiration is just around the corner! With an attitude like that about life, one can find inspiration everywhere! Film, nature, on a city street, in the country...everywhere!

  13. This is so true...What wonderful insight into the creative experience...I love the visual you illustrated of the old inns...That took me back to some wonderful B and B's and historic home tours...

  14. Sigh....I just love the way you write. Have you considered it as a profession? Seriously, your descriptive abilities are superior. The imagery it conjures is vivid....a great novelist in the making!
    It is funny you metion Dr. Zhivago. This movie has struck a chord with many of us it seems. I used it as inspiration in a very fun design challenge recently with Maison 21!
    Ah...inspiration. I think you have captured the essence here quite well.

  15. What a thought provoking and inspiring post...... I did enjoy reading. Marion

  16. Simply Gorgeous! I am adding your wonderful site to my Creative Places list on my blog.
    Sandra Evertson

  17. A good question and one that I've faced down on numerous projects. For me, research never fails to provide an answer. And research involves getting out and about, reading, looking, collecting, scanning.... that and thinking about wonderful posts like this one.


    PS. throw in a little red and black (tongue and toenails?) and you've got the palette for our bedroom. It glows in the morning and evening... Edward must, too.

  18. Very true words. It feels so much the same with writing.

  19. I do love to visit your blog!

    My stepgrand-daughter is interested in design and I will recommend it to her as well.

    Love the Rackham picture too.
    PS Finn sends a big thank you for the message.

  20. One of the reasons I quit working in graphic design is the deadlines. After fifteen years of them, I couldn't force my inspiration to come in neat little timed parcels. I had plenty of ideas, but they appeared randomly, which doesn't work when you're doing publications.

    Now that I'm not working in that field anymore, I have the blog to provide an outlet for my ideas. It's not the same as graphic design, but it's just as wonderful. And I get to see others' ideas, too. It's not as isolating.

  21. I can see that you have given a lot of thought to the idea of creativity. It is sort of like following breadcrumbs backwards see where the ideas come from. I just know that I am happy when they come.

  22. Film has such a powerful influence on our design ideas! Great post--I love the Rackham illustration. Thank you so much for your comments on my blog--I'm so glad to have discovered yours!

  23. Though I very much enjoyed Mama Mia, the soundtrack and scenery were fantastic my inspiration comes more from the darker side. I found the colors and their depth more appealing in Sweeny Todd.It must be my obsession with the past.
    Your painting in this post is intriguing, perhaps inspired by a woman named Pandora?
    Thankyou for visiting my blog, it is always enjoyable meeting those with similar interests.Edward and doggies would be one of them!!

  24. Oh what a terrific post! I can totally get lost in the sets and cinematography of certain movies. Father of the Bride (the Steve Martin version) is one. I just love that house! Pride and Prejudice (Keira Knightley) is another. The scene where the girls comfort their mother in her curtain draped bed is like a beautiful old Dutch master painting!

    Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and for your kind comment. I am so glad you found me, because it has led me back to you, and I will enjoy reading your blog very much!

  25. Hello Pamela and Edward, I am so thrilled that you stopped by my Charm & Grace Cottage blog yesterday, and I do appreciate your kind comments about my artwork. I loved this post of yours because inspiration is certainly something on which it is hard to get a firm grasp. It can be as fleeting as a wisp of a cloud floating by in the sky or as stable as the large oak tree just outside your door. Getting hold of inspiration is akin to holding sand in your hand; no matter how hard you try to grasp it, it eventually slips through your fingers. But still we as artists press on...

    :-) Christi

  26. Wonderful post! I often cannot work out from where my inspiration bubbles up. Many times though, it comes to me like a bolt of lightning, or the cartoonish lightbulb above one's head.
    Other times, it creeps into my subconscious and emerges when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo!


  27. I have an insatiable and persistent muse that bugs me constantly whenever I stop working, regardless of the reason. I have clear and vivid dreams, that only stop when I pick up a pen to write, or pencil to draw. It's interesting to read what inspires others, so thank you for writing a lovely post.

    Kim x

  28. How articulately described - especially for something so ephemeral. I love the metaphor of fireflies - that's just what it feels like.

    I've started carrying a tiny camera in my purse to capture the various inspiring things that I pass everyday - from the shape of a wrought iron hinge to the late afternoon light shining across a flower bed. You never know what will spark the next Big Idea.

  29. Inspiration may come from a memory which has hidden itself away for years, or it could come from a recent memory. I personally get my inspiration from a picture or photo, this is where I start when writing a blog post. Also inspiration comes from what interests me, if I have no interest, I cannot be inspired. A thought provoking post. This post has really got me thinking, thanks. x

  30. Yes, an inspiration may come from a memory which has hidden itself away for years, or it could come from a recent memory. I personally get my inspiration from a picture or photo, this is where I start when writing a blog post. Also inspiration comes from what interests me, if I have no interest, I cannot be inspired. A thought provoking post. x

  31. I concur with willow. Don't think me over the edge, but I have seen inspiration once in my long life. Once we shut off our ego and admit openly that we do not know, it litterally flyes into your head, in my case like a very loosely wound, pale gray, translucent ball of wool momentarily glimpsed shooting into my temple. Simultaneously my mouth opened and the answer to our problem spurted out in lucid, easy to follow steps. Inspiration cannot be forced, that is why lab. tests on psychics cannot succeed. It only comes to the quiet mind when something else, like beauty fills our heart.

  32. Wow, I'm so glad you visited my blog and feel rather humbled, too. Your writing style is so descriptive, quite lovely.

    I write the odd poem, the one I'm most proud of was inspired by being abandoned by my love of 6 years.

    I hope you don't mind my adding you to my list of favorite blogs. I can't wait to see more,




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