Monday, August 9, 2021

The Enigma Drive


It’s a curious thing. There’s this essential nucleus to arting, something so intrinsic we can think of it as the actual genesis of each new piece. It’s so fundamental, in fact, we just assume it's always there at full fire throughout the entire creative process and so we can take it for granted more times than not. It’s just a given, right? Yet this critical component is, well…an enigma. With such a critical ignition point though, one would think we’d have a firmer grasp of it yet, instead, it remains a fickle compulsion that just lives by its own rules, unfathomable, untouchable, and untamable. That being so, it tends to meet with an almost hands-off reverence in the belief it’s better left to its own devices so we put this thing on a pedestal but with no real idea of what it is or how it functions. And, well…to be fair, all that’s pretty much spot on. Since the beginning of arting, this has been so for a reason because it is a mystery and sometimes mysteries need to stay mysteries that operate by their own rules. Sometimes magic is just impenetrable.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery.” 

– Albert Einstein

Yet there’s this whole ‘nuther side to the story that holds some useful insights. Really, if we just grab the tail tip of this curious conundrum and peer at it just a little bit, we won’t dispel its magic but will gain some glimmers that can be helpful for all sorts of artistic challenges from dry spells to battling creative fatigue. Pay attention to this other side then and we access a toolbox of psychological tricks that can make our arting easier, more fun, more adaptive, and even better.

So what’s this enigma drive that generates our art? What is it that every artist actually draws from to create? What’s this magical elixir that has created every art piece yet still remains just outside of our periphery? Why, it’s our inspiration, of course! That initial spark, that mobilizing idea, that exalted compulsion that just pops into us from seemingly nowhere like a gift from the Universe which we chase like a bouncing ball, sometimes with a mania so crazed it can consume us. Honestly, I have to say that even after a lifetime of creating art, I’m still completely baffled by mine. I’ve given it a good think or two and still have come up zilch. Sure, I can say I love equines and list out the reasons why. And I can say I love creating art and know truly it was what I was meant to do. And I can even pinpoint specific concepts or visuals that have inspired specific pieces…I can point right at those things. But as to the how, why, and what of it all — the essence of it — I’m still at a loss. Really, dig as deep as you can, and you’ll still end up in a baffling space that defies intrusion and analysis. 

Even so though, it’s not a bad idea to ruminate on the nature of our inspiration. When does it strike us? Can it be energized into more productivity? Can it be refined into more potency? What’s its Truth? Where does it come from? What triggers it? What’s its nature? What patterns does it reveal? Has it evolved? How does it unfold during the process or does it remain unchanged? Why does it cause us to make the creative decisions we make? How is our style influenced by it? And perhaps at the core, why is it fixated on equines? None of these need hard answers or even answers at all. It’s the cogitating that’s the valuable part. Because don’t be surprised if overthinking gets us nowhere! Heck — actually, don’t every worry about overthinking these things because the curious thing about inspiration is that it resists that in rather uncanny ways. It’s weird. It’s just one of those riddles that can’t be cracked, not really. Sure, we can cobble together some basic hard facts, but try to really dig down and, well…chances are we’ll come up empty handed. That mystery again. And that’s not a bad thing! It’s actually pretty neat! And I think what drives us to art is better left unknown for the most part. Gift horse in the mouth and all. Nevertheless though, it still won’t hurt to cogitate our inspiration a little bit so let’s talk about it…

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”

– Yo-Yo Ma

For starters, just what is our inspiration? Oh gosh, there’s a question! One dictionary defines it as, “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative,” and also, “a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.” Okay. Another defines it as “…a breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose, in the mind: the suggestion, awakening or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind.” Still rather general, but it’s a start. Now with a spin, the Greeks thought of inspiration as the Muses, entities that visit us with gifts of enlightened compulsions that drive us to creative or intellectual new heights. Likewise, if we’re religious, we tend to think of it as God’s grace flowing through us. Indeed, the word “inspiration” itself derives from the Greek language for “divinely breathed into” or “God-breathed.” Or if we’re secular, there are many interpretations for inspiration from the concept of the numinous to genius to “fancy” to “poetic frenzy” to even “mystical winds” to loads more. And inspiration is intrinsic — very much its own reward, it exists for its own sake whether we act on it or not. 

But think about all that…none of it actually pins down its root essence, does it? It’s like we can only describe it by what it does and what it feels like. So curious! So maybe we can frame it this way…inspiration as the ecstatic input and creativity as the driven output — it’s the same incentivized energy. One gives us the intense idea and the other makes it real with zeal. And it happens every day all around the world, millions of times over! So strange that this oh-so-common phenomenon can still be so elusive! And — wow — what a truly powerful phenomenon it can be, can’t it? A tenacious compulsion, an ecstatic urgency, a manic drive, even a devouring obsession. It’s driven people to extremes, even madness, and has changed lives forever, for better or worse. Why is inspiration so important though? Well, as we see around us every day, it whisks us forwards with fresh new ideas that give us new trains of thought, innovations, great depth to the arts, and any number of other advancements throughout human history. In many ways, we can even think of it as the engine of progress and the root of conceptual diversity. Perhaps even more intimate, it has the power to suspend our ego as we surrender to its profundity, filling us with awe and humility to change us forever. And the more receptive we are to it, somehow the more inspiration gifts us with even fresher notions. All in all then, our inspiration simply opens up new possibilities by allowing us to see beyond the ordinary and the limitations we’re accustomed to, letting us realize more of our potential and the potential around us. It somehow blissfully gives us a glimpse into what could be rather than just what is. But as to where it comes from and how it’s generated and why it cooks up what it does, there ya go…still nowhere.

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”

– Georgia O’Keeffe  

Perhaps the most obvious feature of our inspiration is that it’s mostly beyond our control. It just strikes when it wants to, right out of the blue and often at the most random times. Sure there are things we can do to tickle it out, but it very much operates according to its own whims. It’s almost like a subroutine working in the background that’s processing things under our conscious radar and then when it comes up with something — how ever that happens — that process jumps into our consciousness with a force like no other, overriding pretty much everything else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been suddenly seized by some wild idea and had to immediately stop what I was doing to madly jot it down on a receipt or napkin! Or my Hippicorn illustration — after my ratty Rascal passed away, I had a long, hard cry and fell asleep into a nap. Then I woke up a couple of hours later from a dreamless sleep with that Hippicorn absolutely fully formed — in full detail — in total colorized completion in my head and a tremendous compulsion to create it. I spent three straight days of absolute focus bringing him to life and that’s how the Hippicorn got born. He’s Rascal’s creation I think sometimes, not mine. I wonder if Rascal gave him to me as a gift to help me get through the following days adjusting to his loss. Rascal was such a heart rat and I miss him terribly even now, but every time I gaze on that Hippicorn, I smile. Thanks, Rascal!

“You can’t use up creativity. The more the you use, the more you have.”

– Maya Angelou

Oddly enough though, it seems that the more we tap into our inspiration and allow ourselves to be whisked away by it, the more prolific it becomes and the stronger the notions it generates. Inspired arting is just one of those things that gets better the more you use it because once it gets going, it fuels itself like a perpetual motion machine. This is because ideas chaotically cross-pollinate, ping-ponging off each other to spawn novel new ones and every so often a winner pops out. I wonder if this how inspiration comes up with what it does — it’s just a manifestation of conceptual chaos that occasionally burps out something useable. Hmmm. It’s just a creative blender and our brain simply hits “frappĂ©” and off we go. Double hmmm.

Nonetheless, here’s an important thing to know: Our inspiration isn’t invincible, it’s not impervious. It’s really quite vulnerable so if left unprotected or untended, it can crumble apart, fizzle out, even get stuck in a rut. And that’s where a lot of artists get into trouble — they don’t cultivate their inspiration, maybe don’t even consider it at all. Never take your inspiration for granted! Because — hey — it doesn’t have to be there. It can elude us, it can chose not to show up. Many of us know artist block, right? Well, that’s our creativity bereft of its inspiration and so we just sit there, unmotivated and unmoved to create in any direction. But we gotta art, right? So keeping our inspiration energized and engaged — keeping it happy — needs to be a priority if we want our creative cup to filleth over.

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” 

Edgar Allan Poe

Complicating this though is the fact that inspiration is unpredictable. While one day it can elude us, the next this wild, crazy, wonderful idea will pop into our head out of the blue, complete and perfect, right? It’s like lightening striking on a sunny day. Sometimes, too, these ideas come in clusters — bang bang bang — shot out in rapid fire. That’s when nearby sketchbooks come in handy to capture them — don’t want to miss a single one! Because that’s another thing about it…sometimes our inspiration cooks up fleeting little appetizers, almost like amusing little fancies it concocts just to play. Or it mulls things over — considering, experimenting, analyzing — enticed to futz around with variations on a theme or different options. Some inspirations just need time to percolate, too, and can cook on the back burner even for years. But every once and awhile, it’ll bang out a real mind-sticker, an idea that, for some inexplicable reason, just sticks hard in your head. It just won’t fade away and may even gets stronger with each passing day…month…year. Persistent. Insistent. Overriding. Some inspirations just have real staying power and when they’re ready, they’ll get so loud we just have to stop what we’re doing to make way. At times, too, an idea may be so complete and fully formed, it’s just a matter of directly translating it into reality while others may be just generalized impressions and so need a bit more fleshing out. Truly, when it comes to our inspiration, there’s no wrong way for it to strike! But why is that the right moment for that particular idea? Who knows! Any which way, an inspiration ready for reality can truly take total control and turn into a blissful obsession, carrying us away on a creative journey like no other. It can be true magic.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

– Vincent van Gogh

Even so, inspiration can be fickle and persnickety, even disdainful of compromises and shortcuts. It truly hates pruning and will live its Truth to the fullest whether we like it or not. If that means we create outside our comfort zone, so be it. If that means we create aspects that take us by surprise, that we even question, there you go. If we create pieces for reasons that escape us, well…that’s inspiration for ya. But while it might feel a bit odd at times, just surrender to it because — as you know — our inspiration is highly adept at fighting us every step of the way if we don’t. But even more, if we do surrender to its lead…oh, the a-mazing things that can happen! 

If that wasn’t enough though, it can be rather demanding, can’t it? It requires us to step up to the plate and give a good effort, sometimes our very best effort. It wants its Truth to be honest, the product of our good faith. Truly, honoring our inspiration takes hard work, but that’s the trade off. If we want that prize, we betta werk! In this way though, our inspiration is critical for our progress by becoming an important mechanism for skills advancement and rethinking old paradigms. In a very real sense then, great artists aren’t just a product of their great talents, they’re also a product of their great inspirations. So while it’s going to take a lot of hard work to do right by our inspiration, it’s beautiful hard work!

I’m a firm believer in Joseph Campbell’s notion of “follow your bliss,” of discovering that thing that drives you from your core and fills you most with joy then throwing your full self into it. Call it Destiny, call it Fate, but I believe it’s what we were meant to do, even if no one gets it yet. Sometimes the rest of the world just has to catch up. But believe me when I tell you, “Build it and build it well, and they will come.” That being the case, I think our inspiration is closely tied to our Bliss, in fact, they may be the same thing. It’s hard to ignore the fact that our inspiration tends to crank out notions most aligned with our Bliss and can even become so fixated, it naturally churns out countless variations without even a nudge. Even when fed radically different scraps, it refocuses everything within the lens of our Bliss. All the more reason to listen closely to our inspiration, right? It’s telling us important insights that can enrich our experience and perhaps even open up new avenues of creativity — it wants us to flourish and to live in Bliss. So pay close attention!

“I make art to show my soul that I am listening.”

– Pat Wiederspan Jones

Altogether then, inspiration does best with freedom and respect so it can take on a life of its own to grow bolder and more confident, flowing unfettered. Truly, with just a bit of care, our inspiration will grow wild and lush and gigantic, with deep, extensive roots and an enormous, ever-growing canopy to shelter our creativity with ever-sprouting, infinite ideas. When it’s happy like this, the more it’s tapped then the more flows out, and usually so reliably that we can lean on it whenever times get creatively stretched thin. That’s to say, we don’t have to have a hands-off, wait-and-see policy with it anymore but can actively scoop stuff out whenever we want like an ever-filling glistening pool of ideas. It’s no longer a passive relationship, but active teamwork. So how do we do this? Because honestly, some artists really seem to wrestle with their inspiration, wondering why it peters out, limps along, or doesn’t even strike at all. How do we avoid this?

“Inhale possibility, exhale creativity.”

– Laura Jaworski

Well, for starters, it’s important to know that our inspiration is directly tied to our emotions. In some sense, we can think of it as our emotions manifested as art which is why we can learn a lot about an artist simply by studying what inspires them. But it’s also why when we’re stressed out or depressed, our inspiration just seems to dry up, doesn’t it? That’s not because we’re incapable, it’s because the fuel has been disconnected from the engine. The point being then: Get out there and get your emotions riled up! Get them fired up and all over the place! Honestly, more times than not, a single strong emotion or even a cocktail of them can spark a blaze of inspired notions and so when it does, let it burn out of control. No, seriously — let it burn like wildfire! Feed it to make it grow bigger and more uncontrolled. Throw proverbial gasoline on it! And — yes — even if that idea seems nutty, even stupid, just let it burn. Because here’s the thing, once our inspiration is blazing away, it naturally sparks new fires because one idea will spark another and then another, growing into an uncontrolled, exponential creative firestorm. And we don’t even have to like that first idea at all…that’s not the point! Rather, that idea will spawn others and somewhere in there will be those that will trip our trigger and off we go. This is actually the ideal state for an artist, to be euphorically driven by an unending stream of self-generating inspirations — and we don’t have to wait around for this to happen. It can be engineered!

“Amateurs look for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

– Chuck Close

Because too many artists make the mistake of waiting for inspiration to strike. Sure, firing from out of the blue can happen, but that’s only one aspect of its life cycle. So why wait? Yes — it’s a romantic notion, but hey — we have art to create! Because here’s another truth about our inspiration: It loves enticement, of being energized into action, it prefers engagement. We’re a team, right? So gotta prime that pump! Stoke that fire! Grease those gears! How do we do that? Well, go out there and throw food at it. Any kind of food — it’s not discriminating. Look at equine photos, go to horse shows, take riding lessons, hang out with real equines, watch YouTube videos or movies with equines, study the work of other artists, dive into some equine research of some kind…whatever! Or just play around with some loose sketches, learn a new art technique or style, or take up a whole new medium for kicks. Visit museums and art shows, go to craft fairs. Artist retreats, workshops, and classes are also amazing injections, and they don’t even have to have anything to do with equine art. Think about joining groups of other creatives on social media or locally, too, because placing ourselves with inspired and inspiring people can really jiggle loose our novel thinking. Journaling, especially visual journaling is another fantastic way to incite our inspiration and — heck — that’s a whole amazing art form in itself! Or chuck some really esoteric grub at it like poetry slams, music, or theater because these things move us and so are highly effective at boiling up our inspiration. Or more still, get outside with nature. Taking a walk, bike rides, camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, surfing, anything like that can also be effective in generating moments that move us to kindle new inspirations. Heck, I remember the inspiration for the Surangi series jolted into my head while on a walk around the block! Or go to natural places that ease you like the forests, the beach, the desert, or whatever to get your mind in a more receptive, relaxed state. Oddly enough, too, doing something mundane like folding laundry, doing dishes, or sorting your junk drawer can even trigger inspirations by clearing the mind of “life clutter.” Or deeper, maybe inspiration can come by simply wanting to brighten peoples’ day and to pump beauty into the world. Making people happy can be a wonderful spark, one that we can find especially fulfilling and meaningful. Indeed, the joy of creativity is often amplified when shared!

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”

– Albert Einstein

The point is, don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen — make them happen. Never stay safe in a holding pattern waiting for your inspiration to strike — just auger in! Even if you make a huge crater from a faceplant impact, you’ll still have fed your inspiration which — chances are — will have generated new ideas for other work. See how that works? Creative shrapnel! And that’s the real goal with these triggering exercises — generating that shrapnel. And we may not even like any of these triggered notions, and that’s perfectly okay! There’s no law that says we have to act on any of it. The real gist is to get those inspired shells exploding because once they do, at some point they’re going to pop out a winner. So what are other ways we can do that?

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” 

Neil Gaiman

Well, one thing that inspiration really responds to well is being open to experiences and possibility. Rigid thinking tends to shut it down. So think about trying to be comfortable with the unfamiliar and look for a variety and novelty of experiences, visuals, and ideas — seek to be surprised, awed, even humbled. And break your routine — do something out of left field. Inspiration also seems to love information and knowledge so think about delving into research, curiosities, and hurdling down rabbit holes. And perhaps rather interesting, inspiration favors pressure-free thinking so consider easing up on competition with others and shift instead to competition with yourself, of challenging yourself. See, competition with others is founded on comparing ourselves to their achievements and that can lead to more narrow lines of work that dampens, even denies, our own uniquely inspired moments. Really, all comparison does is yoke our inspiration with expectation. Now granted, every so often another person’s work will trigger our inspiration, and that’s fantastic! But if we want more self-generating inspirations on our own, consider pressure-free freedom, too. Most of all though, “a damp sponge absorbs more than a dry one.” That’s to say inspiration flourishes in the mind primed and prepared for it so stay open and flexible in your thinking and expectations, and be quick to think “that’s interesting” and slow to assume “that’s stupid.” So — yes — inspiration is out of our control, but it can be nudged along as well. We can prepare fertile soil, place a lightening rod, or coax it forwards with carrots with all these techniques.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.”

– George Bernard Shaw

So overall, it’s about giving it something work with — ideally with a strong emotional component — and letting it cook up what it wants with those ingredients. No pressure. No expectations. No presumption. Just let it do what it wants to do no matter how much it takes you by surprise. Because when it does start churning stuff out from the kitchen, it doesn’t matter what it is…just eat it! Trust me on this. Even if it’s stylized, green striped, lemur-horses with eight eyes — keep eating! No matter how out of left field it is — just keep eating! Because that’s the thing with inspiration — there’s no making sense of it, really. It just concocts what it concocts, and that’s what we’re meant to be bouncing around. I truly believe that every one of our inspirations is a gift from the Universe, an idea that’s meant only for us so no matter how cockamamie it may seem, it’s meaningful. What a grand task! So then, get to artin’ — seriously, just start doing something creative that follows that inspiration. Anything, no matter how random it is. We’ve already given it the raw materials, the ingredients, right? So now let’s give it the means to mash it all together — it needs kitchen gear! Now, yes, this is a very chaotic way to approach things and there are no guarantees other than a surprise or two. But here’s the thing: Inspiration is a child of chaos, it’s creative chaos, so the more we can mimic its natural tendencies, the more prone it’ll be to show up and deliver. Order, formula, regimentation, habit, predictability — all those things that exist opposite to chaos — can be great tools in their own right, but not so much with inspiration all the time. Really, more times than not, the more haphazardly we creatively think — even willfully haphazardly — the more inspiration can insinuate itself into the process. In a sense, inspiration is drawn to chaos like a lure so think about how to inject uncontrolled thinking into your process. For example, I knew one artist who used mix n’ match flash cards to randomly generate subject matter for his paintings. He didn’t always use those correlations, but what he did find useful were the satellite ideas generated from them that could be turned into new work. Remember — creative shrapnel! When she got in a creative lull, another artist I knew would take a pencil and close her eyes and just draw whatever on a sheet of paper. Just — whatever. Scribbles even. Then almost always when she saw that result, something would be triggered in her inspiration that led her down a path to her next illustration. Creative shrapnel again. And a cook I knew loved to experiment with crazy cultural fusions like using Indian curry with enchiladas or menudo with udon, so think about slamming the unexpected together — you might surprise yourself with how awesome it could be! Silver dapple tobiano draft type with an upright mane itching his hinder? Why not? Ranch horse with a ram-head in red roan sabino twisting in an angry pivot? But of course! Bucking sooty palomino pony with braids unraveling in her mane and a red tail bow flying off? Sure! Okapi-colored Unicorn with a blue horn and hooves with green eyes leaping over a stream full of koi? Gotta do it! Don’t be afraid of novel ideas, even if you think they’ll meet with raised eyebrows, even misunderstanding. You got this.

So make a habit of this proactive approach, of regularly feeding — of literally inspiring your inspiration — and you’re set for life. So always auger in! Fostering inspiration also has other benefits like amplifying our zest for creativity and even our purpose within it. It also intensifies our gratitude and humility, and smooths the conduit between our knowledge base and what we newly absorb. Inspiration deepens our appreciation for the work of our peers, too, by acknowledging and respecting their wells of passion. Likewise, inspiration can keep us in a constant state of awe in the appreciation of that mystery that keeps us creative so wonderfully. Feeling “small” in the face of that great, beautiful unknown can truly be a beautiful state of mind. Perhaps most of all though, inspiration intensifies our love for this exquisite, soulful creature, helping us to celebrate all the wonderful possibilities offered to us.

“Go to your studio and make stuff.” 

– Fred Babb

Now granted though, sometimes our inspirations aren’t these creative storms that come barreling in to spectacularly flood us. Sometimes they’re just a mere flicker, a waft of a wisp. But that’s legit, too! There’s no such thing as an inspiration too small or insignificant. We’ll take it! So fan it! Feed it! See what happens! Because it’s perfectly okay for something to start as a mere sliver of a notion. Honestly, loads of great works have been born with just a slight inclination. On that note, it’s often best to follow our inspiration rather than trying to lead it. It already knows what it needs, what it wants to be, so let it make the decisions even if it evolves along the way, which is perfectly normal. The thing is, if we try to force it into a predetermined direction with rigid expectations, we’ll can run into problems as it tries to right us back onto its own course. So stay adaptive and flexible to how it wants flesh itself out. In a very real sense, I think we exist as vessels, the means to an end for our inspirations to make themselves real. Honor that.

“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”

– Julia Cameron

Also understand this, too — our inspiration can ebb and flow, even when working on a single piece. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a constant sploosh. Sure, it’s awesome to have that strong compulsion constantly at our back throughout our process, but it’s perfectly normal for that to ease up to come roaring back later. Heck, maybe sometimes our inspiration for a piece just seems to fizzle out completely so we put it aside only to find some time later that it’s found new life to carry that piece to completion — days, weeks, months, even years later. Or perhaps not at all. It happens. It’s just that mysterious quality again so go with the flow. Maybe its “birth” was premature and our skills had to catch up. Maybe another inspiration demanded our attention more strongly. Any number of reasons, but it’s all normal. It just does what it does.

“Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.” 

– Mark Rothko

Yet even so, there are artists who can create art in the absence of inspiration. Graphic art with its world of deadlines and client demands is a classic example of this phenomenon. Commissions can entail this as well. So yes — there may come a time when we have to dip our toes into that reality to meet a deadline or customer expectation, too. Or maybe our inspiration for a piece will change and we aren’t so hip on that specific itineration anymore, but we’re stuck with it. It happens. Now I’m going to suggest that creating the particular kind of work we do without even a flicker of inspiration is a strange prospect, but it can happen. And we do learn one thing here: Just art. That’s the magic answer all the time: Just continue to make art. Why? Because always remember, inspiration has that funny way of self-propagation as one notion generates others, and often in completely unpredictable ways. But we have to keep making art in order for that to happen. We have to give it the raw materials to work with and the means to become real. When we habitually do that then, chances are we can build a highly-geared inspiration machine that can churn out so many ideas, we’ll get to pick and choose. What a great state of mind for an artist, right?

“You were born to make art.”

– Anonymous

Nonetheless, there is such a thing as creative fatigue. We need to pace ourselves even when our inspiration machine has been cranked up to eleven. When we’re so dang inspired we can barely sit still, that’s a gorgeous feeling for sure, but just understand that while our inspiration runs hot, we don’t. We need downtime. We need breaks. We need time to catch up. We may even run out of creative breath. Again, this is where sketchbooks are so handy because they can capture what our little machine is spitting out quickly, providing us with a creative reservoir for later work. And this will be especially important if we’ve been driven to complete exhaustion and so need to take an art hiatus. Because trust me — take that hiatus if you need it! Our inspiration doesn’t understand that we’re human and so have our limitations and unless we work within them, we’re going to collapse. It’s important then to view our inspiration as a team mate, not a slave driver, as our creative partner, not our taskmaster. We’re things that go better together given that each knows the boundaries. And the great thing about having a healthy relationship with your inspiration is that it’ll fully respect your need to step back and so may morph its fixation onto other things for awhile then when we feel the desire to return, it’s got our back and switches gears again. Curiously too, often it’ll even come roaring back with new life, a new energy, a spin that makes it feel fresh and new again— it’s lovely. And if it needs a little spark, just thumb through your sketchbooks if even to remember that heady energy which can be all that’s needed to ignite a full inspiration bonfire.

“Creative work is a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

– Steven Pressfield

Yet sometimes our inspiration can get tired, too. When it does, we’ll find that it still cranks out ideas, but they lack that heady potency, that addictive oomphf. They seem more “meh” rather than “OMG, right now!” We can come to mistakenly believe then that we’ve lost our zest for our work, that maybe even our Muse has left us, and it’s easy to get trapped by this misleading deduction. But the truth is all that’s happened is that our enigma drive just needs bit of maintenance and fresh fuel. So first off, give it a break. Let it regroup. Let the gears cool. Even let it find curiosity in other things. So try something else creative, and really, the more different, the better. Like when my inspiration needs a bit of a vacation, I’ll write, or play with beading or mosaics, or make Hammies. I’ll research and study, even clean creative spaces up. I'll sketch more and also like to create more highly stylized illustrations I can turn into stickers, pins, and whatnot. Indeed, the Cave Ponies were born of a realism hiatus. I like to play D&D, Jenga, and board games and mess with puzzles, too. I love to go for bike rides and let my mind wander in its imagination. And I know an artist who gardens and another who dives into bread making and yet another who makes toys for his cats when their inspiration needs a breather. The point is, stay creatively engaged, just in a different, low-pressure way. And secondly, don’t have a timeline if you can help it. Let your inspiration take as much time as it needs since the moment if feels pressure, it tends to recoil again. Let it rest and tease out in its own time — let it lead the way because trust me, it’ll spark when the moment is right. Thirdly then, avoid heaping expectations onto your inspiration when it's taking a break. It’s okay to put yourself in situations that could re-inspire it, but just don’t presume it’ll respond the way you want it to, and especially with a preconceived demand. Relax. Trust that when it’s ready, it’ll step up to the plate, until that happens though, just let it be. No one likes to be harried on their vacation, right?

Sometimes though, we can just get stuck, just spin in a loop. It’s a strange thing, isn’t it? To find that our inspiration seems jammed. Maybe we can’t seem to create beyond a rather specific concept, chronically recreating essentially the same piece over and over. Maybe we have so many inspirations, we get overwhelmed and implode without starting a single one. Perhaps we feel boredom in our art form or just feel like we’re constantly waiting for something to happen. But what’s important to understand is that this isn’t indicative of anything more than an inspiration clog. We’ve simply fallen into a cycle, a syndrome, and it’s not an indictor of our skills or core motivations. Truly, we’re more than fully capable and we still have that passion, it’s just a bit bottlenecked. Our enigma drive just needs a restart! The strategies we’ve already explored work well for this, but also consider this approach: Choose to create a breed, color, pose or something way outside your comfort zone. Like completely opposite what you’d typical do. Go nuts! It’s really hard to be bored when you’re intently focused on something unusual and challenging. And it’s not so easy to be uninspired when you’re surprising yourself in wonderful ways. You really do have so much potential and it’s through your inspiration that you explore it.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” 

Roy T. Bennett

That said, self-doubt can develop when our inspiration begins to question itself, when it starts to falter as intimidation and trepidation creep into its purity. Really though, this is perfectly normal at times especially if we inadvertently pick something a little beyond our skillset or knowledge base. But that’s okay! Given the alternative — of taking the safe route — putting that carrot way out in front of ourselves ultimately has bigger pay offs, right? So the solution is this: Lean harder on your inspiration, asking it to fly you higher and bolder since it really can carry you through your fears. Trust me — it has enormous, powerful wings! And it can pile on a lot more weight behind our effort to bust through our hesitation. And if we’ve fallen in love with the piece we’re creating, that can really help us charge through our worries, too. Because the other thing to know is that if inspiration is tied to any emotion most, it’s love. Inspiration is essentially our love manifested as a creative drive. Love what you’re creating and you got this! And if you don’t, lean more on your inspiration to find something else about it that continues to keep it engaged. Absolutely, every piece has something wonderful to offer us if even as just a distraction or amusement. 

So overall, what’s the solution to being uninspired? Just make art. Worried we’ve lost our Muse? Just make art. Bored of the same ol’, same ol’? Just make art. We think we’ve lost our touch? Just make art. Don’t think we’re talented enough? Just make art. Worried we’ll fail miserably? Just make art. Worried our masterpiece will never appear? Just make art. Don’t wait around. Just make art. Making art is the solution any creative problem, the means and the end and the purpose and the passion of what we do. Yes, it may be the problem at times but it’s also the fix! We have to give our inspiration something to work with in order to make magic happen; it has to have the energy and the tools to manifest itself. Beautifully, our inspiration needs us as much as we need it. This is a symbiosis, a synergy, and one that will lead to such spectacular things if we support each other. So be inspired to be inspired and art on!

"Creativity doesn't wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones." 

— Bruce Garrabrandt

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