Monday, August 3, 2015

Where Do Ideas for Artwork Come From?

Cultural Assimilation - Terry Jarrard-Dimond

Where do ideas for artwork come from?  There are so many answers for this question I hardly know where to begin but the most direct response is that work begets work.  Work begets ideas for new work and so it goes.  I think any artist who works regularly at their art can agree with this statement.  It's not enough to sit and "think" about what you are going to do.

So how do you ever start this chain of ideas and get the ball rolling.  This is where the path opens very wide.  You can read, listen to music, take a walk, take a trip to the local museum or farmers market.  How about a workshop in the medium you love or in a medium you have always been curious about.  I think the important part of any of these activities is that you give them your full attention and be present when you are doing them. All of these things plus many many more can spark an idea that you take into your studio and begin to explore.  At that point you have to be willing to stick with the work.

Many artists keep journals and sketchbooks.  Other artists keep notes on their ideas in more informal ways.  One friend keeps notes on index cards, punches a hole in one corner and stores them on a large keyring.  I myself have made notes when viewing exhibitions on the flyers about the shows.  Makes the notes very meaningful.  Many people today keep albums of images of things they see that interest them.

Some years ago I made a series of sculpture works based on ideas that came to me while reading a book titled The Queen Must Die: And Other Affairs of Bees and Men by William Longgood.  There is a lot of mystery and history connected with the keeping of bees and these stories made great material for art.  I had never kept bees or even knew much about them but I heard an interesting review of this book which is why I read it.  I had no idea how it would influence my work at the time.

As a young person I thought all artists relied solely on imagination for inspiration.  Thank goodness that is not exactly how things work.  Everything is connected and there is inspiration all around us.  In my opinion, the most imaginative people are the ones who do the most aware looking, reading and listening.  Their senses are engaged and they are open to impressions and insights.

I also encourage students to look at the work of artists whose work they admire.  I am not suggesting that they look so as to copy or "steal" the ideas of other artists but rather to observe and take note of the qualities of work that they find appealing.  The internet makes it very easy to look at amounts of work that simply was not previously  possible.  I have a Pinterest site where I have pinned many images and I'm always amazed at both the amount of work being made and the quality of the work.  It's just another way of stimulating your creativity and pushing "that ball" down the hill.

Thank you for spending time at
Studio 24-7.


  1. A wonderful essay. Work begets work, indeed.

    1. Thanks Alice. You have certainly keep that ball rolling!

  2. Yes, the question of where do ideas come from is a tough one to answer. Why do three people looking at the same thing go in separate directions from there? Biases, upbringing, mood all influence inspiration. And thanks for the book recommendation; I'm going to have to look that one up.

    1. Hi Vivien! Yes, do get a copy of The Queen Must Die. I think as a flower lover, you will enjoy this one.