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Inspiration Is Real, Surreal, Fleeting but Practical

by Carolyn Henderson on 6/12/2017 9:52:54 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.



Inspiration, which is one of those very real things a person can’t see, smell, hear, or touch, is a vital quality to the artist. In the last essay (Inspiration: How Do You Get It?), we discussed what happens when an artist feels uninspired, and I drew upon advice from my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson.


In this essay, we’ll talk more with Steve who, as a full-time artist dependent upon inspiration to create the work he sells, believes that movement is important. The very act of painting – from taking reference photos to setting up the painting to the actual painting itself – inspires inspiration. In other words, it’s easier to walk up a hill when you’re already moving, as opposed to when you’re sitting in a chair and thinking about it. You’re more alert to your surroundings, and because you’re dynamic, you’re ready to take action when action is needed.


“Inspiration does not schedule itself,” Steve says, “and you have to be alert to its existence which, by its very nature, is not very obvious or loud.


“Inspiration can seem ethereal, fleeting so when it ‘hits,’ I also ‘hit’ by capturing that ‘spirit’ with real solid activity – like sketching out the ideas lest I lose them, or grabbing the camera and getting reference shots.


“It’s okay to talk of ‘inspiration’ as long as the artist DOES something about it.


“The most inspired artists I have come across, who have in turn inspired me, have been very practical, straightforward in their practices. In other words, we can help the Muse in her job of inspiring us by doing our part.”


A crucial part of doing our part as artists, Steve continues, is constantly and consistently building our skill level, ensuring first that we’re grounded in the basics – rendering, perspective, color awareness, light and shadow – so that when we do have something in our mind and soul that needs to be translated to canvas, we have the technical ability to do so.


“I remember one artist who was constantly talking about inspiration and how it drove everything she did,” Steve says. “That may be so, but from the standpoint of a viewer looking at her artwork, the result was hit and miss – colors were invasive to the eye, or a body part was too long or too short, or the shadows were too saturated for the light bouncing off them. One could argue that these were results of inspiration, but speaking baldly, they were results of a lack of skill in the fundamentals. In her honest moments, this artist admitted that she couldn’t consistently translate what was in her mind to her canvas.


“When I feel most inspired is when I am rested in body AND soul and when my skills are honed to a point where I can focus on the work and not keep tripping up or held back by any lack in the fundamentals.”


Acquiring and honing basic skills never sounds as ethereal or romantic as discussing inspiration, Steve goes on, but there is no substitution for the process. Especially for beginning artists, a lack of inspiration can be confused with a lack of skills, with the artist painting to a certain point before consistently running across the same problem.


“The very process of identifying the skill issue, researching options for overcoming it, and working on overcoming it is creative,” Steve says. “We just don’t see this as such because it’s ‘practice,’ and does not result in what we consider a finished, salable painting.


“Artists need to allow themselves time to perfect what they do, without the worry of producing and producing and producing. We do not manufacture paintings – we create art.”


And creation, Steve adds, is an exhausting process, demanding of our brain the same exertion that a Cross Fit athlete pulls out of her body. Like the athlete, the wise artist recognizes the effort required to perform, and gives mind, spirit, body, and Muse a rest.


We’ll talk about this next time in, Too Tired to Be Inspired?




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Related Posts:

Inspiration: How Do You Get It?

My Art Means Something. Period.

Your Dream is so Deep You Don't Have to Write it Down (Or Share It)

Growing as You Go

Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | art appreciation | art education | Carolyn Henderson | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | originality | painting 

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Carol and Steve: great article - definitely tried, tested and proven wisdom! A much appreciated road sign on the oftentimes lonely and difficult artist journey.

oops - I meant to type "Carolyn and Steve"!

Mark Brockman
So true.

I work nearly everyday, either in the studio or on site, most times only inspired by the subject, not inspired within. But I look at these times where inspiration is lacking as a time to be prepared so that when the 'within' inspiration comes I'm ready. If I sit around waiting for inspiration it might come and go and I'll get nothing done. And Steve is right, work can sometimes allow nsperation to come.

But even when not working one needs to be open to inspiration. For me it can come at anytime, walking I might see something that calls to me, an inspired thought for a work might come while driving or in the middle of watching something on TV. If I can I'll jot something down, in a book, on a napkin, hopefully I'll have one of my small sketchbooks near by. But sometimes, when inspiration, an idea comes to me, even if I can do nothing about at that time, I'll think about, daydream about, relishing the anticipating of when I can finally paint it.

Marilyn Rose
Yes!!! It's so important to DO - the muse steals silently into the room while you are practicing and in the zone. I paint commissioned portraits of people playing music or engaged in their favorite creative pursuit, so between jobs I sketch from life, quick gestural figures in public places. I also find Youtube videos of people performing, freeze a frame that inspires me and do a quick 60 to 90 minute study in oil. I make time to do that 3-4 times a week. I have recently noticed that honing those skills foster spontaneity and receptivity in my finished portraits. I can concentrate on telling the story without thinking about the paint. Thanks Carolyn, for another great article!

Mary Lee Gutwein
Thanks so much for your consistent and practical advice!
Inspiration is fleeting, that is for sure.
I like your comment about the artist's stress vs the Cross Fit athlete's workout.
Keep up the good words.

Walter Paul Bebirian
noun: inspiration
the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
"Helen had one of her flashes of inspiration"
synonyms: creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, genius, imagination, originality; More
the quality of being inspired, especially when evident in something.
"a rare moment of inspiration in an otherwise dull display"
a person or thing that inspires.
plural noun: inspirations
"he is an inspiration to everyone"
synonyms: guiding light, example, model, muse, motivation, encouragement, influence, spur, stimulus, lift, boost, incentive, impulse, catalyst
"her work is a real inspiration to others"
a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.
"then I had an inspiration"
synonyms: bright idea, revelation, flash; More
the divine influence believed to have led to the writing of the Bible.
the drawing in of breath; inhalation.
an act of breathing in; an inhalation.

I am always looking to work on images to create new ones - to change or add to others to take from one time of my life and to collage onto another time of my life - I do not - see the need to run out of this endless energy except to sleep for a little while and to then wake up and continue on -

it is like breathing - yes?

Mary Lee Gutwein
Like breathing? Yes
Day dreaming brings those flashes of inspiration to surprise us, to enjoy, and use.


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