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Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Pablo Picasso once said, " Inspiration exists, but it should find you working".

This might sound contradictory. How can I as an artist be working without inspiration? Unless I’m also a plumber and I’m waiting to be inspired to paint while fiddling with a faulty faucet. For the purpose of this article I’m assuming you’re only an artist and not also and artisan.

There is this old stereotype of the starving artist living in a miserable, cold garret, riddled with consumption and penniless but helpless because he is forever searching for the elusive inspiration standing between himself and a better address, a good doctor, an attractive housekeeper and a horde of adoring fans.

What is this elusive, enigmatic thing called inspiration? Here are two definitions:

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; or, a sudden brilliant or timely idea.

This sounds very simple.

Just wait for a bit for the brilliant idea or the mental stimulation to pitch up, leap at your easel and - hey presto! - a masterpiece is born! But we all know that this is rarely how it goes. Inspiration is as elusive as that winning Lotto number. And we know we can’t wait for our numbers to come up to buy groceries or pay the bond. Just so with inspiration for us artists. We will all be starving and on the street if we sit around waiting to be inspired. It should not be inspiration but hunger and shoe-less children that makes us paint and paint regularly.

So how do we do this? How do we kick-start the painting process? There are a few tricks which might help you. Here are some of mine:

Tidy your work space, take stock of your paints, make a list of things to buy, sharpen your pencils. (I know someone who goes through dozens of pencils but never sketches!) Doing non-painting stuff in a painting environment might just be the spark you need.

Spend some time looking at pictures. Art is pictures, so spend time going through magazines, art books, art websites and blogs. Do so with the idea in mind that you’re looking for something you can paint, not necessarily the exact picture, but an idea, a concept, an adaptation. If your partner asks what you’re doing and says what a lovely life it is being an artist, tell him/her you’re working. Which you are... you’re working at finding inspiration.

Watch television. Make some popcorn, sit back with your remote and select a channel which might be relevant to something you might want to paint, say a nature programme about the Karoo. If you have a new-fangled TV, you can pause a scene which you find inspiring and take a picture of it with your cell phone... doesn’t matter if it's skew or has writing over it, it’s just a source of inspiration you can later use. And if your partner asks those awkward questions again, same answer as above!

Your own library of source material. Take pictures. Gone are the days of massive, heavy, expensive photographic equipment. You can take lovely pictures with your cell phone and quickly download them to a laptop or tablet if you want to. I like to download mine to my iPad. I then use this to actually paint from; it has a nice big screen. Again, it’s inspirational just sitting scrolling through your photographs. I then transfer the ones that strike a chord to a folder called "Paint Now!" . And then I do!

Visit art galleries. It costs nothing, and I find it mostly inspirational - and sometimes inspirational regarding what I don’t want to paint!

So, there you have a few things to be working on while you wait for inspiration to rock up.

I’m sure Pablo would approve.

Johan Brink © June 2021

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