Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Inspiration

            What do you do when you don’t know what to make next? Or when you don’t know what to write next? What do you look at when you know you want to create something but don’t know what to create?
            Where do you get your ideas from normally when you aren’t stuck?
            When I’m not stuck, I don’t always know what sparks my ideas. Sometimes one idea seems to sprout the next idea and set off some kind of chain reaction of possibilities that I want to sketch out and try. One good brainstorming session might get me months of things to make. But sometimes, I have to consciously search for new things. I run out of interesting things to carve on my vases, but I still want to carve on vases. What do I do?
            One thing I could do is look at what other people have carved on vases. I could look at images or go see ceramic objects in person. I could investigate different techniques that I have yet to try and experiment. But if what is running low is my bank of images to carve, this may not help as much as I would like.
            It is easy to get stuck in the world of clay, and forget that there is the whole rest of the world out there, too.  
            When I am having a hard time coming up with new ideas, I think it is a good idea to step back from clay and look at other things. One thing that always helps me is to go outside and look at all the things that exist in the natural world. Even if I don’t come home with an idea, it reminds me that there is a whole world of living things, and that I belong in that world. And I like to take pictures.
            This tree looks kind of like it has a door in it.

            When I was small, I used to look for trees with hollows in them and imagine what would live in there. Or who would live in there. I imagined nests of birds that could talk, or that tiny unicorns had a stable hidden away inside. Or maybe, if I waited long enough, a dragon would come out.
            Looking at the natural world has always sparked my imagination. I imagine all sorts of creatures and stories when I spend time outside. Even though these things have nothing to do with clay, they are what I like to think about when I work on a piece. What makes ceramic work interesting is often what the artist brings to it from outside the field of clay. I can make a well made cup, and glaze it with some pleasant glaze, and it will function perfectly well as a cup. In fact, there is something satisfying about making good cups with nice glazing, especially in sets. But there are more things in my head than just good functional work. 

            A cup with a dragon on it becomes something more than a vessel to contain liquid. Now that it has that image on it, there are implications to using the cup. There is a reason to choose this specific cup, when most of the time one only feels the need to choose the beverage one is going to have. There is a reason to spend time looking at the cup; it has a picture on it. The picture is something to think about, and maybe to wonder about.
             This is only one way to use an idea from outside the world of clay. Sometimes I look at tree bark, and see a pattern that I want to replicate on a pot. Sometimes I look up at a tree: 

And I wonder about making tree plates.

            Or I see a funny stump with moss and some other small plant pouring out of the hollow, and it makes me think, “Ooh if I made a clay object resembling that shape what an interesting vessel it would make! I wonder if it would make an interesting fountain/vase/flowerpot/what else could it be?”
            You don’t have to go adventuring in the nearest park every day to discover things that inspire you. That seems to work well for me, but there are many other interesting things in the world. Look around at what artists in other mediums are doing. If you work with clay, find a stained glass studio and go see what they make there and what it is like. Or go watch someone turning wood on a lathe. Go listen to the symphony orchestra or go dancing and watch how the people move. The words gesture and form are not limited to pots and sculptures, but can be found in many places.  

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