Our A to Z Artistic Inspiration

At the start of every new year comes a fresh start, and as practicing artists, we need to take advantage of it!

Resolve to muster your courage and try something new. Or submit your work to a contest or magazine. Or just keep trudging along in writing that manuscript. (Are these examples hitting close to home for anyone else or just me?) And if you have no resolve to keep creating, read this excellent article by Kendall Ruth, published on The Curator entitled “Listening Past Writer’s Block” (don’t worry, it does apply to other mediums as well)

To push you along, here’s part 2 to our earlier inspiration post. From A to Z, here are some of our favorite ways to stay inspired in our art and some of the things and people who inspire us most.

A to Z Inspiration

 Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This is THE BEST book we know of that will help stuck and fearful artists move forward. The only thing it lacks is the gospel, but its depth astounds us. Five stars and two thumbs up!

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Bake Something New

The idea is to try a new recipe, which will hopefully be a flaming success (so to speak), which will give you confidence (and snacks) to try something new artistically. Try baking bread from the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (one of Liz’s favorite cookbooks!).

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Critiques

When was the last time another artist (particularly one in your medium) critiqued your work? Critique is essential for the growing artist. If you want to create your best work, you need to seek out other artists who can give you honest feedback about your art.
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DesignSponge

Get inspired to make your house a work of art by checking out DesignSponge‘s daily design and DIY posts.
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Eavesdrop

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, was famous for eavesdropping. He’d sit behind couples on a train and write down their conversation verbatim to study what makes good dialogue (and it’s possible their words would end up in the mouths of his characters). You never know what you might overhear that would give you an idea for a new direction on a project.

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Host a Film Night

Popcorn, friends, and a thoughtful movie are all you need to have a great discussion at the end of the night. Consider seeing “Tree of Life” (at Redbox), “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (in select theaters), or an old classic like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” or Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.

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Get out and About

Everyone needs a change of scenery. Take a sketchbook to the park or your computer to a coffee shop. Or just go for a walk in your neighborhood — the fresh air and exercise will do your right brain cells good.

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Go to a House Concert (or play one!)

This recent trend of house concerts is a lot of fun. Musicians get an intimate stage and the chance to connect with fans more personally. Plus the publicity they get is authentic and relationally-based — the best kind of marketing. Local to Colorado Springs, Fuel Friends music blog hosts house concerts with musicians like David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) and Joe Pug.

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Invest in your Art

How you spend your money tells you what you value. Is your art worth spending money on, in your mind? That should tell you how important you feel your art is. Treat yourself this January, and stop by Dick Blick or Hobby Lobby and pick up a new set of pens and brushes or just go ahead and buy that letterpress set with your Christmas money. Maybe buying a new desk is in order, or a new chair, one you want to sit in. Investing in good supplies makes you want to make art with them and helps you (and others in your life) place value in your art-making.

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Keep Junk out of your Workspace

Unless you’re a found-object artist, you have no excuse for keeping junk in your art-making space. Do NOT pile bills, books, dishes or anything else on the desk you use for writing or painting. If you designate a clutter-free space for you to work on your art, and you’re more likely to sit down and get to work

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Kill Perfectionism!!

Can you tell we struggle with this? Perfectionism kills artists. It keeps you from being able to keep producing lots of work because you are afraid you won’t produce your BEST work. So pull out your ninja sword, and let this monster die a quick death… daily.

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Listen and Subscribe to Podcasts

We love podcasts because they fill otherwise empty, brainless time (for example, when Jeremy’s searching for the perfect iStock image or when Liz is chopping vegetables or folding laundry). Our favorites include The Moth (live storytelling), the Acts 29 Network (a Christian church planting network), Car Talk (hilarious car advice on NPR), and the New Yorker’s Fiction readings (authors reading short stories).

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Collaborate Across Mediums

Seriously, this is so encouraging for us. When we get stuck, it helps to have someone else speaking into your work, owning your work as half theirs. Our parables book came out of us collaborating in writing and sculpture, and we’re now approaching editors about publishing it. You never know where a collaboration will take you!

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The Library’s New Releases Section

Our library (and probably yours too) has a section for all new books they’ve acquired, which are often books hot off the presses. We have made a habit of stopping by and browsing titles and covers to look for books that pique our interest – and we’re never disappointed. We always come away with arm loads.

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Open a Book

Reading is so inspirational, whether you’re reading a book to learn new art-making techniques or to study master artists or just to immerse yourself in a good story. Get a library card, or buy great (read: cheap) used books on Abe Books (Liz’s fave online bookstore).

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Pinterest

Pinterest is an online bookmarking community (a pin board) of interesting ideas, arranged by photographs. They have every category you can think of, from artwork to recipes to DIY ideas to book recommendations, and I (Liz) could spend hours browsing.

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Be Quiet

It is essential for artists to have quiet so they can remove themselves from the hectic hum of postmodernity and reflect from a broader vantage point. Turn off all your electronic devices for a day so you can get some thinking time.

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Establish an Art-making Routine

We hate to tell you this, but art won’t happen on its own. You need to spend regular time in your studio or at your desk pounding out art. Establishing a routine is the best way to make sure this happens. Jeremy has “art night” on Thursdays, and he used to make himself a pot of coffee each Thursday to prepare himself for the work ahead of him. Liz aims to write at least 500 words every day during the work week, and sometimes she’ll begin by reading another book or article to get her mind going.

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Steal Shamelessly

Picasso once said (supposedly), “Bad artists copy; good artists steal.” We’re not advocating copyright violations. Rather, the point is to study others’ art so that you can master their techniques and incorporate them into your own work and your unique style.

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Make a Spot of Tea (or Coffee)

Who’s to say it’s a bad thing to use caffeine to jumpstart creativity? Give it a go, chaps.

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Use Noisetrade!

Founded by Derek Webb and a few other Nashville-based musicians, Noisetrade is our favorite free LEGAL music downloading website. The musicians post their music themselves, and in exchange for downloading their music for free (or for a tip), you give them your email address and/or post their CD on Facebook — free marketing for the musicians and free music for you. Doesn’t get any better!

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Visit an Art Museum or Gallery

Seeing visual art in person can help spark new ideas. We often bring a camera and take photos of our favorite pieces. We also write down the artists’ names and look them up online later. Jeremy has folders and folders filled with photographs of visual art that inspires him, and when he’s experiencing a creative dry spell, he turns to these photographs for that extra burst of inspiration. And if you need extra incentive, both the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs and the Denver Art Museum have free days (and all the local galleries we know of have absolutely free admission)!

Worship (& Enter the Worship Circle)

For me (Liz), singing is freeing. It helps me relax, and I find that when I spend time worshipping God through song, ideas abound! My favorite group for this BY FAR is Enter the Worship Circle‘s folksy community worship. They also have a Chair and Microphone series where individual band members record intimate worship – just them and God. There’s nothing else like it!

Re-eXamine Old Notebooks

The assumption here is that you’re already carrying around a notebook or sketchbook with you everywhere you go, so you can catch new ideas as they come to you (you can’t put eavesdropping into practice quite as well without a notebook handy!). The second step is to go through old notebooks when your creativity has run dry. Often a brilliant idea you thought of on the bus ride home won’t be helpful until months (or years) later.

Take a Lesson from the YMCA

I (Liz) love the YMCA. I love my membership, which makes me get out and about AND exercise semi-regularly. I love how community-minded the Y is, which is not such a bad idea for us artists to consider. Let’s ask ourselves, how can we serve our local communities with our art? I love that I can take yoga classes, a separate hobby from my writing, and that I can meet a truly diverse set of people doing it, which means I have a chance to interact with non-artists and not get stuck in an art bubble, so to speak. Connect the dots and take a lesson from the Y!

Zoo Photography Adventure

Okay, we admit it, we were reaching for a Z here, but the point remains: photography adventures are tons of fun! Maybe decide to take photographs of found letters and make a collage to spell a word when you get home. Or maybe just go on a hike and take a photo of everything that takes your breath away. You’ll get outside, and you’ll be training your eye at the same time. (They also make for great dates, guys)

So get out there and make some great art, friends!

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Art is a Gift: Thoughts from Madeleine L’Engle

 

One woman that we consistently admire in her pursuit of art and faith is Madeleine L’Engle, author of the Wrinkle in Time series. During her life, she wrote a number of books related to art and Christianity, most notably Walking on Water (which comes highly recommended to you) and one I (Liz) am reading currently, Madeleine L’Engle: Herself, which is a compilation of her written and spoken words teaching others about writing.

Naturally, faith enters into these writings of hers, and lately, I have made a habit of reading one or two of her thoughts at a time before I sit down to begin writing. The book is written almost in a devotional style, with each page a new thought from Madeleine, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite readings with you.

ART IS A GIFT OF THE SPIRIT, etc.

“We’re never sure that what we write is true and honest. We try to make it true and honest. How much I succeed is really beyond my control. It happens if I am given the Spirit to write the work.

“It is through the gifts of the Spirit that art comes, that love comes. But because we’re human, we’re never entirely sure. We know we haven’t served the work as well as we would want to. But if I had to serve the work to my satisfaction, I would still be on my first novel. And that would be pride.

“The important thing is to recognize that our gift, no matter what the size, is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we may humbly serve, and in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.

“If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about. Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.’

“I have never served a work as it ought to be served; my little trickle adds hardly a drop of water to the lake, and yet it doesn’t matter; there is no trickle to small. Over the years I have come to recognize that the work often knows more than I do. And with each book I start, I have hopes that I may be helped to serve it a little more fully.

“Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share — he cannot help it — what he has found. ”

Let us be those servant artists who depend whole-heartedly on the Spirit for our work to get done! Because, boy, we need help. 🙂

The Sufjan Experience

How do you feel about the apocalypse? What if it were heralded by dancers in nineteen-nineties, neon Nike shirts?

Well, I’ve seen it, and it was awesome.

On Tuesday Nov. 2, Sufjan Stevens came to Denver, Colorado.  Two full drum kits, a 3-piece horn section, two piano players, a DJ, synthesizers, back-up dancers, guitars, bass and lots of costumes accompanied him. On a screen behind the stage huge videos of trippy visual effects flickered in time to the music. The entire spectacle was… well, a spectacle! Walking out of the theatre after the show, I was fully convinced that Sufjan is a genius (and perhaps mentally unstable).

Liz and I talked about it later, and here are few of my thoughts:

The Proximity of Genius and Insanity

Okay, maybe insanity is too strong a word. But could it be coincidence that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh and Beethoven are all thought to have suffered from various mental disorders, depression or substance abuses? Some of my favorite living musical and visual artists are bi-polar. In his song Vesuvius, Sufjan talks about giving in to something bigger than himself. I think most artists, in the act of creating, feel like they are giving themselves to the process. And that can be scary, as if you are losing yourself.

Getting Lost in Your Art

“Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.” Madeleine L’Engle.

To write his newest album, Sufjan explained to the audience, he gave up all previous notions of what a song is and how to write one. He blocked all history and culture, as well as he could, from his process. Literally recording raw noises, he started to build the album by running his recordings through effect pedals and arranging them on the computer. He let himself get completely lost in the creative process, ignoring all outside influence.

His music teeters on the edge of losing control. The lyrics are simple, cryptic and rushing up from some deep part of his adolescent id.

Sufjan seems to have been wrestling with a dark angel. In between songs he opened his soul and poured out disjointed thoughts about the universe being in all of us. What a difference from the poetic depths of his album Seven Swans! The bright angel of creativity is still there however; and Sufjan began and ended his concert with some of the most meaningful and literary songs of his career.

Inspiration and Innovation

Any innovation in any discipline involves a re-evaluation of methods and ideologies. Picasso was a classically trained painter, but he intentionally questioned the classical methodology of color, shape and perspective. In letting go, he was able to innovate. It is appallingly easy to get “in a rut,” creating the same sorts of things over and over. Often it helps to get “outside” of one’s self and test your limits.

Primarily, I gain inspiration through other artist’s work. I intake a LOT of creative work, even stuff that is totally unrelated to my own disciplines. And I am most inspired when I can dialogue with an artist and get inside their head. That being the case, I create better art when I am in community.

Community

One of the best ways to make sure you come back to reality is a strong community. I’m talking about people you love and trust, who are not afraid to be honest with you, to call you out when you’re being self-absorbed, and your art makes no sense at all.  We need each other, we need people from different backgrounds, trades and walks of life, and most of all, people that care about us.

This is just speculation, but I think that Sufjan Stevens, in his search for creativity, inspiration and innovation has left behind his community and lost those valuable voices of truth in his life.

Let us hope in his continued search he finds community, re-discovers the foundations of his rich literary training and the very source of creativity, Jesus Christ, who created the heavens and earth.

We’re rooting for you Sufjan!

-Jeremy