Make your own inspiration with your creative practice

What is inspiration? Where does it come from? How do you create your own inspiration?

Viewfinder Vol 1, Issue 11See all issuesSubscribe to Viewfinder

In this issue:

  • Inspiration and your creative practice
  • Last call: Very large, very close, very small images
  • Discussion: knowing your why
  • Links worth checking out

Inspiration and your creative practice

There have been times when I’ve found myself creatively blocked. I’ve been unsure how to proceed in my work, or I’ve been unable to will myself to action. I’m just… stuck.

This feeling goes by other names: “writer’s block”; “burnout”; “procrastination”; and the more flowery, “my creative well hath run dry”. In these moments of hopelessness, even more terrible monsters can rear their ugly heads: imposter syndrome and low self-esteem, among others. I might question, “what business do I think I have, making art?” and fear “I’ve been fooling myself and others all-along, masquerading as a ‘real’ artist”. Feelings of “I’m stuck” quickly become, “I suck”.

The cause of my stuckness

Getting stuck, being blocked is nearly always the result of a breakdown of my creative practice. For whatever reason, my routine was disrupted and my personal art making machine grinded screetchingly to a halt. Maybe I got sick. Maybe work got crazy. “Life” got in the way. Regardless of the reason, I suffered from ‘art practum interruptus’, a very-legit sounding fake-Latin phrase I just made up. Said another way, my creative practice was no longer keeping me from getting blocked.

Text: "Action drives inspiration drives action drives inspiration drives action.
Action drives inspiration which drives action which drives…

Action drives inspiration

Inspiration means being ‘driven to do something creative’, but the reverse is equally true: action drives inspiration just as much as the other way around. Pablo Picasso famously proclaimed, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. Similarly, Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. These quotes reveal the truth: inspiration comes from, and to, doing the work. Each action leads to the next. Every idea brings new opportunities, asks new questions, and drives deeper engagement. Want to get inspired? Do your work and inspiration will come.

Creative practice = your inspiration-generation machine

Building a regular creative practice–establishing up the behaviors, habits, processes, resources you need to do your work–is the best way to set yourself up to reliably, repeatedly act (and therefore reliably get inspired to act). Long-term, successful artists treat art making as a job, and their creative practices reflect this. They don’t wait for ‘the muse to whisper inspiration in their ear’ to make art. They do the work and by doing this, the muse is summoned.

By establishing and maintaining a creative practice, you set yourself up for success (or at least vastly increase your chances for it). You turn art making into a set of repeatable practices that, once established, are a reliable creativity- and inspiration-generating machine. When designing your creative practice, consider the following:

  1. Establish ‘office’ hours. Reserve dedicated time to do your work. Turn your Saturdays into SatARTdays. Even a couple of 2 hour blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays will give you the time you need to get things done.
  2. Nurture productive habits and routines. The easiest way to consistently do your work is by including art making into your regular routines. Sketch on your lunch hour or on the bus ride from work. Work on your novel while you have your morning coffee. I like to walk-and-photograph every afternoon. Find ways to make art making a normal, every day routine.
  3. Make commitments, create accountability. Publicly, privately, or only to yourself, make a clear commitment of what you’ll accomplish with your art making time. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose declaration (and it really shouldn’t be), but it should be something you can–and will–achieve. My commitment is to make at least one photograph every day.
  4. Track your progress. In whatever way suits your style, create a register of the work you do. Consider maintaining a log with the date and a sentence or two about what you accomplished. Note the word count of your novel. Mark art making days on the calendar with a big X. Upload an image to Instagram each day. Find a way to make your progress visible.
  5. Replenish your raw material. Not just the literal supplies you work with (although those too), but also cultivate sources of inspiration and information to use in your art. Look at the work of other artists. Read widely. Watch movies. Make notes. Snap reference photos. Make sketches. Build an archive of materials that you can reference.
  6. Assess, periodically. It’s a good idea to look back at your recent work from time to time. Print things out. Attach your work to the wall. These ‘mini-retrospectives’ can help reveal the trajectory of your art making that might not have been visible in the day-to-day.

A regular creative practice keeps us engaged with our work, maintains our momentum, and keeps the inspiration flowing. In a very real sense, through our art practice, we create our own inspiration.

Last call: Very large, very close, very small images

Final call for your images for your images that depict something very small as large, something very far away as nearby, or something very large as small. (Original project prompt here.) So far, 3 subscribers have shared their work–why not share yours as well?!

Please email with an image of your art; I’ll feature some in a future installment of Viewfinder.

Discussion: knowing your why

A previous issue’s topic: ‘Know your why’ spurred thoughtful feedback in our community; thought I’d share some of them here:

Kelli J: My “why” is a couple things: I find odd things interesting and maybe others might think the same way. Does my image make you stop and think about life in a different way? Does it make you question the world? Do you take a closer look at the details of a subject? Did it make you laugh? I think stopping to take a moment and really study what is around us, seeing humor in the odd or imaginative perception of life, can bring joy, laughter, or just deep thought. I want to share these feelings with others and hope I can inspire more people to explore their ideas and creativity in their own ways.

Craig L: I have struggled with my “why” lately. Maybe because I have been away from art for more than a year, other than small projects here and there. Maybe because I am struggling to see and think creatively. Probably both and more. I have started small (thanks Ron) and am working to bring those muscles back. I think my “why” used to be THE CREATION OF THE NEXT THING. An iteration on the last, the last with a new twist. Maybe that is part CURIOSITY and part GETTING BETTER, but not sure either of these fit well. Tonight I will continue small and ponder my “why”.

Brian A: I just got some “why” feedback that made me smile. A relative of my wife liked a photo of their adult child with my wife so much that they made a print to have on their wall. That kind of appreciation of my photo is cool, that I made a difference in their life, brought them some happiness even if it is a fleeting moment. Like a random act of kindness both ways. One thing I’ve been pondering is putting images on creative commons, so that my images could help others do their projects, that might bring the same good feelings to me. Because I already got what I wanted, making and viewing the images.

What is your why? Join the conversation… leave a comment here.

Links worth checking out:

A still image taken from the linked video of Ethan Hawke with the title, "Give yourself permission to be creative."
Ethan Hawke. “Give yourself permission to be creative.”

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Cover image: 11-20-2023-8. ©2023 Ron Johnson