Where do I find inspiration?

I answer a great question from a reader about where I find inspiration. I like trash and I’m not afraid to pick up sticks.

This question came to me from a survey I ran in January and I wanted to answer it because I love to hear where makers and artists get their inspiration. It’s a bit like getting a glimpse of their studio spaces. It’s a window into what makes them tick so here’s my answer to where do I find inspiration…

Preface pre inspiration

Before we dive into inspiration I have to say something. Inspiration doesn’t and shouldn’t take the place of continuously showing up for work even if/when you aren’t feeling it. I think media shows artists as tortured without a muse or inspiration. On screen they are paralyzed without a BIG IDEA to move forward with. They can’t get started without it. I think many people just starting out gravitate to that idea as well. My experience has been something more in the vein of this famous quote:

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

Pablo Picasso

I find I have more ideas when I show up everyday. Maybe it’s actually more like chasing rabbits but when I show up and I may be a bit unsure of where to go next is when the ideas tend to show up unannounced. So get to work even if you don’t have a solid inspiration.

The nitty gritty

The inspiration question makes me feel incredibly low-brow because often artists’ answers are super noble sounding. They say “nature, of course” and have these really lovely stories about how they take these long walks and take photos of twigs and rocks or colorful city streets.

I’m out here “well I found this Communist propoganda poster on the street while I was in Nepal, if I iron it I can probably glue it to something.” I want the leftover bits when someone made a whole bunch of resin jewelry because that giant puddle of dried resin I can cut, Dremel holes in it, then sand and turn into a book cover. I want the wrapping paper that has purple glitter octopus on it and the leftover Lego box from the giant kit you just build. I’m with Oscar the Grouch, I like trash. Those aren’t random examples. All of that is stuff I’ve used in projects. I’m not kidding, I like trash.

A puddle of resin you say? I can make a book outta that!

Using packaging for making is one of my favorite pastimes. Mostly because it’s a way to customize something mass produced into one-of-a-kind items. But also, it’s a way to reuse and reinvent things that would otherwise go into the recycle bin or the trash. By remaking it, I can give it just a bit of a longer life.

There’s also something there for me about making something that looks machine made into something that looks hand made. I mean sure, some graphic design hands made the packaging at some point, but then they were mass produced and rolled out on pallets as packaging for something I probably ate for breakfast.

The grungier, the better

To go with my trash, I like grunge. I like type so distressed it’s practically illegible. I like the fact that the propoganda poster I picked up off the street had a giant boot print on it. I liked it better because of the boot print. Torn edges. Black scribbles. Scratch marks. Black electrical tape. Fingerprints. Make it look like someone has handled it a lot and left a mess. That’s what gets me energized. It’s all about the texture and how touchable I can make the thing I’m making.

I scratched so much paint off of this spread. So much scratching.

These are the things when I see them, I am itching to take them apart and make them into something else. This leads straight into my love of collage. I like the ability to take a lot of different things and make a new whole thing out of disparate parts. And by the time I’ve worked on it, it’s even grungier than it was when I found it.

But well actually nature is pretty inspiring

Right now, I’m working on putting things together with sticks from my backyard. I’d like to say there was some deep love of nature involved in this. I mean I do like my trees in the yard but we call them the stick trees because they just continuously make sticks. So I’m using these sticks with my crochet and weavings in the Walk Softly and Carry This Stick series in self defense really because every time I go in my backyard the trees have made 47 new sticks.

I think one of the things that inspires me is using things that I have on hand. If I had to go out somewhere and forage for sticks, it would have never happened but because my trees have dropped eight sticks while I was writing this section, why not find a way to use them?

This is why I’ve gotten such a charge out of eco-dying. Here’s the bits I saved from cooking and now I’ve boiled it and turned it into dye. My leftover onion skins and avocado pits make great dyes and I don’t have to do a lot of extra work to make it happen. Just remember to chunk the bits in the freezer when I’m cooking and then anytime I want to actually dye something, I have materials ready to go.

There’s usually a rainbow up in here somewhere

Color is my other motivator. I used to despair because most artists have really distinct palettes. Their Instagrams look so analogous and purposeful. Meanwhile, mine looks like a sci-fi convention crashed into a Barbie factory. But you know what? I like color and I’m going to use it on whatever whim takes my fancy because when I get to use all the crayons in the box, I’m more likely to make something. I used to think I was being undisciplined but now I understand that sometimes this work requires discipline to always check in with my gut and following the inspiration trail where it leads.

Clearly, metaphors aren’t my life’s work so I guess I should stick with color.

I know I post this every other week but it’s still truuuuue. I’m gonna get a tattoo of it one of these days.

So yeeeeeah

Those are the things that get me going. I mean I don’t actually dig through trash (much) but I do like to scavenge. I like things to have some print on them or color or texture or some combo of all of that. These are the things that inspire me and I spend time chasing. Thanks to Chris for this very fun question.

What about you? What’s the weird little thing that your heart loves? No shame in liking what you like. Tag me on socials, email me, or leave me a note here. I want to know what’s got you really jazzed about making.


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