As artists, we need to stay inspired. Which means we need to be constantly be reading, listening to and watching new things. We need to challenge ourselves and our community as well, because often out of the challenge a new and better thing is discovered.
Here are a few things that inspire me, or things I do to foster creativity in myself. My mediums of choice are writing, photography and songwriting, so I try to incorporate a variety of things to stretch each of those skills. I encourage you to try reading or watching some of these works, or find different ones that stretch and grow you.
1. I read things similar to what I want to create:
- Poetry of Sara Teasdale – Her work is currently my favorite, I appreciate her vivid images from nature, her rather depressing yet romantic sense of humor. Reading her poetry makes me want to write more and write better.
- Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter – Two very different series, but the things I appreciate most about them are similar: a good story, in a unique world, from an author who knew their world inside and out, with a well-oiled timeline, written well for their audiences. Tolkien blows my mind when it comes to creating languages and weaving them into a story. And Rowling continues to earn my respect from her hidden humor and literary jokes (that I’m still discovering today).
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales – I grew up on these fairy tales and I appreciate the often dark subjects that are touched on (betrayal, untrustworthy adult figures, consequences from both good and bad decisions, and how unfortunate things happen to both the bad and good people).
- The Bible – It’s “living and active” and never ceases to amaze me in it’s complexity and detail. Who knew that king Solomon specifically ordered pasture-fed cattle? (1 Kings 4:22,23). King David was an extensive poet and covered a wide variety of metaphors and illustrations in his work, created for worship in the temple. And Jesus was such a great storyteller, using so many parables to illustrate his messages.
2. I gain new perspectives (AKA I read self-help books):
- “Steal like an Artist” & “Show Your Work,” by Austin Kleon, a couple of graphics-driven books full of inspiring quotes and thoughts from Kleon about getting stuff done, doing it in community, and then sharing it with the world.
- “Making Ideas Happen,” by Scott Belsky, another “get it done” book, where our phrase “ship it” comes from. Shipping an imperfect project is better than never shipping it.
- “Save the Cat” – Blake Snyder, a book on writing screen plays, and really helpful in hashing out the main plot points and elements needed in any good story. (There are a couple lists in there that are super helpful as I create and write my own fictional works).
3. I watch films about artists:
- “Walk the Line,” based on the life of Johnny Cash. I mean, hello, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Am I right? Also, I love Johnny Cash, the way he put words together and the way he wrote simply but deeply.
- “That Thing You Do,” a fictional story about a band with overnight success around the era of the Beatles. I could watch that movie any day. I always get excited when they win the talent show, and I always get bummed when they have to face real life. All the characters are understandable and entertaining.
- “Big Easy Express,” a documentary about a tour Mumford and Sons went on (it’s not all about them, but, they were the reason I bought it). They and the other bands on their tour took their crews and families on a train tour from California to New Orleans. I’ve always wanted to go on tour and I love seeing behind the scenes of the tour of one of my favorite bands.
- “Any Day Now,” a documentary of a tour with Ten Out of Tenn – ten artists from Tennessee! Including artists like Katie Herzig, Griffin House, and Andy Davis. The ten artists partner together to go on tour and play each others songs and support each other. It’s an inspiring collaborative initiative. I love seeing how artists can come together to create solid work.
- “Part of Me,” the Katy Perry documentary. Whatever your feelings about her or her music, the reality is that she has experienced big success and I enjoy seeing behind the scenes of what it takes and what it costs people. And I think this documentary explores that well – you celebrate with Katy in the big moments, and wanna cry with her when things don’t work out.
4. I focus on one or two artists I admire:
- The artist, SIA – Lately I’ve been going and watching interviews or listening to all the hits she’s written. She’s got a knack for writing catchy lyrics and tunes, and usually has a really strong visual metaphor (like Chandelier). I don’t know her birthday or her mom’s name, but I pay attention whenever I see anything about her. I love how she uses slant rhyming and drags out vowels in certain words of certain songs. Two of my favorites are “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart.”
- James Bay’s latest album – killer harmonies and good vibes. I’m still new to this guy, but I like where it’s going; I appreciate how upbeat his music is. I tend to write slower ballads and melancholy songs, but aspire to write more upbeat numbers.
5. I continue my education:
- Skillshare.com has been helpful in keeping me inspired. I love browsing the classes and thinking of new possibilities. A project I did in one class has inspired me to put myself in other artists’ creative spaces to learn from their habits.
- I like touring Flatbed Press and their gallery here in Austin – it’s full of art by artists who are pushing the limit of the printing medium.
- I go to shows, I find local artists who’s work I admire, like David Ramirez, musician, and Graham Franciose, illustrative painter.
- I go to conferences and panels featuring artists and learn from them and their work. It turns out that good art happens through consistently producing work, and knowing this helps me fight to find my voice and better my skills.
- I research companies that inspire me – two local fair trade companies I admire are Noonday Collection, and Raven & Lily. I love their products in addition to their inspiring stories.
- I seek collaboration: I help run a women’s songwriting circle, and always try and jump on opportunities to co-create with other artists. Some of the most helpful critique or questions have some from my peers. It’s also helpful to find someone a few steps ahead of where I am, and glean from their wisdom.
6. I find a change of place and change of space:
- I like exploring a new city. I recently visited New Orleans, Nashville, Asheville, Williamsburg and Atlanta.
- I also like exploring a part of my city I’ve never seen, like a new coffee shop, a friend’s backyard. Or I will find a new place to watch the sunrise, or hike a new trail.