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What do artist think before starting a new work of art? Where do they find their inspiration?

I have asked this question several times to artists I know or have met in my life and as expected, there is not one particular answer but myriad of them. It is easy to imagine that previous experiences, memories, interactions, and plenty of observation have to do something with it. However, what really puzzles me about this is when, for example, I see artists -who focus on human figure, drawing faces of different people that they have never met or seen in pictures. Who are they drawing then? Why do these characters have those features? It is honestly intriguing. 

Moreover, there are also cases in which I have seen artists painting beautiful outdoor landscapes from the comfort of their studios, without seeing at a picture or a video, and where the view is nothing different than white walls. Are they painting from their memories? Even some of them tell confess that they haven’t traveled in a long time. Is it maybe where they would like to be?

The ultimate Creator

Could it be that these people – artists – are particularly creative and ideas just flow through their heads effortlessly? Yes, and no. It is true that they have cultivated and embraced creativity into their lives, which is why we perceive it is easier for them to come up with new ideas. But it is also the fact that they ‘force’ themselves to step into that creative space by showing up at their studios, standing in front of a canvas, and getting their hands dirty. We will dive deeper into this shortly I promise.

I do think that, in most cases, artists have a higher sensitivity to the surroundings than non-artists. In fact, there are parts of their work that respond entirely to what or how they are feeling in a particular instant. 

I have heard many times expressions like “You know what, I’m gravitating towards -insert color- tones today”, or “It’s 6pm, time for violets”. I have also seen works ending in unintended ways, because of swings in mood, sudden events, and liquor. Mostly liquor.

In painting, artists have a tendency to lean towards certain topics, palettes of color, and shapes. Even brushstrokes are executed in such unique way that become part of their signature. That’s why we can recognize someone’s work from afar. 

Now, circling back to the painting-unknown-people topic, it is a bit harder to break it down. Some artists tend to repeat certain features -in faces or bodies- to the extent that it seems as if they are painting/drawing the same person all over again. It is like if some figures have been pre-wired and come to light in furtive manner when artists are performing these creative tasks. Isn’t this fascinating?  Okay, let’s carry on before I fumble with neuroscience.

What others say

Serge Bloch, a French illustrator whose iconic work has appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world discussed that “creativity is the art of combining a little idea with another little idea, and so on… and at the end maybe a great idea will come up”. What I have noticed there is in common between Serge’s remarks and my experience hanging around artists, is that even if the destination is not clear enough, the only way to produce a piece of art is by starting the journey somewhere. A landscape artist begins her work by adding the first hand of painting to the canvas. And then the next one. After some few iterations, ideas become clearer. 

Artists gain momentum as they progress, and then move with the flow. In some cases, it is the composition itself who determines the inclusion or exclusion of elements that have been considered to be part of the work, or variations in the palette to balance energy in a better way. Some artists tell me that even though they have had ‘aha moments’, most of these are only conceptual, and the real work starts when they have their hands covered in paint. As I said before, most artists, or painters for that matter, have just an idea of where to start but the path and the destination are not absolutely defined.

The Studio Factor

Now, something I have found to make a difference for artists to unlock their creativity and potential, is the environment of their own studios. Disorganized as they are -not all of them, I know, I know- their space is vital to bring their ideas to life. It is their sacred precinct, where oils, acrylics, brushes, and canvases have wild fun and never pick up the clutter. Once artists step into their studio, they enter another dimension, where time and space are relative, and some of the laws of physics do not apply. This is not surprising as researchers have found that the right environment plays a key role enabling and honing creativity.

So next time you step into an artist’s studio, just give her a break because she’s up to something very cool.

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