As an artist, I want to feel inspired. It is very difficult to make art when you are not feeling the creative spirit. This article is part I of a series of articles that describe strategies I have learned over 20 years of making art and teaching art to get inspired and stay inspired. However, I don’t think inspiration is limited to the visual arts. These techniques can be used by anyone to get inspired.
The word inspiration is derived from Latin and means “to breathe into.” Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines inspiration as the following: (1) a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation; (2) the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions.
Historically, the Western concept of inspiration comes from the ancient Greeks, in which people would receive flashes of insight from the Muses. The ancient Hebrews had a similar concept of inspiration, in which God speaks into the human mind compelling the person to speak God’s words. The Old Norse believed inspiration came from Odin. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the messenger of inspiration. In each of these traditions, inspiration comes from communication with a divine power.
In my experience, inspiration takes an elevated state of conscious, in other words, inspiration is a high energy state and it feels really great to be inspired. When I was in my twenties, flashes of inspiration were very sporadic. It would hit me at various times and not always when I wanted it to or needed it to (as in the case of getting ready for an art show). Over the years of teaching art and making art, I have discovered some ways to court the Muse and to connect more consistently with inspiration.
This is the first technique of five. It is a drawing exercise, but don't be daunted. This is a fun and effective activity for getting inspired and creative.
Right brain drawing: I learned this drawing technique from Betty Edwards’, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, over 20 years ago.
The basic premise of this exercise is about getting into R-mode, your right brain mode. The right brain perceives differently than the left brain. For example, if the left brain is verbal, the right brain is non-verbal. The right brain perceives spatial relationships. The right brain is intuitive, instead of logical. The right brain perceives the non-temporal; it is without a sense of time. The right brain is holistic, as opposed to being linear. Going into the right brain is often like entering another reality, which opens us up to inspiration.
Negative Space Drawing
Step 1: Get a pencil and a sheet of paper. Find an object to draw, like a plant that you can see a bunch of negative shapes between and around the positive shapes. The plant in this image (below) is the positive form. The space between the branches and petals, are considered negative shapes.
Before you start drawing: Undertake this with a spirit of play, challenge and joy. Don’t worry about the outcome, I do this drawing technique to warm up my mind and to shift into R-mode. I encourage you to let go of what the resulting picture looks like. Enjoy the process!
Step 2: Look for and draw the negative shapes between objects. When we draw, we are used to looking at and drawing the positive form. This exercise takes a shift in thinking, so that you are looking at the negative form or shape that is created by the intersection of positive shapes. This is why I cropped the picture so close up. You can see the little triangles and rectangles and shapes created by the border of the picture format and the branches and flower petals. If possible, don’t draw the branches, draw the shape that is created by the branches. I drew mine in blue pencil.
Step 3: Go from one shape to the next. Do your best to line them up on the picture plane. For example, it is like creating a puzzle out of negative shapes. Enjoy it and don’t fret. You can see in my example, I did not get the shapes drawn perfectly.
Step 4: Color in the shapes. This step is optional, but it does help you see the negative shapes. This will also make your composition pop (and it's fun)!
What have I learned from doing right brain drawing over 20 years? Our analytical mind is often full of chatter, going over our laundry list, playing out dramas that happened at work, worries, concerns, and things that need to get done. Our world often revolves around being logical, rational and temporal. The right brain, in contrast, is intuitive, non-rational and non-temporal. In my experience, I need to turn off the chatter to get into a creative and inspired space. Doing right brain drawing allows me to quiet the chatter and move into a space of connection, synthesis and inspiration.