Take Another Look

by Alejandro Fogel
Sketchbook Magazine


The world around you–the sound of running water, the shape of a jar, even stains on a wall–can be a good source of inspiration. It’s simply a matter of opening your eyes, literally.

How do I find inspiration to create new and original work?” This age-old question is asked over and over again by participants at creativity workshops and art classes. And the answer–I suggest to my students–is right before their eyes.

Leonardo da Vinci used to stare at the wall of his studio for long periods of time. The wall was empty. There were no paintings on it, just large, dark humidity stains that would change slightly every day slowly through the seasons. Da Vinci would stare at them and literally see his drawings, paintings, sculptures and inventions on the wall. The raw images from the stains became da Vinci’s masterpieces. What would we have seen on da Vinci’s wall? Certainly something different. Just like children who look at the clouds; one may see a house and another may retort: “No, that’s a cow!” We’re so similar in the way we perceive the world around us and yet so different in how we interpret it.

Whale watching
One morning author Herman Melville woke up in his house in Pittsfield, Mass., and followed his morning routine. He had breakfast and went straight to his study on the second floor. He looked out the small window and stared at the same landscape he saw everyday, a piece of sky and Mount Greylock, part of the Berkshire mountains. That morning, however, something extraordinary happened. Instead of seeing Mount Greylock, he saw a whale. In an instant, the sky became the sea and the mountain became Moby Dick. Melville knew the sea intimately from his years as a sailor, but it was this moment in his study that he conceived his celebrated novel. He was never able to see that mountain as a mountain again. For him, it would always be Moby Dick.

Do a double-take
The sources of inspiration are all around us. The simplest things can become the most incredible images when we rescue them from our daily reality. We can transform the images into our own personal, individual creations, and portray them the way only we can portray them. We need to open our eyes and see what’s around us, over and over again as if for the first time. We need to believe that a mountain can, indeed, be a whale.

Notebooks and dreams
I take a little notebook and pen wherever I go. I have notebooks by the shower, in the kitchen, by my bed, just in case some idea hits me. If we don’t capture the images we see when we see them or write down sparkling ideas when they occur, we all too often forget them. It’s like the way dreams usually disappear when we awake. If we don’t make the effort to remember them right away, when we are in the limbo state between sleep and waking, they vanish.

All around you
Be aware of the texture of a tree, the shape of a window, the colors of the doors on your street, the sound of water coming out of a faucet, the smell of a peach, the vibration of the air as you walk down the street. No one else will experience these impressions the way you do, and you won’t experience them the same way from day to day. The sources of inspiration are always right there. All around you.

 


 

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