Woodturners often ask me how I can continually find artistic inspiration for my projects. Sooner or later, you may need a little inspiration to move in a different direction with your work, or perhaps just revitalize your current focus. As artists, we all need to be inspired from time to time - this is normal. No one is an unlimited vessel of creativity. Finding the right kind of artistic inspiration is the key to overcoming the "creative wall" and keeping your work fresh.
There are many techniques that I use to find artistic inspiration. One of the best ways that I have found is to visit art museums. Somehow, just being in the presence of great artwork has a beneficial effect. I'm sure all of the artists represented in the museums collection at one time or another, faced a creative wall. They all overcame it and you can too.
Here is a great example. Not long ago I was struggling with finding a new direction for my artistic work. Trying to clearly define a new creative focus can be a daunting task. It can make or break you as an artist, so it's something that requires a significant amount of thought to get it right.
There are so many art forms that have always excited me through the years. I've always enjoyed the fifth and sixth century Grecian clay vessels, as well as the early Chinese, Japanese and Egyptian time periods. In the Houston area, we have some nice museums and I visited several in order to zero in on the exact time frame I wanted to concentrate on. In visiting the museums, I looked at every exhibit, paintings, sculpture, wood, clay vessels, pottery, baskets and everything else I could possibly see.
When I left, my head was filled with possibilities, but no clear direction was apparent. As luck would have it, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit one of her sisters, who lived just outside Philadelphia. We took a day out of the trip to go into New York and sightsee. High on our list of places to visit, was the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art.
Although I had been to New York before, I never had the time to spend much time sightseeing, so I was thrilled to finally be able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art. As it happened, the museum had a huge exhibit of fifth and sixth century Grecian art. There were numerous examples of water and wine vessels made from clay and painted with exquisite scenes on the outside.
There were also exhibits of early Chinese and Japanese carved stone pieces and china. Everywhere I looked, I was enjoying the visual feast and trying to figure out how I could adapt wood and my lathe to execute a similar piece. I did not want to copy any of the work, but merely use it as a basis for a direction to explore. It's comforting to know that the shapes we find pleasing today were also pleasing more than 1,500 years ago.
My mind was going a thousand miles an hour and we both lost all track of time. We stayed until they began to close the museum and I left filled with inspiration and a clearly focused path for my artistic work. I settled upon the Grecian water and wine vessels of the fifth and sixth centuries. My goal was to find a way to execute my interpretation of these beautiful vessels in wood, with authentic scenes on the exteriors. Without my visit to the Metropolitan Museum, I'm not sure I would have been able to focus so clearly on my new artistic direction.
Another favorite technique of mine is to look to nature for natural artistic inspiration. Take a walk in the woods near your home, or spend a day visiting a local park. Observe the textures and colors of the rocks, the earth and the surroundings. Some of my best surface textures have come from my attempts to duplicate natural rock formations, or clouds. You can even find artistic inspiration in your own backyard.
Early one morning I found a mushroom fungus growing on a rotten tree stump in my backyard. I knew that as soon as the sun came up it would ruin the beautiful multi-headed fungus growth. I quickly grabbed my digital camera and took several photos from different angles. Later that day when the sunlight hit the fungus formation, it was totally ruined. The beauty may have only lasted for a few hours, but it was incredible. This inspired me to use the pictures as inspiration for a hollow form that I want to turn which will replicate the look, texture and color of the fungus.
Artistic inspiration can be all around you, but you have to pay attention and look beyond a casual glance to find the beauty that awaits you. Don't be afraid to try new techniques and to work with new materials. Stretching yourself and your creative limits redefines your inner muse and allows you to grow in new and exciting ways. Remember, there is an artist in every one of us!
Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.
Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.
Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.
Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.