In your own back yard

Do you put off doing your art because you can’t afford to travel to an exotic location for inspiration? Well, get over it. Most of us will never have an unlimited budget to wander the world at our leisure.

Not being able to travel is an excuse we use to absolve ourselves for not doing the hard work needed to do our art. Art is hard work. There’s some inspiration and then there’s a lot of work to realize it.

But what is “inspiration”? The ancient root word means to “breathe in”. We are taking in the materials we can use to create. Steve Jobs said creativity is “just connecting the dots”. I believe he is right. But what are the dots and how do we connect them? The dots are information, examples, knowledge. We add new dots by studying something new, by looking at the work of an artist outside of your discipline, by reading lots of random, unrelated things we have never known, in short, to be receptive to new things, even if they do not seem valuable.

Ah, but the connecting is a key. This is getting harder and harder for most of us in this over-stimulated world. Connecting the dots requires quiet, alone time. We have to let our subconscious mind sift through all this juicy data we have given it and let it start seeing similarities, juxtapositions, possibilities. Go for a walk and try not to think about anything. Go get a cup of coffee and just sit and watch the world go by. Turn off your phone when you are doing these.

So, how about the back yard notion? Inspiration is not as much about external stimulation as it is about feeding your mind and connecting the dots. You can do this at home. Where you live is boring and uninspiring? Get out there and check it out again. Go out at different times and different weather. Get so familiar with it that you stop seeing just what is there, but begin seeing the details, the patterns, the structures that you never really perceived.

One of my self-assigned exercises is to go for a walk every day with my camera. I am exploring the same old area I see every day, but I vary the routes as much as I can. I usually only walk 1-2 miles. I often discover new sights that surprise and delight me. While I’m wandering my mind is switched into a mode of just receiving and thinking. Even if I do not discover a new sight, I often “connect dots” and come back inspired to do something new.

So I encourage. you to learn to appreciate your back yard. Explore, think, enjoy, use it for inspiration. It will also train you to get even more inspired when you do take one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips.

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