Intentional motion blur.

Inspiration, or lack of it, is a fear and concern for almost all artists. If we’re not feeling inspiration right now we fear we’ve dried up and our days as an artist are past. If we’re awash in inspiration we may feel overwhelmed.

I’m mostly going to discuss the lack of inspiration, since that is what we typically fear.

Be open

If “the muse”, or whatever your view of inspiration is, doesn’t seem to be hanging out with you, what can you do? My experience is be patient and spend your time wisely while you’re waiting.

Open yourself to stimulus. Take a walk. Read a book. Watch a training video. Look at another artist’s web site and/or blog. Visit museums or galleries. All these things can energize you and refresh your spirit. We are all different in our makeup, so what works for me might not work for you. That’s OK. Keep trying things until you find something that pumps you up.

Creativity exercises

When your “normal” work doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it’s a great time to do some of those personal projects you have wanted to get to for a long time. Do something different. Something outside of your normal style or subject matter.

It’s a complete no risk venture. If you decide it is a complete failure, fine. Now you know. Write that one off and try another. Jay Maisel once said “If it’s not working, go have a good glass of wine and then try something else.” But if you love the results maybe you have learned something new about yourself. Maybe it will stretch you and even take you in a new direction. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

If you are a traditional landscape photographer, try something like street photography. It will be so different that it will make you reevaluate a lot of things. If nothing else it should be refreshing.

Do you pride yourself in tack sharp, crunchy, high detail shots? Great. I love that, too. But spend some time doing blurred images. Do handhelds at slow shutter speeds, even introducing intentional camera motion. No, really. Try it. You may see whole new opportunities and new creative possibilities.

I have talked before about exercises like going out with one lens. Give it a try. It forces a new thought process on your creativity. You will have to reevaluate some things about your composition and style. Some of them may influence changes. But even if not, it is something fresh and different that may energize you.

A sense of wonder

My work is strongly influenced by a sense of wonder towards the world around me. Honestly, sometimes I don’t feel it. The wonder and inspiration is gone. What can I do? I can’t make interesting images if I don’t feel excited about things.

One thing is to give myself permission to acknowledge that I’m in a slump. I am very lucky to be what is called a “fine art” creator. As such, I don’t have to perform on schedule. Clients do not contract me to create something to their specification at a certain time.

That is not accidental. I spent a long career working for other people and having to be driven by external demands. When the opportunity came, I re-molded my life to give myself freedom. I realize this may not be possible for you, but I’m being honest about my situation and the options I have.

Giving myself permission to not have to create takes a lot of pressure off, but not all. I really don’t like not feeling wonder. It is frustrating and sometimes scary. I get impatient, wanting to move on NOW. Part of what I have realized is that patience has to be balanced with action.

Confidence to wait

Over many years of experience, I have learned that inspiration will return. It is important to develop the confidence that you are creative and that the feelings will return, probably even better than before.

If you were creative in the past it did not just get used up. Creativity is not a fixed quantity that you exhaust. It is a skill and an attribute of our wondrous minds. But life is cyclic. You have ups and downs. sometimes you have to just “hunker down” and ride it out. That implies being content to wait, to be patient. You can do that if you believe it will come back.

I believe there are things we can do to open us up to allow the creativity to flow again, but we cannot force it. If we try to force it we will get frustrated and disappointed and afraid. It will seem like the more we try to make it happen the further away it is from us.

Giving yourself permission to not have to do the greatest work of your career today does not mean sit and not do anything. Action is important.

Put in the reps

As I said earlier, I believe there are useful things we can do to open ourselves to feeling the inspiration again. Things like going for walks or going to museums or looking at the work of other artists. And creativity exercises can help to stimulate our subconscious.

But a simple and often overlooked thing is to “just do it”. Practice, practice, practice. Put in your reps. Don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. A great basketball player will spend hours a day in the gym just shooting baskets and practicing layups. That is not “game level” intensity. But it trains the muscles to do the right thing. That builds confidence and mastery over time.

At this point, though, don’t overthink the problem. That will make you freeze up. Let it work itself out. I often quote Jay Maisel. One of his quips is “Don’t overthink things in front of you. If it moves you, shoot it. If it’s fun, shoot it. If you’ve never seen it before, shoot it.”

Magic happens

I find that when I make myself get out and do something, it is like the basketball player who can do well in the game because he did the practice. For me, the click of the camera shutter is a kind of magic. It is a sound I subconsciously associate with creativity and making images. Things often start to flow, even when I did not feel “in the mood” going out. Even if they don’t, it is good for me to be out practicing.

So inspiration is not the end all. No inspiration does not necessarily mean just sitting in our room moping. Get up, get out, do something. If you are moving and taking action you are much more likely to start feeling inspiration. You don’t have to do your best work every day.

To close with another Jay Maisel quote: “If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.”

How do you deal with slumps of no inspiration? Let’s talk!


An ordinary, familiar scene (to me)

I think most of us try to avoid the ordinary and instead seek the extraordinary when we look for subjects to shoot. It’s almost like we equate ordinary = bad; extraordinary = good. This may be a limiting approach. Changing our attitude may open important new creative experiences for us.

This is something I have believed for a long time. The travel restrictions from the Corona virus have made me re-examine this issue. I came back around to the attitude that the ordinary is potentially our richest source of inspiration.

Extraordinary can be great

Don’t get me wrong. When you encounter an extraordinary experience, live it, soak it up, revel in it. Those things happen rarely for most of us. Maybe it happens for you on a special trip to a “bucket list” location. Maybe it is an event you have planned for a long time.

Whatever it is, be there, be in the moment, enjoy it. You might even make some great images.

But don’t think an experience like that is a requirement for you to make great images.

Not all scenes need to be grand

Do you really need a grand scene to inspire you to your best work? Why? Are normal scenes not worthy of your effort? Is a scene in New Guinea inherently more worthy than one down the street from where you live?

There is a strong argument that the ordinary, everyday scenes you are familiar with are some of our best opportunities. Familiarity might breed contempt, as the old saying goes, but actually, familiarity more often leads to intimacy. Getting to know a subject, knowing its moods and looks, finding its real character can lead to images that have a special depth. Even love.

Some would even say that a steady diet of grand scenes is kind of like eating junk food. It might taste good at first, but it doesn’t have the substance you really need for a balanced life.

Beauty in the ordinary

The ordinary can be beautiful in ways that extraordinary scenes can’t compete with.

Almost all of life is lived in the ordinary. I wanted to honor what we see every day, our shared experiences. Rain. Street workmen. Coke bottles. The more I looked, the more I realized there are wonderful shapes and colors and beauty to be found everywhere.
Dianne Massey Dunbar, in Fine Art Today magazine

As Dianne says, there is wonder and beauty to be found everywhere. Monet did most of his work in a narrow slice of western France along the Seine River. Van Gogh did most of his best work in Provence. Ansel Adams worked mostly in California. Georgia O’Keeffe is strongly associated with New Mexico. Even though all of them occasionally lived or traveled other places and did great work, the point is that they thrived best “at home”. The “ordinary” everyday scenes they loved inspired them to greatness.

Their love of the place they lived gave them a special relationship to it. They were excellent enough artists to express that relationship in their work and help their viewers to see the world through their eyes.

Find what inspires you

We are each drawn to the world around us in different ways and for different reasons. Some are drawn to faces, others to grand landscapes, still others to intimate landscapes, while some relate mostly to wildlife. Others may reject looking for particular subjects and view the world as objects for abstract expression or black and white.

The point is that we usually become drawn to certain things or types of images. More often than not, these are things we know well and see often. Things that are ordinary for us because we live with them. Things that other artists may walk right by without noticing, because they are not inspired by it.

But when something inspires us it can produce magic. Like Monet with a Lilly pond. Or like Van Gogh with crows in a wheat field or with a night sky.

When we are drawn to something, it becomes extraordinary. The magic happens because or our relationship to the subject or scene. It is the artist’s subjective expression of that relationship that transforms it to art.

I encourage you to learn to be more open to the ordinary around you. Learn to really look at those common things you normally pass by. It can be the greatest source of inspiration you will find.


I believe a lot of it comes down to intimacy with your subject. A grand, once-in-a-lifetime scene may be fun, but it is a “one off” experience. It probably is exciting at the time, but there is no real intimacy or depth.

I have been married a very long time, and I can say with assurance that long term relationships are far more rewarding. It is similar with your subjects.

When an artist creates an image, he is revealing his subjective relationship with the subject. This is one thing that makes one of Monet’s lily pad pictures much better than anything I could do with a lily pad. He developed a special love for them over time. I do not have any strong feeling for them.

Intimacy is defined as familiarity, friendship, closeness. I believe that when we develop such feelings for our subjects, it comes through as deeper and more meaningful images. We are most likely to develop these feelings with the ordinary world around us than by waiting for a once-on-a-lifetime experience. Familiarity really does lead to intimacy.

Stop. Look. See. Really see. Look again. Think. Visit with these things. Learn about them.