On Finding Inspiration

Posted by Leni Levenson Wiener on May 12th 2017

I find inspiration everywhere. Since all my work begins with a photograph (almost always my own) I carry my camera around and snap whatever interests me. For every shot I get, there are five I didn’t snap fast enough, and the image is lost to me. I am a very visual person; if I don’t catch it in a photo I won’t remember it—or at least not clearly enough to utilize.

But inspiration doesn’t start with taking photos; it is much more involved than that. I go to galleries and museums a lot. I look at lots of things that relate to my work and even more that don’t. Don’t live near a museum or galleries? In this day and age, everything is available on the internet. There is more art online than you could ever go through. The seed of an idea can spring from the most unlikely places—I even take snapshots of paused images on TV when something hits me that I want to think about.

That is where inspiration starts, but then what? I keep computer files—lots of them, well organized so I can access what I want the way I use it. I don’t use the cloud, or any special program, I just create folders. My primary folder is called “photo files for artwork,” and within it there are dozens of other folders (with multiple sub-folders) labeled with names like people; plants, flowers and fruit; beaches; train stations; grand central station (a favorite of mine); museums; animals (with sub-folders by specific animal); and every place I visit—even if it is local—by name. If a photo fits in more than one place, I make a copy so it can be accessed wherever it fits. When the muse strikes, chances are I will find that photo saved in a folder, and I don’t have to rely on something buried in the deep recesses of my brain.

Often, I go through these folders and see what hits me. I can take a photo and not feel moved to do anything with it for years; or I can take a photo and can’t wait to get home and get started on it right away. The mood needs to feel right, and when it does, I have all the photos I need.

What exactly inspires me? People, and more specifically their body language. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved watching people walk by and trying to imagine who they are, what their lives are like, where they are going—just based on their body language. It is no surprise I made it (however subconsciously at first) the basis of my artwork.

There is one other aspect about inspiration that is really important, and that is clearing your head so you can think creatively and work through an idea. I have a favorite place by the water near my house where I go to sit and watch the water crash over the rocks and clear my head. Sometimes it is to work out a technical issue or sometimes just to regroup and decide where to go next in my artwork. If your brain is too cluttered with the minutia of everyday life, it is often hard to let it all go and think creatively. If you keep your eyes and your mind opened, inspiration will come.