Design Process — Inspiration!

Where do you find inspiration for your work? Some people look to nature for color palettes, or to their religious beliefs for motifs, or just to the sweet smell of a clean baby for the soft theme of a nursery quilt.

Shirley at 2 Busy Hands found a great piece of wall art to share. The central design is off-center and surrounded by strips of color that relate perfectly. Go to her blog to see this wonderful painting. Note the first picture, and the man in the lower left corner. That gives a sense of scale.

Unexpected sources of ideas are everywhere. Think of architectural details, tiled floors, stained glass, skyscrapers…

Waterfront in Galway, Ireland; photo by Jim Ruebush

Textile factory, Lowell, MA; photo by Jim Ruebush

Sunrise, fields ready to harvest, gardens in bloom, the perfect meal…

Stone City, Grant Wood painting

Who are your favorite artists? Matisse, Klimt, Picasso, Chagall? Monet, Mondrian, Van Gogh? Why does their art appeal to you? Color, line, shape? Search for their pieces online, or head to your library or bookstore for pages you can spend more time with. See if you can understand what draws you to them in particular. Try to envision a quilt project incorporating what you see, as Shirley might attempt with her amazing wall art.

Here’s a fascinating source, perhaps better suited to art quilts than traditional. But perhaps not… Yesterday I stumbled on an NPR article called How to Draw Out Your Worst Fears. The articles discusses an artist named Julie Elman. A few years ago Elman began a new project, titled the Fear Project. Within the project she asked people to name and describe their fears. And then she illustrates them. Please take a look at the project. To move through the slide show and see more illustrations, just click. As she says,

I illustrate people’s fears. Working with their words, I just try to visualize what
those fears could possibly look like. I don’t dwell too much — I just let my intuition point the way, and I post my pieces no matter how I feel about them. It’s a good way to get over any fears I have about the creative process.

Fear not, I keep telling myself. Fear not.

It struck me from two directions. First, I have to continually challenge myself to push through creativity fears. Sometimes I’m successful, other times not so much. But second, LOOK at the beautiful pictures! Read the heart-rending descriptions of people’s innermost thoughts. Some you will nod with; others may seem silly. All of them are rendered with sensitivity and compassion.

Elman, the artist, is using words as her inspiration. You can use words, too. Is there a song that makes your heart soar or brings you to tears? A poem, or a love note? Can you represent it through choice of color or shape?

A memory… When my son was in high school and I was a new quilter, I made a big comforter for his bed. It was, in essence, one giant double nine-patch block, done in navy and dark green. I used a high-quality flannel sheet for the back, high-loft batting, and I yarn-tied it. There was no way that thing would get quilted. Shortly after I finished, Son had his wisdom teeth out and spent the rest of the day groggy and dozing in the recliner chair. Jim had taken him for the surgery and stayed home long enough to make sure things were okay. I had to work that day. While I was away from my desk, Son called and left a message. Sounding quite drugged, he told me how soft and cozy the new quilt was, that he was all snuggled under it and it was warm and soft… I didn’t delete that message from my phone until I moved to a different office and phone system. As we get inspiration to make our quilts, our quilts inspire others, as well. Even if just to make a special phone call. Oh — and that comforter is now on his bed at Vance Air Force Base.

What inspires you? Do you use art or nature or the personalities of those you love? How do you begin when you start a new project?


4 thoughts on “Design Process — Inspiration!

  1. Jim in IA

    Inspiration and creativity just seem to happen to me. I don’t know of times when I worked hard to be creative, and then it happened because of the hard work. People talk about ideas hitting them like a bolt from the blue, an ‘aha’. I do believe what Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

    Here is an interesting brain study in 2006 of people and the ‘aha’ moment.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I’ll look at that study. I do agree with you — I don’t think we can force it. But the more we really look at things, with both our eyes and our thinking, the more easily we can draw on them. Consider any writing topics you develop. Rarely are they based on one idea. Usually there are multiple layers showing connections. You need context to do that, and context comes, as you say, from having a prepared mind.

  2. cjhaab

    Although I haven’t made much progress from inspiration to tangible product, architectural photos have been inspiring me lately. It is a direction I would like to follow.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I agree about translating from one to the other. That is rather hard. But I think every time we really look at the line, the color, the shape, we incorporate a little more of that. We give ourselves the opportunity to use that later, even if it isn’t evident in a particular piece of work.



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