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7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You’re Stuck

Artists are funny creatures and many of us struggle with creativity. Working out what we want to do, how to stand apart from others. What is really needed is to find your muse, or in other words, finding inspiration.

It is a rare artist that doesn’t need inspiration to work. For the rest of us, we need help and we need to find what will inspire us to create our work.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

One of my very first responses to the environment, the idea of cities becoming unlivable and animals taking them over.

1 – Movies and television

Movies are just moving images and they can provide a lot of inspiration. Think about the locations where they are shot. You can find new places in the world to take photos. Through films like Lord of the Rings, I have decided that I want to travel to other places and see them.

Look at the way they are filmed and processed. The angles they use can give you great ideas, but sometimes the processing is even better. Pay attention to what they do in the films and how color is used, and what special effects are done.

The Matrix has been a great inspiration to me and how they used color in the films. When they are in the Matrix it is different than when they are out of it. You can see that there is a lot of yellow in the highlights, while they have put blue and green into the shadows. In the other parts, there is almost no color at all. With a film like this, you don’t have to like the story to find inspiration, it is about the special effects. See what you can learn, and use in your own work.

Television shows can be just as inspirational and often it will be the least likely place that helps you. Recently I was watching, don’t judge me, Project Runway. My mind was racing after watching several series. The way they had to come up with a concept, work out how to do it, design and construct it, then finally present it. It was amazing, and throughout watching it, I started thinking about my own work. For the first time in ages, I find myself feeling incredibly inspired to do new work.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

Dark lanes, creepy shadows, almost no color, were all inspiration from movies that have shown up in my photography.

2 – Fine Art

Painters from the past really were early image manipulators and we can learn a lot from looking at what they did. Look at the colors in their paintings and how they used them to emphasise what they saw in the scene. Find out what methods they used to add drama to their images, along with the lighting.

It doesn’t have to be just painters from the past, you can also look at modern ones as well. But also look at what other artists are doing, printmakers, drawers, and sculptors. They are potentially good sources of inspiration. It may not be specifically the work they are doing, but their motivations for doing what they do. If you find out why they work it may give you clarification for your own.

It is so important to find artists whose work you love and read about them. Make it your mission to find out where they get inspiration, why they do what they do. You don’t want to copy them, but you can get something from them. Often if there is an artist that I love I will look at their work, decide what aspect of it I like, then go away and start my own.

Painter Edward Hopper has been a big influence on my work. I think what he paints is incredible and while my work is nothing like his, what I get from his work is the sense of drama. It is like he is creating scenes everywhere. He puts people in his paintings, which I never do, but I do like to imitate that sense of drama.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

Like movies, paintings can control the light and create moody images.

3 – World Events and History

There is a wealth of information available on what has happened in the past and is occurring now. Watching what is happening in the present can give you a lot of inspiration. You will find many artists who have used politics and world events to get ideas for expressing themselves. It is often their way of responding to what is going on around them. They will use their art to lend their voice to what is happening.

There are many artists that do this and one that I thought of first was an Australian artist, George Gittoes. His work is really raw and quite confronting, but he has created it in response to what he had seen in many war torn countries. That may not be what you are interested in doing, but he is inspirational in that he isn’t afraid to show the devastation that has happened in the places he has visited.

This website showcases The 50 Most Political Art Pieces of the Past 15 Years.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

II created this image was in response to the world changing and how they want to put a freeway through this area.

4 – What happens in your day to day and memories

It can sound a little weird, but what you do every day can be very important in finding your muse. The trick is to be observant. Look to see what you can observe and what you could use in your work. It could be the area you live in, the architecture, you just never know until you look around.

I was going over a bridge once and one of the people I was with looked at me and said, “You’re trying to work out how to photograph that aren’t you?” She was right, that is exactly what I was thinking about. For me Melbourne is most definitely my muse. It is the base, my blank canvas for everything I want to do.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

The bridge where I was trying to work out how to do a shot in my head. This is what I ended up creating.

5 – Environment

The environment can be more than just what you see around you. As many in the world become more concerned with what is happening environmentally, it can be political, but it doesn’t always have to be. You can help highlight what is happening in various places by photographing them.

You see a lot of photographers that photograph abandoned places. The images can show you how much a place deteriorates once no one is using them, or they can be a reflection on our society and how everything is changing.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

The environment and the impact of coal on it is a big reason to photograph power stations. They look amazing, but they are destroying the world we live in.

6 – Social Media and Instagram

There are so many platforms for social media and they are all flooded with images. One in particular that shows a lot is Instagram. You can find images there that cover so many topics. You can pick the ones you are interested in and follow them. They will give you ideas and fill your head with inspiring images. There are many other sites that will do that, but being able to just flick or scroll through them quickly on Instagram is amazing.

You can look for images that have certain appeal by searching certain hashtags. For example, you could look for #moody, #environment, or even #inspiration.

I find it really inspiring, perhaps not for my fine art work, but as a location finder it can be brilliant. I’ve discovered a lot of places in Melbourne while scrolling through hashtags in Instagram.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

A few months back someone had an amazing shot of Flinders Street Station at sunset, and I was inspired to see if I could do something similar. Mine isn’t the same, but I still got something interesting.

7 – Peers

There is nothing more satisfying than having a group of like-minded peers that you can talk to and go out and take photos with. Having people in your circle who have the same passion and understand what you are trying to achieve is really important. People think that artists have to work on their own, and perhaps for the most part they do, but peers are essential.

When I was studying I was surrounded by people that I could discuss ideas with and get inspiration. When I left school it was hard to get that same interaction and is something that I have really missed. Slowly over the years, I’ve found new people to hang out with. We go out and take photos together, discuss our plans and ideas, and help one another.

Another aspect of hanging out with peers is watching how they create their own work and what drives them. While you shouldn’t copy them (if you do you may find you are no longer one of their peers) you can watch and learn. See if there is anything they do that could help you with your own work.

7 Tips for Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck

I went to Craig’s Hut with a friend and we both got a very similar shot. I saw her processed image and it inspired me to do mine. In the end mine looked completely different, but that’s okay. 

In the end

These are all tips that have helped me to get to where I am in my art practice. There is no reason why they can’t help you as well. Opening yourself up to finding inspiration around you can help you create some amazing images.

Where do you find your inspiration? Has something inspired you so much that you went on to do some amazing work? Please share with us what your inspirations are, from this list or from your own.

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Leanne Cole
Leanne Cole

graduated from the VCA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She has since been working as a practicing artist and teaching people how to be Fine Art Photographers. She also teaches long exposure photography and runs workshops around Melbourne. Click here to download her 10 tips for Long Exposure Photography in the City. You can find her on her website.

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