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Thursday 14 June 2012


Sources of inspiration

By Linda Kirkbride  MA       

Gaining inspiration sounds an easy thing but having spent years teaching at various levels I’m not sure it is. I remember times when someone just didn’t know how to start, or where they might find ideas. I know I’ve been in that situation myself and I can still wonder what to do, my mind seemingly emptyLuckily however, I know how to start my ‘starting’. I am grateful that I was shown how I could do it and have modified this start to something that works for me. It’s an enjoyable activity and can be seen as the play time before the final piece.

My view is that there is no ‘supposed’ to. It really does need to be what works for you. There is no right or wrong in art. You may not like what you have achieved but what you’ve done is not wrong. Visual images are all subjective and having run a gallery for some years and seen at this at first hand, it is rare that two people like the same thing. I know when I was teaching, and experienced it myself when I was younger, pupils used to think that they had to get their ideas and techniques off the top of their heads. They wouldn’t think that in Maths, they’d think they had to be taught basics and steps in techniques. But in art ?  

So for anyone who would like some ideas, I’m writing about what works for me and there might be just a little something in there that might help to inspire you.  You could buy a book on the subject, In fact I stocked books like these, but surprisingly enough I never used them.

I took a graphics degree which is out of date now as everything we did by hand is now done with a computer. We were given briefs to go off and complete. No-one mentioned how to go about finding inspiration and it wasn’t until years later when I did a City & Guilds in Creative Embroidery that I was given ideas to use and not assume everything came off the top of our heads. City and Guilds Creative Embroidery’s motto was ‘don’t throw things away they might come in useful as an idea’. My best one was not throwing away sweet wrappers (just eat the sweets!) as they were useful for texture and colour and could be stitched over.

Another useful idea was to write a ‘could do’ list. Brain storm ideas like, I could make, I could stitch, I could tear it in half, I could turn it upside down, I could add different colours, I could layer thisand so on. When I taught this in class it was amazing what ideas a group could come up with. Your first idea may be the best but its always worth exploring others. You may never use any of the ideas on your could do list but you will know that what you are doing is exactly what you wanted.

To show how a simple idea can be developed a long way I used a letter or a number.
One can make patterns, turn it upside down, alternate, only use half of the pattern and repeat. I kept a copy of one girls work and have shown you here. She used the no 5 and kept turning and repeating the pattern until it totally changed. The more she did the more she wanted to develop it. She had never shown any interest in the class until that point!

Obviously this was good for designing but we need to think a little about where we are going with an idea, what are you trying to find? Plus are you trying to find an idea for a representation or a concept. Is it a pattern or are we looking to develop an idea for our own individuality.

Another idea, obvious to some, is Research’. That always makes me think of trawling through written information but for our work it’s much more fun. Maybe the better word here is collect. I collect torn out sections of magazines, tiny pictures, postcards, groups of words that I like, photographs, pieces of colour, pieces of metal, shells, buttons, pebbles, feathers, fibres, materials and books. I have images of other peoples’ work that I likeI have traditional sketch books, scrapbooks, self-made sketchbooks. Don’t forget that sketchbooks can be made out of anything, cardboard, packaging, magazines, and papers. Anything flat that you can draw on,stick things on, add things in. You can go back years later and add new items into them. And of course you tie it all together with string, wool, your own made cords ties or tassels.

I taught this idea of homemade books to 6th formers who moaned that they couldn’t afford a ‘proper’ sketchbook. They were stunned when I said that that was no excuse.
Remember its your own, like your diary you can make it however you like. In my smallest sketchbook I put things like fluff from tumble dryer and bits of metal from car salvage. All to give me some ideas for texture, pictures of painted doors to give me paint effects.

Another way of having fun with this is to go somewhere completely different and see what you can find. I spent an amazing afternoon in a car breakers yard, all sorts of colours from burnt out cars, rusted parts, shapes from inside engines, springs, all of which resulted in two stitched wall panels. Another place for shapes and patterns was on a farm where galvanised panels were stacked up, old machinery left in a pile, patterns in the ploughed fields and of course the animals.

I’ve included a photo of shelving in a cupboard showing just some of the sketchbooks I have. Many of them go back a long times so if you are stuck for ideas just start flicking through your books and look for any themes that you notice or colour combinations. An example of how useful this can be was at the beginning of my 2nd year fine art degree. I had visited Lord Leighton’s house in London and was taken with how plain the outside was compared to the lavish inside and had added into my sketchbook various drawings photos, cards etc. I had also drawn and photographed the flowers of my magnolia tree and saw a similarity between the plain exterior and the exotic interior. This led me to a theme that ran through my work for many years which I was lucky to have exhibited both nationally and internationally.

So use all your collection, you will find you have a style, you will have regular ideas, themes and colours that run through your work. Sometimes I spend time going back through my books and files of cuttings and piles of materials just thinking,  ‘I could do….. ‘

Another idea we were given to help get into our work was, if you’re a bit stuck or unsure,  make use of a technique that you like and play with it, not necessarily pushing any boundaries but confirming to yourself what you like doing. Ive often used this when working for a final show or piece and I want to make sure my technique is OK. I use a small project alongside the main work which has been fun and with no pressure, giving my brain time to settle and think for the main piece. I stitched a wall hanging out of vets bills and snack packets for my dogs with pictures on, what for? Because I could!   

And why did I need to keep that box of sweet wrappers ? That ended up being a bra for Breast Cancer charity event. That project has multiplied into various other bras which have become popular. I’m now making one for a Services charity. I’m waiting for all sorts of oddments from some army friends for this one.

I have used similar ideas as a business plan for a bank ! From my collection of cuttings and sketchbooks I was able to put together a plan that I could talk through visually rather than just a wordy document. It must have worked as from that I built and ran a gallery. However moving onto more up to date ideas we have Pinterest where you can upload and build together boards of inspiration.  

So if like me you find an empty desk or brand new sketchbook daunting just look around your space, tear out an image stick it into that book and start playing. 

By Linda Kirkbride  MA       @lindakirkbride1


  1. A lovely guest post, thank you. I have been feeling a bit 'lost' in art terms; gathering ideas, doodlings, photographs - and only produced one canvas in the last 6 months.

    I'm going to take your advice, that this is all important stuff and will be useful in the future.

  2. That read has left me stunned. On reflection its all so simple and obvious but why do we never think of the obvious, It must be wonderful to inspire students in such a way too and so rewarding when you see the results. Thank you, I am now going to apply some of your suggestions to my work.

  3. A brilliant read, not sure about the 'could do' list my 'to do list reads like war & peace but I suppose could kid myself that as it is on the 'could do' do not have to do. lol

  4. An interesting post. I am always looking for novel ideas on how to get started this has definitely given me something to think about, thank you!

  5. A great post, I sometimes do spider graphs as part of my 'thinking' and love collecting 'scraps of inspiration' to cram into my sketchbooks. I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Jan x

  6. What a great idea for generating ideas! Thanks for sharing!


Thank you for your comment - it is always lovely to have feedback and I hope you enjoyed my post.