“Where did you get that idea from?”
“What was your inspiration for this artwork here?”
I’ve always felt incredibly fortunate as an artist to never run out of ideas. There always seems to be something I want to try or explore. Fortune has seen fit to grant me with far more things that I want to create, than things than I have time to create.
Part of any perceived fortune is completely by design. I have structured my life around the creating of my artwork. Right down to choosing a husband who recognizes how important this is to me. And leaves me to do my own thing, as it were.
For several months, I’ve had this itch to create a larger, paper mâché piece using a chess and/or checkerboard as a base. Both literally and figuratively. I started putting those ideas down onto paper and fleshing them out last week.
This may not sound intrinsically interesting. Big deal. I want to create artwork with a checkerboard pattern. Whoop-dee-doo. But inspiration for my artwork is never neat, tidy to to the point. Ever.
Most of the time, while I’m working on a task, my mind is wandering all over the place. Thoughts and ideas rise and fall in my consciousness. Some stick around for longer than others. There are some that are quickly sketched down, for fear they might be lost. Some of the ideas just will not leave, for whatever the reason.
Everyone does this. Letting your mind wander isn’t uncommon. It’s not some ultra-special, unique ability. People who are not artists might not pay a whole lot of attention to where their mind wanders off to. Or take the time to write down interesting inspirations. They may feel no need to do so. You could say that paying attention to what your mind is getting up to is a thing that a lot of many creative people do.
Dada has had a great deal to do with how I process my ideas and inspirations regarding the creation of my artwork. Nothing is disregarded. I mentally sift through all of the information I come across. Odd juxtapositions have always fascinated me. Couple that with my constantly asking “WHY?!” and it’s no wonder I create art.
Different ideas; same container:
What begins to happen, is that different ideas and inspirations start mixing and mingling with one another. Those that that I might think wouldn’t necessarily ‘go together’ do in fact, go together. They morph. Growing larger and become more plastic. And before I know it, they’re all smashed together into a final idea for a piece of artwork.
Let me walk you through this chess/checkerboard piece I’m currently working on. I couldn’t creatively shake the pattern of a chess board from my thoughts. Ignoring it simply made it far more insistent and even a little angry at me. So, I started sketching.
By sketching either the idea is purged from my mind. Or it becomes a full-fledged piece of artwork that needs to be created.
Many, many years ago, while I was in art school, I had used checkerboard patterns in my lithographs, etchings and woodcuts. It was nigh-on one of my most consistent visual themes. Like any imagery utilized by an artist. It ran it’s course and I stopped using it. That is, until last week.
I found myself returning to some of the ways in which I had drawn those checkerboard patterns. But this time around, I knew it was a chessboard. Not a checkerboard. Huh. I’ve never played chess. I know nothing about it other than the names of the pieces, and Bobby Fischer was really good at it. Oh, the queen can move anywhere in a straight line on black. So I know a teensie bit.
Part of the reason I think I’d been thinking about chessboards or checkerboards, is that the miniature dolls I make, each have their own stand mounts. They do resemble chess pieces. So…I did a little research about chess. (Thank you Kathy for teaching me to do research as an illustrator.)
I now know more about the regulation sizes for chessboards and chess pieces. Again. I still cannot play chess. Nor do I have any inclination to learn to play chess.
Okay. This is where things start getting messy and weird. And hard to adequately describe. Anyone who has seen my artwork knows that I have a distinct style. Not so much creepy-cute, but weird-cute. To put a finer point on it, it’s really Dada-cute if you ask me.
My ideas and inspiration so far are chessboards and chess pieces, my own miniature doll creations, as well as my own particular style of artistic expression. Enter inspiration #3E, The Yes Album.
The Yes Album was released in 1971. When I was one year old. Some of the songs were recorded the year I was born. It’s easily one of my favourite albums of all time. It’s one of those albums that I can turn on and off in my head at will. Perhaps I’ve burned it into my synapses?
‘Your Move‘ and ‘Perpetual Change’ were running through my head while I began my sketches for this piece. I’m not an idiot. Your Move has a chess theme in the lyrics. So, I suppose that this is where the chessboard/chess theme may have come from. To be honest, it could be something completely different that inspired the imagery.
Then it all gets way more confusing:
My personal artistic style is very much influenced by objects and toys from my early childhood. Fisher-Price toys, Liddle Kiddle dolls, paper dolls, etc. Sesame Street, The Muppets, The Electric Company, were also major contributors to my artistic style.
Once I had the main two basic visual themes — the dolls and the chessboard. I started to mess around with the three-dimensional visual expression of that. Because, honestly, a chessboard with my dolls isn’t at all interesting to me. It doesn’t make me want to learn to play chess.
I started adding things. Creating recesses. Round pegs. Square pegs. Then I added some cake. And some flesh. Then some dirt. And grass. Flush parts. Hidden parts. Wheels. A pull string. A drawer to store the pieces in.
And still weirder yet:
This part is the hardest to explain or describe, because I don’t really know exactly what it is I’m attempting to recount. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So, I’ve started adding all these extras, drawers and cake and grass and dirt, and so forth and so on. Two questions come to mind: why am I doing that, and how do I know what to add and where?
The short, snarky answer is, “Because I just know. That’s why.” Another somewhat less snarky, and even less adequate answer is, “Because I feel it’s right.” Insinuating that there is some semi-emotional component to these additions. Each of these answer dance around the real reason. I’m basing my choices, all those additions to the main visual imagery, on a fleeting pre-language, non-visual ‘sense’ of contentment/pleasure.
Here’s the even weirder part. The ‘feeling’ that I’m taking about isn’t in any way attached to any known memories of mine. But I can physically ‘feel’ it. I know when I’m feeling it. I know the sensations. And I have absolutely no flippin’ idea what is is, where it comes from or what it’s related to.
My working theory is that the ‘feeling’ must come from when I was an infant. My own memories only become fairly solid around the time I turned three. Prior to that, it’s choppy and blurry. There must be some kind of psychological explanation for this ‘feeling’ that’s the result of some study of individuals.
This piece of artwork that I’m creating isn’t just one thing. It’s many different ideas and inspirations that reach back to when I was a toddler. All of the things that I have named as inspiration are part and parcel of my personal identity and the culmination of my fifty years of experience on the planet. I’m a single, solitary person, with a never-ending stream of conflicting ideas and thoughts. All of whom are smashing together to create new meanings for myself and those who view my artwork.
To merely identify the individual parts that make up the whole piece of artwork is to deny the artist the uniqueness of their own lived experience. These objects as metaphor are alive inside of me. All at the same time. Working in unison to make me who and what I am at this moment in time and space.
In my artwork, a doll is never, ever just a doll.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.
The Yes Album (1971 Original Recording) I love the way that the bass is recorded on this album. There is something about the way that the bass dovetails in with the drumming, especially the snare drum that I just totally floats my boat.