Where do ideas come from?

In fused-glass class today, one of the other students asked the instructor, “Where do you get ideas for projects and patterns?”

I had to zip my mouth to stop from saying, “Where do you NOT get ideas?” For me the problem is “Where do I get the time to carry out all the ideas I have already?”

My ideas are a feverish curse. I lie in bed unable to sleep as the ideas chase each other around in my head.

Fight or flight

Or I wake up in the morning with the image of a painting, and I lie very still so that it doesn’t go “poof!” as my brain regains consciousness.

Unfortunately, I lack the artistic skills to execute all these ideas. I have several entire series of paintings that I have sketched but not painted because I don’t know how to get from the idea to the canvas.

orphaned sketch
An orphaned sketch

It would be great if I could bottle and sell this surfeit of ideas, since I will not be able to execute them all – even if I do live to be 100.

But for today I will settle for offering my Top Idea Generator Tips.

  1. Go somewhere new. This doesn’t have to involve a trip to Papua New Guinea (although that’s a pretty inspiring place); it just means breaking your routine. Take a different route to work. Go to a grocery store in a neighborhood that is populated with ethnic groups other than your own. Next time you hear the name of a country you don’t know much about, Google its name and “culture” and click on the “Images” tab.
  2. Sit still and look very, very carefully. I learned this trick while I was traveling on the cheap and I had to sit and wait a lot for buses, but it also works at home while stuck in traffic or waiting in a long line. When I was bored, I would pay closer attention. Really fix your gaze intently on a small area and see what comes and goes.sketch reaching
  3. Talk a walk in nature. This is really a combination of Tips 1 and 2, because the outdoors is always changing and so there’s always something new to see in your favorite bit of nature. That is, if you take the time to walk slowly and observe carefully. I discovered some amazing insects while sitting idly on the cabin porch, and the design and patterns of those insects continues to inspire me.
  4. Immerse yourself in art that is outside your comfort zone. That can be through a museum, online or in books at the library. Are you an admirer of the Hudson River School? Then check out a book on African masks. Think that you hate abstract art? Google “most beautiful abstract art” and click on Images to see if anything changes your mind. Or just go to Google’s “Art Project” to see random collections from museums around the world.
  5. Try working in a completely different medium than you’re used to. If you’re a writer, try photography. If you’re a theater buff, try clay sculpture. If you’re a guitarist, try oil painting. Being forced to express yourself in a new medium breaks mental habits and shakes loose ideas.

Day 107 is a 1996 penny, the year I went to Papua New Guinea.

Day 107 1996