The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.
Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)
Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.
Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….
A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.
Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.
Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.
So often I see writing advice along the lines of “try to write for fifteen minutes each day.” Fifteen minutes?! I can barely write a haiku in fifteen minutes. Leaving alone the fact that any commitment as flippant as “fifteen minutes each day” is bound to get bumped in favour of other priorities, it is not, in my experience, possible to have satisfactorily brilliant writing without accompanying torturous obsession.
We live in a non-linear world full of countless interconnections and complexities. There is overlap. There are gray areas. There are exceptions. There are deeply rooted issues and finely made distinctions. And we, as writers, ask ourselves to look at this convoluted mess and produce provocative, astute work. How do we create a flowing, sensical, accessible, funny, interesting narrative exploring such chaos? Creative, original writing cannot and should not be so undervalued as for it to become a reasonable expectation that it be produced in the minutes between the end of dinner and the start of a favourite television show. It can and does only come out of many, many hours of dedicated, involved labour.
I am passionate on this issue not because I think it is a bad idea to try to write for fifteen minutes each day, but because I believe there is a link between impractical, unrealistic writing advice and the perpetual belittling of writing in our culture. Writing is often seen not as a practiced, useful, difficult skill but as something that anyone could do if they just put aside the time to do it. There is nothing further from the truth.
There is a reason why so many great artists, novelists, academics, and poets ended up struggling with mental illness, had difficulty with relationships, and lived in perpetual poverty. Passionate creation does not fit nicely within a balanced lifestyle. It is not something that you can expect to sit down, complete, and then leave when your shift is done. It is a demanding experience that can bring such extreme highs and lows that it can sometimes feel as if you are living on a different plane of existence. It can keep you up all night and then evade you for the entirety of your scheduled work day. Thoughts may arrive so urgently they drive away such staples of regular human existence as showering, eating, and catching the bus on time.
It is imperative that we, as a culture, recognize the difficulty intrinsic in producing good writing. Without a collective understanding of writing as a turbulent experience, it is only reasonable to expect writers everywhere to feel there is something wrong with them if they do not function within their scheduled 35-hour work week. We also risk ignorance of one of the experience’s greatest benefits: that nothing will challenge you so much as your own writing. We, as writers, must remember that to experience difficulty in our craft is not to be failing but rather the opposite. We only succeed by struggling.
The Drawing Board was started by Nakita Valerio in 2009. Over the years, we have supported many amazing clients and the scope of what we do has changed from writing to full-on marketing support with the offer of eBook publications, newsletter authourship, social media management and much more. We were founded on the principle that talented people should be acting on those talents, whatever their business may be.
Let’s face it: the digital world is here to stay and if all of us are going to be using websites and social media to communicate, shop, share and live then we had better be doing it well. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that is facing companies, non-profits and charities these days is good, quality content on the social media and websites that keeps them informative, relevant and interesting. This is because of a very simple fact of life: Web designers and business owners are not writers.
We are writers. This is what we do. And even though we make it look easy, we are trained professionals in our trade and we make it our mission to uplift you and your business through our writing services.
What do you get when you cross three historians with passion for writing? You get The Drawing Board.
Nakita Valerio Owner and Head Writer for The Drawing Board
Nakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta. Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Director of Public Policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board
Rachael Heffernan is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and the Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.
Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board
Liz came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Liz received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Liz volunteers with the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.
As writers, we can often get stuck in a routine with our writing that can feel a bit dusty after a while. At its worst, this can cause us to stagnate and falter with our writing, or even set it aside for other pursuits. Writing takes persistent and consistent effort to produce worthwhile results, but that doesn’t mean the process by which you get there has to be boring.
Many writers have different methods for keeping things fresh, regardless of the genre. Some writers like to use prompting exercises. These are usually one sentence assignments like “Write about the smell of your childhood neighbour’s house” or “Write about the first time you were disappointed in your parents” and from something fairly straightforward and simple, entire short stories or even books can evolve. These exercises get the creative juices flowing and nowhere is this truer than when prompts are combined with free writing. Free writing means that you aren’t thinking of things as a project or an essay. You’re just writing for the sake of writing without pressure to produce something even of quality or value at the end. This sense of freedom often gives writers the confidence they need to get started, and once they do, great things happen!
That being said, it’s not a trick of the mind, necessarily. It’s not a matter of making yourself think that there’s no pressure to accomplish something with your writing, but in the end you still have a lingering hope that something tangible will come from it. Rather, this exercise is purely for the joy of writing as a transformative process, in and of itself.
I often link free writing (which I, sadly, have very little time for these days!) and meditation because I see the outcomes of both processes to be very similar, and below are few of the reasons why.
They are both good for you. Meditation has been medically linked to lowered stress and anxiety levels as well as decreased risks of major illnesses like depression and heart disease. Free writing allows you the freedom to express yourself and let go of things that are holding you back emotionally. In fact, therapists will often recommend free writing simply for the release it allows you and the mental health benefits that can come from that.
They both focus the mind and keep you present. When you are meditating on something, or even meditating on the clearing of the mind to bring it to the present moment, you are focused. Focus takes concentration and discipline, especially these days in the world of fast-paced technology and split-second attention spans. Free writing can offer a similar kind of focus, particularly if you set a time limit for the free writing. Set yourself a ten minute alarm for writing on a particular subject or whatever comes to mind and stay committed to the writing and only the writing until that alarm goes off. More times than not, you’ll get so invested in your work, the alarm will likely come as a forgotten surprise.
With both, you have to be aware of all the senses. For anyone who has just started meditation practice formally or informally, one thing can be said for sure: meditating certainly has the uncanny ability to make you aware of all facets of your surroundings from your itchy nose to the ache in your back, from the smell of the room you’re sitting in to the sounds outside your window. You become acutely aware of the world around you and your body within that world. With free writing and any writing in general, an awareness of the senses is critical. The best kinds of writing don’t tell us what is happening, they show us what is happening by making us feel, touch, taste, smell, hear and see things through our written words. The best writers are those that are in touch with these senses and know how to express them on the page.
Sometimes, they are painful. Meditation isn’t all fun and oms. There are serious challenges in terms of physical and mental endurance that need to be overcome through careful, calculated practice of keeping the mind aware and still. Writing can be similar in that it forces a kind of discipline that can be uncomfortable at first but pays off in the end. Also, not all meditation or writing sessions will be considered “successful” by you – and they don’t have to be successful… Failing and trying again are both their own forms of success.
They both help you evolve. Whether you are meditating of free writing, both tasks help you to learn a lot about yourself, particularly how fluid you are as an individual. A lot of people think that writing is about crystallizing a moment or a character in time, but in actuality, it’s more of a snapshot of an ever-changing scene or individual. In a similar way, meditation helps you hone in on the present moment because this is where attachments fall away. It is only in past and future memories that we hold onto rigid conceptions of ourselves and our identities. By breaking through and being present with ourselves and our pens on the page, we can capture some of the sense of our own movement and can grow because of it, becoming gentler with ourselves as we pass through time in perpetual motion.
This article was writen by Liz Hill, historian and writer/researcher for The Drawing Board.
There is a typical Canadian tendency to assume that our art (like our TV programming) is either a poor imitation of American products or too regional to be interesting. To which I would argue that regionalism and being just off-centre in the art world is what makes Canadian art interesting! Twentieth Century Canadian artists navigated the complexity and diversity of Canadian identity(s) both internally and in relation to the wider art world. The list I’ve selected below aims to be diverse and represent a variety of groups and movements, but cannot begin to be truly representative so I encourage you to check out your local galleries!
Paul Emile Borduas was the leader of the Montreal Les Automatistes and the writer of the main essay of their manifesto Refus Global. Borduas was inspired by the automatic writing technique of Andre Breton and the Surrealists. He applied the spontaneous and automatic writing to painting. After exhibiting these automatic works in 1942 he gained a following including Marcel Barbeau, Jean Paul Riopelle, Roger Fauteaux, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc, and Jean-Paul Mousseau. The group met in Borduas’ studio to discuss Marxism, surrealism, and psychoanalysis. As artists the group successfully exhibited in New York and Paris in 1946 and 47. In 1948 they produced a manifesto entitled Refus Global. Borduas wrote the main essay which argued that “rational exploitation [was] slowly expanding to all social activities” to the detriment of creativity, expression, and freedom. The Automatistes were opposed to the conservatism of 1940s Quebec society and Borduas rejected Catholicism and nationalism in favour of a “resplendent anarchy” which he saw as a political extension of the Automatistes’ spontaneous and intuitive aesthetic. The group disbanded shortly after the release of Refus Global, with some of the artists already leaving Quebec for Paris, including Jean-Paul Riopelle who would go on to have a successful international career. Refuse Global was widely condemned by the Quebec government and media. As the eldest and the leader of the group Borduas was removed from his position at Ecole du Meuble. He never taught in Quebec again but continued to work in New York and Paris until his death in 1960.
Jack Bush was a Toronto based artist who, as a member of the Painters Eleven group, contributed to bringing international modern art to Canada, and Canadian art to an international audience. His work, which would become associated with the Colour Field and Lyrical Abstraction styles of Abstract Expressionism, is characterized by an expressive use of colour and the creation of structure through colour. Bush worked as a commercial artist through out his career and was initially a landscape painter in the style of the Group of Seven and the Canadian Group of Painters but he became dissatisfied with Canadian art’s detachment from the international art world. He was exposed to American abstraction, as well as the work of the Automatistes, through trips to New York and Montreal. In 1957 he met the influential New York art critic Clement Greenberg who encouraged him to refine his approach to abstraction and became a life long mentor.
Bush was a member of Painters Eleven, a group of artists formed in 1953 who were similarly frustrated by the 1950s Toronto art scene that continued to be dominated by the influence of the Group of Seven. Alexandra Luke organized the first exhibit of abstract art in 1952 and the group exhibited annually from 1954 – 58. In 1956 they reached an international audience in an exhibit with the American Abstract Artists in New York. The group was diverse in background, training, and style but were united by the influence of the New York school of abstraction and a desire to bring the international art world to Canada and vice versa. Other members of the group were Oscar Cahen, Hortense Gordon, Thomas Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, JWG Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town, and Walter Yarwood.
Unlike many of the other artists on this list, William Kurelek was not a member of any artists’ groups or movements. His output and influences are intriguingly idiosyncratic, including Brueghel and Bosch, his prairie roots, Roman Catholicism, and fear of nuclear war. Perhaps best known for illustrating children’s books in the seventies, his other work includes realistic images of prairie life, particularly of Ukrainian immigrant communities, still-lifes, didactic series and apocalyptic images based on his devoutly Catholic beliefs, and earlier works depicting his struggles with mental illness. Born in Alberta and raised in Manitoba, Kurelek began painting in 1950 while living in Edmonton. In 1952 he ended up in England and was committed to a psychiatric hospital for depression. He continued to paint as a form of therapy, producing some of his darkest and most surreal works. During his art therapy he worked with Dr Bruno Cormier who happened to have contributed to Refus Global as a colleague of the Automatistes. He found comfort in Roman Catholicism and began to convert before leaving the hospital in 1955 and returning to Canada in 1956. Through the 1960s he established himself as an artist, producing a body of work that reflected his Catholic conversion, Ukrainian prairie roots, and growing preoccupation with nuclear war and the moral state of modern society. In the seventies he produced a number of books and series depicting Canadian immigrant communities.
Daphne Odjig’s Winnipeg gallery, The New Warehouse Gallery, provided an early meeting place for the Professional Native Indian Artist’s Incorporation (PNAI), or “The Indian Group of Seven.” Odjig learned to draw and carve from her grandfather as a child, and as a young adult taught herself to paint by visiting the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Toronto. In response to discrimination she adopted an Anglicized version of her name, but in the mid-sixties she returned to her Indigenous roots, both personally and creatively. She began to explore Indigenous history and traditions in her painting and in 1971 she opened the Odjig Indian Prints of Canada gallery, which would be renamed The New Warehouse Gallery, in order to promote and distribute her work and the work of other Aboriginal artists. In the seventies she also began to create large scale historical and legendary murals and paintings that dealt with themes of cultural survival and regeneration, and were based on personal and collective memory.
Odjig’s gallery became a meeting place for artists who would go on to form PNAI in 1974. In addition to Odjig, PNAI members included Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Norval Morriseau, Carl Ray, and Joseph Sanchez. The group was diverse in background and artistic styles, but was united by a frustration with the prejudice and lack of opportunity faced by Indigenous and Aboriginal artists in the mainstream Canadian art world. In addition to seeking to improve opportunities for Aboriginal artists, the group was concerned with the survival of Indigenous culture, and critiqued assumptions about Aboriginal art which portrayed it as something from the past or as crafts and artifacts belonging in natural history museums rather than art galleries.
Joyce Wieland’s use of imagery and materials influenced by Pop Art and feminist art challenged the dominance of painting and high art traditions exemplified by other artists on this list, including Borduas and Bush. In addition to painting, Wieland was a filmmaker and multimedia artist. She expressed her perspective as a woman artist in a male dominated art wold through the use of domestic and craft materials such as embroidery, knitting, quilting, and even an elaborately decorated cake for one exhibit. Her use of lithography, collage, and cartoons reflects the influence of Pop Art and represented a challenge to high art modernism. After her first exhibit in Toronto in 1960, Wieland lived and worked in New York from 1962 to 1970, with her husband Michael Snow, another major Canadian pop artist. Despite nearly a decade spent working in the American art world, and exhibitions in the United States and Europe, Wieland remained invested in her Canadian identity and themes of Canadian nationalism. She viewed the landscape and ecology of Canada as female, tying together issues of nationalism, environment, and gender. In 1971 Wieland was the subject of the National Gallery’s first major exhibit of a living woman artist. It was entitled “True Patriot Love.”
At The Drawing Board, it has almost been an entire year of business and we just can’t get enough of helping out our clients by filling their writing and content management needs. Not only does it enable us to write for a living (how amazing is that?!) but we also get to uplift them and what they are accomplishing through their goods and services. We are picky: we don’t work for just anyone. There are a few types of businesses and groups that we support that share similar characteristics and, at the Drawing Board, we have realized that this is a continuing theme in how we choose our clients. This is not to say that future clients need to fit this criteria, but it is really eye-opening to figure out who gels best with us and which types of businesses are best aided by our services.
So who are we helping out?
They are small to medium-sized businesses and start-ups. All of the businesses we assist fit into these categories. We love to help people get on their feet in the cyber world – a task that can seem daunting at first but is made easy by our level of experience and expertise. We love helping family-run businesses and places that operate with real people running them. These types of businesses tend to be well-connected in their communities and involved in the growth of their neighbourhoods. We take pride in helping these groups grow and every part of the networks they touch.
They are all good people. At The Drawing Board, we come to work closely with every single business owner and marketing manager at each of our clients’ offices. These are quality, brilliant people who tend to be wildly talented and real visionaries. Whether they are one person with a mission to change the world, or a full-fledged company shaping the landscapes we all encounter daily, we have never found a bad apple and we don’t count on that happening anytime soon.
We get to learn a lot. When you trust The Drawing Board to “learn” your business and manage your content, you are in good hands. We love research and that is not limited by the subject matter. We learn something new and amazing from every single client, and we relish in the enrichment it brings to our knowledge and our lives. We get to network a lot more too and get to know others through the incredible businesses and people we learn from as well. What a blessing!
We get to support all the good they do. Not only are our clients good people who strive to do well by the environment, but they also have high moral integrity and don’t engage in questionable business practices. We are happy to help those who not only do well but also hold others accountable to do well too. Our clients are active in their charity work and supporting integral community services. They know that good business means going beyond the bottom line: it means taking care of everyone who helped you get to where you are and helping others for the future too.
Here’s to another year of building brilliant business success!