Understanding the Artistic Process and Inspiration

Understanding the Artistic Process and Inspiration

Have you looked at a blank canvas and not known what to paint?  Or been able to start a painting but been unsure how to finish? Others have so many ideas but you can't understand where from or what to do, let alone what it is you'd like to paint.
Inspiration, production and finishing are different stages of the artistic process. Understanding this helps you to focus on how to stay inspired and find your own creative process. This then supports your own art and creativity. Over time you will understand your own stages..
And once you realise that everyone is creative, that it's how the brain works then you realise that you can do it too.  Finding what you wish to create and your unique art is a discussion for another blog. In short, though it is a matter of choosing who you want to be, oh and a bit of practice of course!
So how can we get to that point.  To make it easier to understand lets break down the creative process into stages.  When you look at the stages don't think of them as step by step they do cycle back and forth. Creativity isn't a step-by-step process. Nor should you take the stages as literal, you may break them down further as I have started to do.  If you get stuck at one stage it is likely you need more work on a different part of the cycle. Take this as a guide to get you going and let me know how your processes fit in with this model.

Creative Process Model - Four Stages

Our education system emphasizes logical thinking. To create you need to use intuition as well. By considering the steps in your own art practice it helps your authenticity in your art. A further advantage is it stops you getting stuck, sorry that's not strictly true! Part of the creative process is to get what feels like 'stuck' it enables you to know what to do if you get stuck. 
Graham Wallace in 1926 came up with a four-step theory for the creative process. It is still a good model although many have adapted it, the essence of his idea is the same today. 
Here I will show you the original four-steps. For your own creative process you need to have flexibility.
Use this as a guide rather than rules, give them your own names, make it your own, give yourself more stages.  Being creative is not about rules! So here are the four-stages as Wallace suggested of the creative process:
  • Preparation: Gather ideas.
  • Incubation: A sub-conscious time, take a break to give ideas time to settle. Sleep on it, take a walk, do something else!
  • Illumination: The 'a-ha' moment is when everything clicks into place and you know where it is you are going with it. 
  • Verification: Execute your project and bring your vision to life.

How does this relate to your own Art Process? 

As an example I will go through the different stages with my current art practice to see how it fits. It will take more experimentation for a whole body of work, more time. But the underlying steps are similar whether one painting or a series, we all go through them. 
Your own process will be different, inspired by different subjects and materials. Ideas and process though can stem from other artists. Some steps will be similar whilst others will differ... insert into the steps, change them if needs be to suit you. 
And always remember this is not a step-by-step each stage will be recurring and double back to other stages... that is all part of the creative process:)

Stage 1: Preparation

In this stage you gather material which culminates in a lot of ideas... more ideas than you need.  As an abstract landscape artist I will immerse myself in ideas
This stage can vary in time but often takes a long time, it is the place where ideas are triggered. For a single painting this could be as simple as a photograph that you captured whilst on a walk. For a body of work you may be working in this stage for years.
  • Take A Walk or Drive
  • Photograph Anything of Interest
  • Sketch
  • Paint Plein Air
  • Look Back at Old Material / Photographs
  • Look at Other Artists
  • Reflect in Journals
  • Decide on Colours
  • Collect Art Tools and Materials
  • Pay Attention in Everyday Life
What you are doing here is finding out what sparks your interest, what would you like to paint and why?

Stage 2: Experimentation (Incubation)

This is the experimenting  and rest phase. The experimenting overlaps with the preparation phase but for me it is a separate phase. This takes place in the studio or whilst resting in everyday life.
  • In this stage I may collage from external ideas
  • have a break
  • sleep on it
  • use materials in a different way
  • play with art materials I've never tried
this is not producing a completed piece of art
In this stage I have loosely held thoughts of what I have discovered in the preparation phase. I might have an idea of addressing autumn leaves, I will play with materials in the studio e.g. leaves collected..
Discovering your own art process is a lifelong journey. It's important to embrace the process and enjoy every stage along the way. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers in art. Your art process is as unique as you are, so embrace it and let it guide you on a creative adventure.

Stage 3: The A-ha Moment (Illumination)

Have you ever gone to sleep at night with a problem that you are compelled to solve? You feel the answer should be there but it evades you.  Or that all the pieces are there but it doesn't quite fit.
You wake up in the morning, or suddenly, it comes to you whilst on a walk or in the shower, a moment of illumination.  This is the a-ha moment.  Creativity is not confined to artistic endeavours, it happens in everyday life. It is part of how our brains operate.
One example is when writing poetry, an idea can be in the back of your mind, you mull on it for over a week, this is incubation. Then one morning you need to reach for a pen and paper as you can feel the words ready to flow! 
NB; if the a-ha moment doesn't come you can feel 'stuck'. It is time to go back to the preparation and experimentation stages (back to the drawing board!).  Sometimes it needs more input or more inspiration. At others it just needs time and space to let the subconscious do its work.

Stage 4: Bringing Your Art to Life with Intuition and Analysis (Verification Stage)

I never did an art degree. So I have no idea if they now teach 'creativity' but as an OU student in Creative Writing they certainly did. We separated the stages of intuition and analysis. We would be intuitive using freewriting exercises or creating flow diagrams. These free ideas encouraged to flow, we did not use punctuation, didn't even look at the page. The analysis stage was the edit phase. Here you would check it made sense. Did you need to alter the sentences was it succinct, did the grammar work? These were seen as completely different stages in the creative process and it's how they can be seen in art too. 
So I personally want to split this stage into three stages

Intuition - being in flow

In this stage everything is ready to produce. Your colours and composition are there, you have narrowed down what you are taking into the piece of art as an idea. For me I hold the idea in my mind whilst putting down marks in an instinctive way.  A great way to help with this is to change tools, therefore creating different marks, rotate your canvas, other things can help, listening to music, 'blind' painting, not letting yourself 'fiddle', all preventing you slipping into the next stage which is...

Analysis - Assessing Your Art 

This is a necessary part of the process to make the art mature. Where your knowledge and experience comes into play.  Does it sit together as a piece and is it interesting.  Do the colours balance?  Have you interesting differences in tonal value and are proportions correct.  This is what makes it make sense.
Intuition and Analysis will go back and forth until complete. It is like in my creative writing; the freewrite and flowing creative phase and then the edit phase.

Finishing Art

I want to split this part of the creative process into a third, because at some point your art will be finished.  At this point you need to decide how to protect it, find a buyer or a place on your wall, pass it to a gallery.  This phase is also a feedback phase which may, or may not, inform future projects.

Understanding the Artistic Process and Inspiration

One of my biggest a-ha moments was end of 2022 when I realised that abstracted art could be based on reality. This led me to thinking about process, how do I abstract what I am interested in and get it down on canvas.
We have all experienced the creative process. Ideas form, time incubates them the ideas mature. This leads to the a-ha moment when we know what we are going to create. Then we produce.
This can be as simple as we decide to decorate, we imagine it, we do some research, look in a magazine (preparation). We experiment with colours for the walls, we look at the colour. Then we think, (incubation) we narrow down the ideas and finally a-ha (illumination) we know what we want to do. Then we decorate (verification) but oh, the colour doesn't quite work back to stage 1. Or we need to re-invent the idea, this cupboard doesn't quite fit! We think again (stage 2) then a-ha (3) we know what to do to update it. Finish the job. We all do it! And where does inspiration fit in... well it is simple to never run dry on inspiration fill up on your preparation time.  I am never short of ideas but it is because I constantly fill up that inspiration bucket... stage 1 of the process, for me this slips into experimentation and stage 2, I constantly incubate.  But what you may not realise is that you will be too. You may people watch in the coffee shop, take photos, love to visit art galleries or go out for walks in nature.  Something will be of interest to you, you may not know it but if you want to be an artist then that will be your inspiration.  We are not re-inventing the wheel here just recognising we have one!  The best way to have an understanding of the artistic process and inspiration is by noticing. Notice what you are already doing, take photos, people watch, watch the sunset. Then do more of it in a mindful way, perhaps sketch?  It's fabulous so enjoy it too if you don't enjoy it then what's the point!
And I figure if we can all understand how to create, we do it all the time, then if you want to you can paint. For those budding artists check out my learn with me page.
For you art lovers I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the artistic processes involved. You can see my studio and read more about my changing art process on my About Me page.
If you want me to discuss an art topic in my monthly blogs then contact me and let me know always great to hear from you.
See you soon Debs x

Back to blog