The nature of inspiration

If you feel drained of creative energy or void of inspiration, a moment of recharge and revival can be as close as outside of your front door.

Hailey Bailey
Jan 3, 2019

As makers, designers, and creative souls, we know the power of inspiration. We know the feeling of seeing something - a stranger’s scarf in a coffee shop, a piece of colorful artwork on a wall, or even a spontaneous image in your own head - and experiencing that powerful motivation to simply make.

But what happens when the inspiration runs dry? When we struggle to find that next spark to create that next great thing, it happens to all of us; our emotional and mental minds become exhausted of all energy. We are overwhelmed and overworked. We may not even look up to see that scarf in the coffee shop because we are so distracted by scrolling through social media and seeing everyone else’s creativity and inspiration, which somehow seems endless. (I’ll fill you in on a secret… it’s never endless.)

So when we experience these creative blocks, where do we turn for inspiration? The answer to this question may be different for everyone, but I’d like to invite you into my little world, a place where I draw creative energy when I need it most. I love this place because it is always available and always abundant with new ideas. This place is the outdoors.

I was taught from the start to pay close attention to the natural world around me. My grandmother lived in a little brown house on an ordinary road, but she wanted to surround herself with trees. And so she did. She planted gigantic fir trees -- as many as she could fit on her suburban front lawn -- and these trees still stand today. Within those trees were priceless treasures. My mom would walk me up the path to my grandma’s house and stop in her tracks to marvel at clumps of new fir needles on the tips of the branches. “Feel them,” she would prompt me, placing my small hand on the branch. I felt the sharp sting of the old fir needles, but those little bright green tufts at the end of the branch were like magic; soft and silky, so different than their ancestors existing on the very same branch. While playing in the backyard, my grandmother would crouch down in the lawn and point to the moss adorning the grass and crawling up the trees. Again, I would be invited to interact with it, to take a closer look. What looked from far away like a simple clump of green matter was, in fact, millions of tiny stars. Together, these tiny stars made a pillowy soft rug across the earth, as soft as the new spring fir needles. On a windy day, my mom would hush my chatter and ask me if I could hear the trees creaking, groaning, singing.

In my formative years, these women shared their childlike wonder with me. They cultivated a lifelong curiosity that propelled me to keep exploring. I love to hike on the many trails near my Pacific Northwest home. I love to discover the native plant species, to listen to the birds sing and try to recognize their distinct voices. The world continues to be a wonderland to me, even as an adult. I am thankful for this perspective.

The pace of our modern world often doesn't align with the slower pace of nature. We all live in a world fuelled by a need for productivity. We feel pressure to be good people, good employees, good partners, good children, good parents, and good makers. Often, we do all of this work within the walls of a building. Inside an office or a house, I am surrounded by objects that need to be in their place, by laundry that needs to be done, by things that all scream at once for my attention. I can practically feel my creative energy draining. I feel the tension in my neck and shoulders. I feel my jaw clench. I can sit down and try to force inspiration, but the frustration and discouragement only grow.

These sensations and feelings remind me to escape this draining space and seek the outdoors once again. I continue to surround myself with the natural world because I need it like the air I breathe. Sometimes I find myself driving an hour to the coast simply so I can hear the waves roar louder than the anxiety in my head. I can marvel in that, somehow, everything feels familiar yet different. Nature remains ancient but at the same time, everything becomes new again. I can walk among the same trees, but their leaves are brand new. The soil beneath me is the same soil, but it has experienced seasons and seasons of change, of new material being added to it. The river is the same river, but each wave is fleeting and new, never to exist again. The trees creak and groan in their same song, a song that I know by heart.

When I take this time to attend to my needs, to honor myself and my natural surroundings, it is like a switch flips. My creative energy begins to return. In order for your mind to expand and come up with new ideas, you must give it the space it needs to breathe. You are a living thing and living things must be cared for.

How does nature inspire me today, as a maker? I remind myself to take the time to immerse myself in the world again. I walk down a familiar path and happen upon a feather of a Northern Flicker in the soil. I study the colors. I draw its details. A single feather shed from its host, which somehow becomes a piece of art of its own.

Often, my inspiration is drawn directly from creatures or found objects. Other times, I choose materials with a softness that reminds me of a tuft of new fir needles, or a stitch that reminds me of the tiny stars within the moss. I create designs that remind me of my favorite parts of nature and how they relate to my own life. I was married on a summer day in a beautiful field. In this field were birds I had never seen before: small and finch-like with beaks that crossed over themselves like a pair of crossed fingers in a promise. Over a year later, I played with crochet stitches and discovered a stitch that mirrored that crossed-over beak. I was inspired to design a sweater incorporating this detail. To any eyes, the design is visually pretty, but even more important to me is that I know it is a sweater telling the story of my wedding. Not everyone who creates the sweater will know this story, but in simply being able to tell it through stitches and yarn, I am reminded why I make.

If you feel drained of creative energy or void of inspiration, a moment of recharge and revival can be as close as outside of your front door. Whether you already draw your ideas from nature or whether this idea is new to you, I invite you to enter this world with me. Re-introduce yourself to your world. Go find what is unique and beautiful about where you live. Whether it is an old walking path you frequented years ago or a body of water that can give you a moment of quiet, find your space. Get down on the ground and take a closer look at the moss, or the leaves, or the bark. Find details that you never noticed before, and then never forget them. When you walk by the trees, close your eyes and listen for their song. Let that song be your muse.

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