“Who’s your inspiration?”: And The Answer You Didn’t Expect

“Who’s your inspiration?”: My Ballet Of Unlikely Answers

by Daric Gill

The first question an artist is asked upon introduction is, “What type of art do you make?”. This is quickly followed up by, “Who (or what) is your inspiration?”. These are reasonable questions. After all, almost everyone knows what an artist is, but aren’t really sure what an artist does. And certainly, they don’t know where we get our ideas. Shoot… sometimes we don’t even know where they come from ourselves.

From experience I know that what I’m about to say is not the answer they are expecting:

My art and inspirations are interdisciplinary. So, by definition it’s not as easy to define. What then?

There’s always a ballet of rhetoric that I have to employ to maintain brevity but still answer with clarity. The following article offers both a brief explanation of my inspirations as well as a more in-depth description of how I get inspired. And if you’re one of those people who want to know more about your fellow artists, but aren’t sure how to start-up the conversation, hopefully, this can help.

[If you’re looking for Tips For Building Your Creative Tool Belt, click here]

Years of conversation has led me to understand there are 3 versions of “Who’s your inspiration?”. These are either directly the question or implied as roots from where they are asking.

  1. What artist inspires you to make art?
  2. How do you come up with so many ideas?
  3. I don’t know anything about what an artist does, but I want to know more. This is the only follow-up question I came up with.

Here are my answers — they aren’t what you’d expect.

Prelude: Inspiration Or Aspiration

a HOPE or ambition of achieving; a goal

the process of being mentally stimulated to DO or feel something; esp. to DO something creative

1. What Artist Inspires Me To Make Art?

Well… None actually. I know, I know. This sounds crazy coming from an artist. But it’s true.

How I create ideas
How I create ideas

Of course, I have favorite artists. But, I just don’t use their art to inspire mine. Trust me– it’d be easier if I could just say a familiar artist name and be done with it. Since my work spans many areas; so too does my inspirations. I’m stimulated by nature, machinery, linguistics, literature, science, philosophy, art movements, history, inventiveness, and inventions. My relationship to a specific artwork is fairly independent of inspiration. Similarly to eating a truly great dish at a restaurant. Some people yearn to master that taste in their own kitchen while others find the heightened experience of the dish as the emotional achievement.

I can already hear the skepticism. “Really Daric, you’re an artist… how can you be around art all the time and not have it creep into the work?” Naturally, one’s own experiences will always make their way into action. I certainly don’t think there’s a vacuum around my art. But I find that it holds significantly less inspirational impact than say a walk in the forest, a great robotics breakthrough, or a philosophical debate ABOUT art. I use the visuals of other’s art to soothe the creative soul. Not drive it. Over the years, I’ve learned how important that distinction was to stay true to my work.

 2. How Do You Come Up With So Many Ideas?

All people are innately creative. We just get rusty as we get older. I get to do this all day long–I’ve got a lot more practice.

Creativity isn’t really ‘teachable’. But it is ‘learnable’ and certainly ‘expandable’. Exercising the creative muscles is something I get to do every day. As a result, the giant boulder of idea making still has momentum from the days and weeks before.

IMG_2073I’m not really a 1:1 thinker. For example, the other day I was on a walk next to a river as the sun began to descend. It was gorgeous! A storm had recently passed and created these giant undulating dark clouds. The sun, brilliantly red, poked rays of orange-crimson light through the clouds and stretched out glorious beams across the horizon…  And yet I felt at no point that I needed to paint a sunset.

Instead,  I mentally noted all my favorite light-related things: magnifying lenses, dark rooms with small bits of light poking through, motion detectors, ethereal fog, mirrors, light-sensitive lemon juice drawings. In a matter of minutes, I had strained those ideas through even more mental filters. “Hmm… a robotics light sculpture? Maybe I should work on a back-lit oil painting my friend suggested years ago. Lemon juice… is it reactive with wood? Citric Acid… probably reacts with the tannin in wood, right? Maybe I had something with the light & motion sensors? I have an extra Arduino board. Yeah, I should try that. How would I emulate the feeling of a sunset? Or maybe it’s specific to a single day to each year like ancient cultures employed. I should Google ancient sun schedules.”

That’s how I come up with ideas. Not as easy to explain, but more honest.

 3. I don’t know anything about what an artist does, but I want to know more. This is the only follow-up question I came up with.

It’s Ok. I probably don’t know much about your job either. If you’re opened to it, I’d be glad to teach you what I do.

Don’t worry, I probably don’t know much about the day-to-day activities in your job either. I think the real issue goes back to knowing what an artist is, but not what they do. It’s a job that people are a little apprehensive to admit what they do or don’t know about the career. Most people didn’t grow up hearing titles like Corporate Integration Developer or Product Tactics Consultant. Walking in, there’s already an education of job duties built into the conversation. Asking about an artist’s inspiration is a great question! It can be a great way to really get to the heart of the artist’s work. Just be ready for the possibility of passion. After all, it is their inspiration.

Some other starter questions (I actually use some of these when I meet new people with a career like Corporate Integration Developer, etc.):

  1. “Teach me, I really don’t know much about your area. I want to know more.”
  2. “I know there are many different types of artists. What type are you?”
  3. “How long have you been doing this?”
  4. “How did you get into art?”
  5. “What’s the one thing you wish people would ask about your job, but usually don’t?”
  6. “How do you usually sell your art? Online, freelance, galleries?”
  7. “What’s the coolest experience you’ve had as an artist?”
  8. “Do you work in one area or in many?”
So, Daric… How DO you get inspired?

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

-William Shakespeare

Like I had mentioned before, many of my ideas happen as a result of ongoing momentum. I find this to be the case for many full-time creative people. Each day I find myself looking for ideas using a whole utility belt of ways.

  1. Thinking – You can often find me staring off into the grey void, thinking about my art. I like to think about the loopholes or build out an idea this way.
  2. A stowaway katydid.
    A stowaway katydid.

    Riding – One of my favorite things to do to get my mind working is taking a long ride on my small motorbike. It’s a slow ride and gives me plenty of outside air and stimulation to clear my head.

  3. Talking – Bouncing off ideas with a worthy friend is always a great way to hash out the logistics and loopholes of an idea.
  4. Writing – Believe it or not, writing blogs and journaling is a wonderful way to get to the core of why I’m making something. The visuals are only a part of what art can be. Documenting the successes and struggles behind the work often helps me move forward when I’m stuck.
  5. Sketching – There’s almost nothing better for getting out the rough draft of an idea than making sketches. These could be 3-d mock-ups or drawn-out sketches. Mostly, I draw my ideas using a pen on loose printer paper. This is a relaxed process that I started long ago that allows me the freedom to throw something away if I so choose.
  6. Reading – My favorite reading materials: DIY guides, textbooks, historical documents, academic periodicals, and online articles about new advances in technology/science/religion/nature. I’m not a novel reader.
  7. Rainy Day Hike
    Rainy Day Hike

    Hiking – Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” I have nothing extra to add to that.

  8. Inspecting – So much of our day is made up of looking around, but rarely do we actually inspect something thoroughly. I like to take apart something in my head, run my hands over it, or reverse engineer it. This is the case whether I’m looking at artwork or machinery. This is a great way to practice looking deeper at something when it comes time to build, paint, or otherwise replicate an idea.


You can find more free articles like this on my Artist Resource page. My mission is to provide free and accessible tools for artists, educators, and enthusiasts. I encourage you to share and refer people here as often as you wish. Naturally, these articles take many hours to thoroughly research and write. If you’d like to support me as an artist and advocate, please consider donating whatever you can. Thank you!

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