Friday, December 14, 2012

Idea Files & Why They're Amazing.

(Ignore the crappy quality of my own example images. I took screen shots of them from my website because I was too lazy to hunt down which external hard drives the various images were stored on, haha.)

If you don't already keep an inspiration or idea file, you should. I keep track of anything and everything that inspires me, because I don't know what tiny thing will eventually germinate in my brain and spawn a book or photo series. Images, lyrics, random words and thoughts, even paint chip color names can fuel entire projects. My current book was a brain lighting moment born of trawling my photo and story inspiration folders. (Read about it here.)

Inspiration can be very literal, such as with a retelling. (West Side Story is essentially an updated Romeo and Juliet.) It can also be as abstract as a blurry cell phone picture inspiring a 90,000 word novel. The point is, you'll lose the inspiration if you don't tear it out, write it down, take a photo...whatever necessary to document the moment.

Dreams, especially,  can be amazing places to go for inspiration. My thesis project was a book of water-themed dreams I've had. If I hadn't written down the dreams I've remembered, I wouldn't have had the material to draw from to make one of my most personally meaningful bodies of work. The starting point for the project, an image called Treehouse in a Sea of Folding Chairs, is a dream I had for years starting somewhere around five years old. Seeing that image finished was powerful and emotional. It was my dream come to life. For years I'd seen it only in my head. Now the world can see it. THAT'S AMAZING. That's the power of art. The power of inspiration.

Treehouse in a Sea of Folding Chairs © Q Washburn Photography

Keep a pen and paper by the bed, and make a habit of writing down whatever snippets of dream you remember from the night before, even if it's vague and you only get a few words. It'll get easier, and you might be surprised at what you come up with.

Following inspiration can lead to unexpected destinations as well.

My early (school) photography was intensely bright. I loved (and still love) vibrant colors and patterns in bold combinations. I photographed the weirdest things I could, mimes and marionettes and other such things. Subtlety was lost on me.

Nose Candy is an example of my silly, super-bright photography. © Q Washburn Photography

It all changed with one painting. A painting in my inspiration file.

The Valpicon Bather by Ingres cracked open the art hiding in my brain and almost instantaneously sparked my unique style of photography. It wasn't until I was forced to reinterpret someone else's (amazing) subtle approach to visually portraying emotions that I found my own voice.

To me, Ingre's painting explores nuances of sexuality. The nude female form can represent fragility and innocence, vulnerability as well as strength. Half in the light, half in shadow, I think this painting wonderfully expresses what it's like to be a woman and a sexual being. Being human in general often means being at odds with oneself. Ingres is masterful at portraying that.

I studied the painting for days trying to figure out what it meant to me personally and what I wanted to say about the same themes.

The result? A photograph that is the epitome of my viewpoint as an artist.

Innocence © Q Washburn Photography

One project to reinterpret a centuries-old painting completely changed my identity as an artist. Years later, my style and artist statement are directly influenced by that change. If I had ignored inspiration, I wouldn't be the artist I am, and that would be tragic. I'm not the world's best photographer, but I don't have to be. I just have to be the best photographer I can be, the best writer I can be. To do that, I have to explore themes that resonate with me and do so in a style that is the best possible outward representation of my internal world.

My challenge to you? Start an inspiration file. You might have two--one digital, one physical. Stick in magazine photos, a couple lines of dialogue hastily written on the notepad on your phone, images found on the internet, song lyrics, random thoughts, dreams you've had...anything that inspires you.

After that, organize your idea treasures based on whatever method works best for you. Glance through your ideas & inspirations once a week, or whenever you're starting a new project, and you'll be amazed at what your brain does with the jumble of information.

I personally love OneNote for this, because I can have an idea notebook with sections and pages, plus notebooks for every project once I actually get started on it.

Microsoft OneNote. Source: Wikipedia

In case you're wondering, OneNote comes with Microsoft Office. I've had it on every computer I ever had and didn't even know until a year ago. Now I would be completely lost without it.

Maybe my next post will be about using OneNote to organize projects because it's just that amazing.

But yes. Go. Create. Get inspired. Make folders. <3

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