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Finding Creative Inspiration & Abstraction- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Finding Creative Inspiration & Abstraction- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD


Finding Creative Inspiration & Abstraction


Last week, we were at a family reunion on a lovely lake just outside of Bellingham, Washington, very close to the Canadian border.

It was full of family reunion type things, the babble of conversation, boats being moved about, sizzling grills, popping corks arcing out over the lake, laughter and mirth.

It was not the kind of situation that one would normally associate with artistic creativity, but rather a break from one’s regular life, a doorway to another room of connection.

Some cousins hadn’t seen each other since they were little kids, now well into their 30s. Sometimes a lot gets done when you’re hanging out doing nothing. It all comes down to paying attention.


Sunset on Lake Whatcom


A Strange Phenomenon


On our last day of the family reunion, we had achieved that remarkable balance where one’s yearning to get back to one’s regular life was exactly balanced by the sadness at leaving what had turned out to be a nourishing and joyous time.

This is very hard to get right, so we considered ourselves lucky. This harkens back to a useful creativity practice, the Principle of Successive Distraction.

As we were enjoying our morning coffee, strong enough to put a spoon in the cup and take it out as a fork, I perceived a strange flickering at the upper edge of my vision.

Hoping it wasn’t an issue with my very myopic eyes, I looked up to behold a remarkable pattern of light and shadow.


Flickering Light

Flickering Light



Abstraction Is Everywhere


It was the morning sun reflecting off of the lake and up into our room, producing an evanescent flickering pattern on the ceiling, hypnotizing and rhythmic, at once stationary and kinetic.

Quick like a bunny we used Bruce’s phone to get a video of it.  A minute later the Earth had rotated a little further and the pattern disappeared. It was all about paying attention.

We had gotten up early to have a phone call with our daughter, eight time zones away, and if we hadn’t done so on this particular day, we would have never seen this pattern. 

The pattern was as real as any physical thing like a rock or a tree or a mountain, but it was also very abstract. We wanted it to last forever.


Camus & Why Artists Create


Perhaps this is one of the reasons why artists paint—to preserve an ephemeral vision or image, to return to it again and again and to feel what they felt in the moment. As Albert Camus said, 


A person’s life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art or love or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened.

-Albert Camus


You Can Find Inspiration Anywhere


Inspiration can be found anywhere and it can find you. 

The pattern was created in an explainable way, but it had a beauty independent of its provenance. A conjunction of simple effects produced something of remarkable beauty.

This brought to mind the inspiration for Jørn Utzon’s design of the Sydney Opera House, inspired by the simple shapes and forces of Nature—the shape of an egg, the concept of monocoque, the curve of a sail filled by the force of the wind.


Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia


Artists Must Continually Evolve


As artists, not content with merely quotidian concerns, we step into the unknown, exploring and experimenting and reaching for something mysterious, something surprising. We want to take our art somewhere new- not merely replicating what has already been done.

In order to take our art somewhere new, we must explore the reaches of our imagination and see where it takes us. But this can be a struggle. Like cooking or patterns on the ceiling, it all comes down to paying attention.

As an artist and psychiatrist, I get to work with thousands of artists all over the world and what I see is a recurring theme of artists feelings like their art doesn’t quite measure up to what they want it to be.

This is what I’m going to talk about in my upcoming free training: 3 Massive Mistakes Even Professional Artists Make That Cause Them To Not Like Their Art. 


We’ll explore how you can overcome these 3 common places where artists get stuck and experience a transformation in your art.


And I’m gong to walk you through this path so you can see this and identify what that move is for you to move closer to the work you’re here to do.


Register for the free training HERE.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce



Nancy Painting on Blank Canvas



3 Massive Mistakes Even Professional Artists Make- Nancy Hillis MD)

P.S. Don’t miss the free live training 3 Massive Mistakes Even Professional Artists Make next Tuesday, September 20 at 10 am Pacific time. Register at: https://www.artistsjourney.com/livewebinar

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