Sorry about that title! It just sounded so right and this post is about creative inspiration, so…. never mind. Besides, I bet you’re wondering more about the story of the image than the title, anyway. So I’ll tell you.
I stole it
Well, kinda sorta. Fact is, I was inspired by (appropriated a section of) a photo taken by my sister, Lisa, and I did it without permission. I trust she will forgive me.
Let me start out by saying Lisa is an amazing gardener – and I’m not saying that in case she’s pissed off I didn’t ask before messing with her photo. The flower beds around her house burst with color and variety. Lisa works in a greenhouse as well, where tender orchids thrive under her care. My talented sister is also a fantastic photographer. Her mastery of color is such that her flower photos pop right out of the screen. I have photo envy whenever I see her work.
Lisa uses Shutterfly regularly to create lovely cards from her photos of flowers, family, and landscapes. Every so often she sends me one. Most are on the wall behind my desk, but I usually keep one right next to my laptop so I can stare at it when my mind goes blank and I don’t know what words to type next.
The card serves to open me to inspiration, in other words.
Right now the card in that position is a photo of a solitary sailboat silhouetted against the rosy light of a sun not yet risen (or set, but it somehow looks like dawn to me) over Little Sunapee Lake. I have no idea where that lake is, but it’s probably somewhere in New England since that’s Lisa’s stomping grounds.
Last week my mind went blank and my eyes turned to Lisa’s card, which somehow was upside down. But that’s not what was important about it. What struck me right then was the shadow across the card from the laptop lid, and the laptop’s power cord obscuring part of the card in a softly curving line parallel with the photo’s horizon.
In short, in a brainstorm of creative inspiration I perceived an abstract image separate from the card itself.
Immediately I needed to capture my inner vision. Not the photo of the card + shadow + power cord that my cell phone took, but this mental overlay of mine that was not what was out there but in here — in my head.
Inspiration vs. fermentation
Let me interject here that what was happening was not strictly speaking creative inspiration — it was crative fermentation. Two different gifts of the Muse.
Creative inspiration is when the Muse slaps me aside the head and slips in an ‘aha’ while my brain is momentarily open. The new idea has an opening to appear thanks to the distraction and I can take that ‘aha’ and use it immediately.
So when I’m stumped I rip my eyes from the screen to gaze at the odd conglomeration of photos, sketches, lists, out-of-date calendars, and magnets that have been more or less randomly affixed to the metal surface on the wall before me. If that doesn’t work, I get up and walk around. It’s amazing how quickly the perfect word or phrase or scene pops into my head.
Creative fermentation — now that’s something entirely different. That’s when the Muse slips an idea or two or three into my brain when I’m not looking for one. Those ideas aren’t meant to be used immediately, they’re meant to bubble around in the back of my head and be transformed into something entirely new, something different from the component parts. Fermentation: it’s what makes beer from water, malted grain, hops, and yeast. One new thing now indistinguishable from its formerly discrete components.
My fermentation ingredients
I can’t tell you how long the card was upside down. It’s a photo of sky, trees, and boat reflected in still water, so upside down looks a lot like right side up. I know Lisa sent the card last February, I know I’ve moved it several times to get to the books behind it. But when it got flipped over is a mystery. It could have been for days or weeks.
The cord is always there and not only because my laptop is an energy hog. The cord keeps the card from flopping forward.
The laptop lid’s shadow is there in the morning, as I sit with my back to a northeast facing window. In the afternoon the shadow’s gone.
From Muse to Youse
I saw the parts day after day, but never the new whole until the Muse slapped me aside the head, popping the bubble of fermentation. However, getting the Muse’s message is one thing, implementing it is another. The Muse provides creative inspiration but believe me, she doesn’t do the work of bringing it into the physical world. It’s not like it’s that easy, either. The inner vision is rich with its own unique flavor (why are so many of my terms connected with food?), by which I mean nuances and connotations that aren’t anywhere in the real world. Yet.
It’s up to me to make it real.
I took a photo of what so intrigued me – the shadow, the cord, the card’s position. Then I cropped it till it felt right. That took several tries, because remember, I wasn’t trying to match the real world but my inner vision.
The tip of the boat (the bow?) didn’t seem to fit, so I carefully deleted it, using various tools in PaintShop Pro X6 (an ancient version but I don’t much like Photoshop and don’t like working in the cloud) so as to match the deletion with the sky (actually, sky reflected in water… but it doesn’t matter), along with the edge of the shadow cast by the laptop lid. In fact, I did an imperfect job but I liked the look so I stopped messing with it.
Then I started messing with focus, vibrancy, dark/light, edges, all that cool stuff, till I came up with several results that pleased me, i.e. came closest to satisfying the need to bring that inner vision into the physical world. Weirdly, clouds in the sky look like ripples in the water, so the right side/wrong side issue is… well, clouded.
I think I’m not done with it. All those odd little squares of enlarged pixels were an artifact of something I created, but not on purpose. I wasn’t sure I liked it, so I saved it and went back to an earlier step and messed with it some more. I saved several versions, but somehow the first one with those pixels evoked the internal vision better than the other, more conventional views.
That was strange, but not something I wanted to pretend wasn’t happening. I quit for the day not knowing if I was done with it.
It’s not done
I’ve looked at it every day since. I have no desire to tweak it more as a digital image, but the fermentation doesn’t feel complete. I think the inner image is calling for something else – maybe printing on canvas or cloth, maybe getting rid of that pixilation (though I like it sort of, except for the regularity of the squares — and I’m not sure I dislike them). Maybe it would work as a collage or a fabric wall hanging… something. I don’t know what.
I trust the Muse will tell me.