My friend, children's book author/illustrator Paul Owen Lewis took this photo. That dark silhouette of a human being is me, hunting for agates. Paul and I went on a long walk the other day, working off Thanksgiving meals, and talking about writing, creating books, and being artists. We walked on the beach and discussed the differences between those who are compelled to create "art" and those who are more "family-oriented." Now, I'm not saying that artists are not family oriented. Not saying that at all. We both just happen to have a lot in common - we came from less-than-ideal family circumstances, we both write and illustrate, and neither of us has had biological children. This is no formula for being creative, by the way. There are as many stories behind the stories of authors and illustrators who have been "inner directed" to bring their inspirations to life.
Here we are, cold and happy. Hand-held portrait by Paul. We both love to find things on the beach. I hunt mostly for agates, but I also find petrified wood, jade, jasper, "zen" rocks, which are just stones that I respond to, and the occasional seal's tooth. Paul likes sea glass and perfectly spherical stones. As much as we have in common, we are just as different. Non-artist friends used to ask me how I could be friends with other authors and illustrators. "Aren't they your competition?" they would ask. "Not at all," I always answered. "Their ideas and their ways of doing things are completely different from mine." Just like Paul and I live in the same neighborhood, on the same hill, we have different views. When we walk the beach, he also sees things that I don't, and visa versa. Actually, that's not true. I find sea glass and give it to him. But there is comfort there in the fact that we are not wired the same. We share the same space, but we bring our own original perspectives to what we experience. That comes out in our stories and our art, as well. It is our fingerprint... or mental print, or something like that.
What I've discovered is that friendship with my fellow creative folks is inspirational, not competitive. We need someone else who understands the strange world we inhabit. A world where ideas sometimes envelope us in a fog that makes us seem "not present" to our spouses or significant others. We find ourselves laughing, or crying at something we've read, or heard in song lyrics, and we feel things sometimes too deeply, or we find ourselves in weird synchronicity with our little world when the iPod chooses the perfect song to play with the story we are reading or writing, or just the thought that has gone through our head.
So friends play a role in my creative process and keep me out of isolation, which I can easily slide into especially in the claws of winter.
The stones also play a role for me. (and I don't mean the Rolling Stones, although I do love the sound of both that band and the sound the real stones make on the beach as the tide massages them in and out.)
I mean these stones. While I am out there, lost in my fog, searching for these little treasures on the beach, I am writing in my head. I am talking to my characters. I am singing song lyrics. I am telling myself subconscious stories. The agates sparkle and glow at me and ask me to take them home. They are my inspiration on my walking meditations. I bring them home and polish them, just like you would write down your ideas and then start polishing them. Over time, when I collect hundreds of agates, all polished, and waiting... I turn them into this:
...an agate luminaria candle holder. I have these all around my home, and they not only light up the dark nights, and make meals elegant, but they warm my soul. Each one of those little beach finds have found their potential. I hope that I can do that with stories, too. The pieces gradually come together to create a whole that is more powerful than the individual parts. It takes polishing, patience, and time.
Another thing that Paul and I both have in common is this love of natural objects. I know this is true for so many artists.
Give me a beautiful bone, or a fabulous feather.
Show me a root ball or a field of heather.
Take me to the beach and leave me alone.
Don't buy me an iPad or a new cell phone.
I don't want a fancy vacation.
Just natural beauty and sweet inspiration.
You can sing that in the key of E, kinda bluesy.
I'd love to know what inspires you.