“As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them. I call this process filling the well” - Julia Cameron
Filling up your creative well
Julia Cameron explains that in order to create, we need to keep our reserves of inspiration, images and ideas stocked up.
If you’ve ever felt a lack of inspiration, or a shortage of ideas, or that you want to be creative but just don’t know where to start, try these simple tips for getting outdoors and taking inspiration from nature – it’s free, it’s easy, and it’s the most effective way I’ve ever found to ‘fill the well’.
I live in the countryside, and so am very fortunate to have nature on my doorstep. I can honestly say that I appreciate it every single day. Every morning when I take the dog out, I spend a few minutes staring up at the sky. I do my morning meditation outside. I walk or jog most lunchtimes and even enjoy the drive down to school or the village because as you turn round this one corner, it’s like the entire view of the countryside just opens up, the sky meets the hills, and no matter what the weather is like, that view never ever ceases to make me say, ‘Wow!’
But it hasn’t always been like this. It took a lot of years of living in a city, then in a built-up urban area, all the time having the ambition to live in the countryside, to finally be at a point when I could achieve it. Of course not everyone wants to live the rural life, others do but can’t, so I’ll start by saying this method of finding creative inspiration in nature can work anywhere.
I wrote a song inspired by the gaps that the sun found its way in through in Leeds train station. I wrote a short story based on a tiny flower garden I stumbled across in London on the busiest little back street I’d ever seen.
If you are open to being inspired by nature, but don’t have an abundance of nature on your doorstep, here are a couple of things to try:
Look up at the sky – it’s always there wherever you are in the world and it’s always changing. The sky can be absolutely awe-inspiring. Look at the colours, notice any movement, spot the moon, the sun or the stars. Interpret the shape of the clouds. Breathe it in. Speak to it; tell it your troubles, ask it for advice. The sky is like a constant companion. Lying on a beach on holiday, sitting on a park bench, standing on your doorstep – just look up. It’s always there and it always has something to tell you.
Create life and watch it grow – even if you don’t have a garden, all you need is a single plant in your house. Plant a bean, tend to a cactus, grow some herbs to eat. Take a few minutes regularly to really focus on them; what do they need, what has changed, how do they make you feel? Or, pick some wild flowers and watch them bloom then wither – nature is always teaching us about the circle of life.
On my walk today I’m going to actively look for things that could inspire me. I’m going to collect inspiration for a future, as yet unidentified project.
All I need to do is to be mindful during my walk; to be present, to be open to inspiration, even if it’s in an area I already know well and have walked in many times. The key here is really just to be curious.
On a journey to work you’ve done every day for several years, have you ever seen something new, that must have been there all along, but you’d just not noticed it?
The point it, we don’t need to go anywhere different, anywhere special, we simply need to set out with an intention to notice those images and ideas that we can then draw on when we are undertaking our choice of creative activity.
So let’s look at exactly how we can collect inspiration.
Using your senses
Even when we are actively doing something to inspire our creativity, it can be useful to have some sort of framework to follow. Of course we can simply go outside and soak up any and all images and ideas that come to us, and that does work. But I find that afterwards I end up thinking, ‘oh I wish I’d taken a photo of that tree,’ and often I wish I hadn’t felt the need to rush the experience to get back to work.
So I like to use a reminder to use all of my senses to the best of my ability, and that way, I have plenty of new creative resources in my well.
Here are some examples.
What can you see?
I can see the beautiful rolling hills in the distance that I love so much.
I can see the cows and horses in the field, and even some donkeys.
I can see the dry-stone wall that someone has been repairing for the last few weeks.
I can see the farm and the farmhouse.
I can see lots of deep green leaves on the trees.
I can see the determined nettles and brambles growing up from the side of the road.
I can see the village in the distance.
I can see the other side of town – Emley Moor Mast.
I can see someone jogging, someone cutting the grass, someone fixing a roof.
What can you smell?
I can smell that the farmers have been spreading manure on the fields!
I can smell the country air.
I can smell the heat radiating off the tarmac.
What can you hear?
I can hear dogs barking.
I can hear cars travelling along the road, going over the grates
I can hear the sheep
I can hear the birds
I can hear my footsteps
I can hear the jangling of my dog’s harness
What can you touch?
I can touch the dandelions, the leaves, the grass.
I can touch the dirt path and the tarmac road.
I can touch the wall and the gate to my house.
What can you taste?
I can pick some raspberries and blackcurrants from my field and taste them.
How do you feel?
I usually do this part once I’m back home. I’ll take a few minutes to reflect on everything I’ve taken in, making notes so I don’t forget anything that really leapt out as a creative idea.
I always make sure to notice how I feel after a walk. Even though I love my daily walks with the dog, I’m usually right in the middle of something, or trying to finish a task, or I’ve just remembered something I meant to do, when she’s ready to go out, so I do have to consciously remind myself that it will do me good. When I get back I always feel better, calmer, more in control, like I’ve done something positive with my day, so I acknowledge that, as if I am somehow proving myself right!
Saving the information
If you feel inspired to take a photo when you’re outside – even if it’s of something seemingly irrelevant and random, take it.
As well as taking photos you could take a small notebook and write down ideas as they come to you. You could record sounds and your own ideas on your phone. You could pick some leaves or a fallen flower and bring it home. Do what you need to do to capture and record as much as you possibly can from your expedition.
I’ve lost track of the times I’ve come up with a song idea whilst out jogging, and I don’t always have my phone with me, so I just keep singing it to myself all the way home then desperately try to write it down or record it before I forget it!
Whilst it isn’t necessary to do anything more with the ideas you’ve gathered – they are there, ready and waiting in your ‘creative well’ so that you can access them at any point and use them as you wish – sometimes it can be helpful to save them in a notebook that you can then use as a sort of reference guide.
Here, I have created a two-page spread in an A4 notebook, using all the ideas and inspiration that I collected on my walk. Most of these are taken directly from what I was noticing: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting – and some are abstract ideas that came to me on the walk. For example, a song title, a storyline, a character. I’ll save them all on these pages so I can refer to them when I come to create my next piece.
In this example, I’m going to use my collection of images, sounds and ideas to write a song, but hopefully you can see that these same ideas could be used to inspire almost anything: a sketch, a painting, a story, a play, a letter, a vision board, a mixed media piece, colours for redecorating a room in your house. The possibilities are endless.
The process of finding creative inspiration in nature and of filling up your well is, in itself, a relaxing, inspiring, emotive, creative experience. Make it part of your self-care routine and your creative process because it is truly a crucial piece of both in equal measure.