Inspiration, is it for Amateurs?

Work in progress, orange
Work in progress, orange

Mixed media orange in progress

I overheard a comment a student of mine made at SQUAM last fall, and have been thinking about it ever since. “Inspiration is for amateurs”, she said, quoting another artist.

I talk a lot about inspiration when I teach – was I missing something – is it just fluff?

I think inspiration is a gift, and the result of feeling fully alive, in the moment – some say, to be “in spirit” – a gift that brings with it a whirl of ideas and visions so immense I can’t get enough paint to canvas in time to express it all.

Feeling inspired usually comes when I get out and travel, see a new environment, see other artists’ work, or the work of Mother Nature. Finding inspiration is something that make me feel fully happy in my sweet little human experience. Truly, this IS when my best work comes.

But we can’t always feel inspired. With nearly 20 years in the creative and graphic design fields, I’ve had to learn to sit down and make lovely things even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve taught myself and my body how to shake off a bad day, go for a run or drink a latte or take a quick snooze, or whatever it takes, to get back to the studio, put pen to paper, and meet that deadline.

But the latte, the run, 20 minutes of meditation – those are how I get inspired to be creative. And I’ve learned that I cannot make great work if I don’t make those actions part of my process. And chocolate.

Today one of my favorite artists, Jeremy Collins posted the full Chuck Close quote on his instagram account, and I finally got it:

“Don’t wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

With a sigh of relief I realized, OK I do this. I do show up, even when the clouds haven’t parted. And, yes, the work is necessary. I don’t think I know a successful artist or business person who doesn’t have this practice.

I have to admit, however, that I am my mother’s child. If inspiration IS for amateurs, than let us eat cake. I’ll sit down and do the work. Every time. But I want the inspiration. I wait for the clouds to part, the moon to wink, the river to sparkle, the eagle to fly overhead. Maybe I’m an amateur, but I am in pursuit of inspiration.


  1. Andrea says:

    Hi Kellie, thanks for the heads up on your topic today. Love your post and happy that my fellow artist’s comment on “inspiration is for amateurs” actually inspired you – yay whatever works! I believe that as Chuck Close explained – it’s “the waiting around for inspiration to strike” that is for amateurs and not inspiration itself. Your trips, immersion in nature, admiring other artists’ work and “being fully alive” is actually informing/creating inspiration – which is totally different than whining about it not being there. And whine I did, until I was taught how very unproductive and uninspiring it is, lol, and now we use it to help us get through the dry periods. So you and I are actually in agreement, as is Julia Cameron when she suggests scheduling regular artist dates for this vey purpose. You do this very thing without even being aware of it. Just watch out for making an excuse by claiming “no inspiration” as a legitimate reason for not painting/writing/creating. Thanks again for your honesty and sharing your love of life and beauty!

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