notes on inspiration and the creative process


Behold the Tulip Queen. 2018. Mixed media and digital collage.

Last week, I was working on a new piece that I’m calling Behold the Tulip Queen.

The idea for the piece seemed to pop into my head fully formed, which made me curious about where my ideas come from (and more generally, where Ideas comes from.) Being trained in hypnotherapy last year made me think a lot about the creative unconscious— how this part of our mind works behind the scenes and is especially involved in problem-solving and the creative process. It’s an incredibly powerful aspect of mind and one that is greatly underutilized. 

I think of this particularly when I am struggling over how to solve a problem (any problem… creative or imminently practical.) My logical brain is so certain it’s up to the job of untangling the problem and finding a solution that I often forget the power of stepping away, going for a walk or a bike ride, taking a bath, doing yoga— basically any activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental activity. It’s in these moments that solutions will often present themselves to me out of the blue, like a graceful hello from the creative unconscious which has been working out the solution entirely outside conscious awareness.

I know the whole “you only use 10% of your brain” idea has been thoroughly discounted by science, but it does make me wonder how much more effectively we might be able to use our minds to generate ideas, inspirations, and solutions to everyday conundrums.

But back to Behold the Tulip Queen. In thinking about the inspirations for this piece after it was completed, I identified a surprisingly broad array of bits on knowledge and experience that went into it, which I will lay out here: 

1. In my early 20s, I lived in two towns that were settled by the Dutch and prided themselves on their Dutch heritage: Holland, Michigan and Pella, Iowa. Living there was an amusing and at times bewildering experience. Both towns held festivals dedicated to tulips (Tulip Time, to be exact.) In Pella, there was a $100 fine for picking a tulip. Yet, each year all the tulips were dug up at the end of the season and replaced with new tulip bulbs. During my time there, black tulips were especially prized. I wish I had thought to buy at least one pair of wooden shoes or miniature windmill before I moved away. 

2. I have a long-standing interest in the tulip economy and subsequent market crash in 17th century Holland. It’s fascinating from the psychological standpoint of how we assign value to material objects. Plus I love seeing tulip bulbs through this lens, as something remarkably precious and valuable. 

3. Last month my son flew from the US to London and was rerouted through Amsterdam. He was surprised at the number of windmills he saw on his descent into Amsterdam. And also at how apt a description the Low Country is. 

4. When this same son was 4, he had such an obsession with tree identification, he owned three tree identification guides, which I still refer to. I learned alongside him, which is how I learned about tulip trees and their lovely leaves, which I’ve integrated into the crown for my Tulip Queen. 

5. Last but not least, when I was under the weather last weekend, I watched several episodes of The Crown on Netflix.

The most fascinating part of all of this for me is that I wasn’t consciously thinking about any of these experiences or bits of knowledge.

They were all just “in there” somewhere floating around unrelatedly, until my creative unconscious assembled them in an image and popped it into my conscious mind. Like magic. 

If you’ve had experiences like this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

And, as always, much love to you.



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