“It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Inspiration. Where does it come from?
That’s a question I was asked last month when I visited the Sinnissippi Quilt Guild in Rockford, Illinois, and it’s one that I am asked often. The answer isn’t as simple as it is concise; that answer is “everywhere”.
As I’ve talked about somewhere else on this site (and so many other times, in person) for me, design isn’t so much an occupation, or even a profession, as it is a way of life, and when I say that I mean it on a very fundamental, visceral level. It’s a way of seeing. And feeling, of course, but it all starts with the seeing part. That, itself, is more than just perceiving something. It’s a process that only just begins with that–the observation of something, I mean. That visual experience is the trigger, and if the image is powerful, even in some small, subjective way, and the stars are aligned at that moment (okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here, but there is a certain unpredictable magic to it), what we often call “inspiration” follows.
When I designed Cathedral Doves, our very first Block of the Month, that wasn’t the first time I was seeing those golds and greys, because in my internalized process that palette just emerged, as if on its own, as I played with the fabric. As I recalled the experience of wonder in beholding the floors and mosaic wall patterns in the Umbrian church that “inspired” that composition, Cathedral Doves was born.
It was much the same as Wesley Street came together. It was really a result of an effortless, almost unconscious visual synthesis of the rich detail already around me in the Wheaton studio: the stained glass, the carved newel post motif, the Victorian detail–all subtle, but all compelling. And so it’s been with Eastlake, a labor of love and inspiration evolving, even as this is written, from the almost palpable spirit and, yes–aura, that’s been so evident as we first deconstruct, and then re-construct that nineteenth century farmhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue.
I think designers can sometimes be thought of as mediums, channeling a kind of energy wrought from a visual experience and holding it, for a moment, just long enough to imbue that energy with form, line and texture, then sending it on its way–newly clad in color and context–to complete the composition to which this “inspiration” has given birth. We are all, at times, simply prisms; accepting the raw light of an evocative visual experience, then splitting that light into wavelengths of intense hue to be woven into something new that, hopefully, will inspire others in turn. In a nutshell, I feel that it’s my challenge as a designer and teacher, not just to produce a different product but to help others see, embrace and interpret the wonder that surrounds us all.
So, where do I find inspiration? In a world so rich in visual treasure, maybe the better question is, where do I not?