the nature of inspiration

Submitted by jpamental on
Topics:  design

As a designer, I'm always thinking about inspiration. Where to find it, what to do with it, how to let it bring a solution out from the pile of ideas and pixels with which I work. I look at a lot of other designers' work - primarily in other arenas, but also on the web. But the strongest, most compelling source I've encountered is pervasive, and limitlessly renewable. I just have to remember to open my eyes and step through the door. It's something I cherish about how my brain seems to work, as it is with many creative people I imagine. I often notice small things in passing that I find really striking, making connections with them, like so many fireflies in a jar, whizzing around so quickly as to make shapes of light out of their myriad individual sparks.

Just about every morning (except in the worst downpours), I go for a walk with a friend through a path by a river, up to a reservoir and through a meadow. Most of the year it ends up being right around sunrise. My friend is a fluffy, bouncy ball of energy named Tristan. He's a Collie and is not yet a year-and-a-half old - so still very much a puppy. He knows the routine, so if I'm not up by 5:30 he gets a bit concerned (read: whiny, pushy, knock things off the night-stand kind of concerned). It's early. It makes me think about how insane it seemed that my parents got up that early - and they didn't have a dog to walk. But honestly I don't mind. For about 45 minutes to an hour every morning, it's just Tristan and I, along with an amazing variety of wildlife, and when he's lucky, a few of his buddies to run around the meadow with.

It's always a bit mixed for me on meeting up with them. Mona and Dale are the most regular 'parents' at that time, with their sets of siblings: Brady and Papi and Lily and Sophie, respectively. They're both wonderful friends and great to talk to, but there's a peacefulness and serenity in the mornings there with which it is hard to compete. The darkness of the path gives way to the edge of light across the eastern shore above the trees, and often a beautiful mist rising off the water, boiling into a frothy foam at the base of the waterfall. The colors are spectacular, no matter what time of year. You can find endless combinations of colors there to form a palette for a design. And never - ever - do you see a set that doesn't 'go'. Seriously - when was the last time you saw two colors together in nature that didn't work together beautifully? I cherish that quiet, and am not saddened when we enjoy it in our solitude.

We sometimes to two loops around through the meadow and back down into the woods by the reservoir and back up. If we're early that doubles up our chances of meeting some playmates for my buddy. What I love about the 2nd loop is that even though it's only a few minutes later, the color and light on the water has shifted noticeably - giving a whole new tableau of color.

Shapes and lines are another endless variation there. Earlier in the walk, everything is silhouettes of inky black against subtle colors and reflections. The outline of a Great Blue Heron against the foamy white at the base of the falls, patiently waiting for the next snack to swim by. The black shapes of mallards and geese as they swim away from shore as we walk by - cutting a V behind them through the glassy reflection of the blooming sunrise on the water. The branches of the tree that fell into the water along the shore, just inside the first of the two small islands. Twice we've startled the heron there - as his sudden flight started the two of us - the whooshing flap of his wings breaking the stillness of the morning as he took off low around the islands and across the water. Other times it's just a study in reflection - the inky forms twisting around each other, dipping in and out of the water. I wonder sometimes what is to be seen in that Rorschach test. What's striking at those early moments before the color blooms is the power of those subtle shapes. Knowing that the murky shape and texture just pulling away from the dark behind has it's own power, its own presence. At any moment the shape could take flight, or dip back under the surface of the water, disappearing inside its own concentric rings, rippling across the stillness of the surface.

A different sort of line revealed itself one morning last winter. As Tristan and I walked up the path towards the reservoir, our tracks were the first in the new snow. Suddenly we saw a set of tracks appear from the side. Paws, sort of dog-sized, but no foot-prints from a person. I've seen coyote there before, but not recently. We followed the tracks and then, as if by magic, they became two. One had been carefully following in the other's tracks for most of the trail. They then went straight up and over the berm and out onto the trackless snow, across the ice-covered water. Meandering across - once, a single set of tracks doing a lazy loop off to the left as if exploring something seen in the snow. They continued on across the ice and disappeared into the morning shadows.

Some encounters are more dramatic. He and I came out of the woods into the meadow one morning early and overcast, so quite dim. We both jumped at the snorts and thud of hooves, just catching site of two white plumes racing into the woods to our left by the water. By the height in the air of those white patches, they must have been fairly large deer. Another morning, walking into the meadow in the same spot we saw a red fox standing on the path, just looking back at us about 50 yards away. Standing silently we just watched. A moment later another fox trotted out of the trees to the right, and both ran off across the grass, along the treeline and disappeared down towards the water. The sight and movement of these neighbors is spellbinding, and I can't help but wonder at how perfectly crafted they and the world around them are.

There's really no end to the inspiration found in this hour of magic every morning. Always a perfect, ever-changing palette of colors. An endless array of shapes, silhouettes and lines to study. It's easy to get jaded as a web designer. How many ways can you put buttons and text on a page? But the variations of line, color, texture and shape that I see every morning are an instant refresh, and my library of photos from our walks a reminder for the other 23 hours of the day that even the same walk is new every day. There's no reason the same thing can't happen every time we take out our sketchbooks or start up photoshop.

Open your eyes. Go for a walk. Go when and where you don't normally go. Don't just look around; see.