How Female Artists and Writers Have Their Ideas
How did artists and writers like Frida Kahlo, Hiromu Arakawa and Mary Shelley get their ideas? Seek inspiration from the greats.
I’m there more often than I like to admit, holding my brain and demanding “why won’t you help me?” It’s unpleasant, not to mention brain matter getting on the keyboard. So how can we keep the thoughts flowing like a nice fizzy drink in a panda bear emblazoned glass? Here are a few suggestions, along with some help from some female writers and artists who’ve done it before and succeeded.
1. Artistic stimulation
Fairly obvious, but one that’s easy to overlook when the telly is on and the cat is constantly demanding attention. Of course you can get inspiration from both of those things but it probably helps to widen your intake now and then. Hiromu Arakawa, creator of manga series like Fullmetal Alchemist and Silver Spoon, collected manga of all kinds when she was living on the farm.
Hiromu Arakawa collected manga for inspiration
Man Booker Prize winning author Eleanor Catton, winner at just 28 years old, said in an interview “Consume the thing you want to create.” Her interest in adventure novels led her to study the gold rush in New Zealand for her novel The Luminaries. “I started reading, beginning with gold rush history, which led me to the nature of wealth, which led me to confidence tricks and scams, which led me to fortune telling, which led me to the stars.”
Eleanor Catton followed a trail of research, starting with something she was interested in
By devouring all you can, you’ll have a better idea of what path you need to take. It’s easy to pick a subject at random or work on something impossibly highbrow or even just something similar to a person you know – I’ve done it myself – but nothing makes you lose interest faster than working on a picture or short story that doesn’t grab you. As a writer of the odd, I try to fill my head with as much of the peculiar as possible whether in film, music, art or book form. A Google search should find what you need, be it a local gallery or something on Amazon, but always be aware of what lurks behind the bushes of the internet. Carry a pokey stick if necessary.
2. Use Your Dreams
Start writing down your dreams in a journal or record a description on your phone. However it’s done, your sleep time can be more useful than you think. I’ve woken up with entire stories mapped out in my mind. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, said it was in a dream that she “saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”
Mary Shelley turned a dream she had into Frankenstein
The Surrealists too, including Leonora Carrington and Eileen Forrester Agar, were heavily influenced by dreams, calling them the “conduits for unspoken feelings and desires.” Whatever icky and complicated things you hide in your dreams, it’s often an interesting avenue to explore.
3. Look at things in a different way
This is harder than it sounds but can be done, I promise! Whatever your first reaction or question is, consider for a second what a different, or even opposite, approach might be. Instead of asking those around her simple questions such as “How did you sleep?” Virginia Woolf would enquire “What woke you up in the morning?” The Surrealists played games like children, albeit with more complicated rules. Incidentally, you can purchase a “Book of Surrealist Games” online. They’re surprisingly quite fun.
4. Work both alone and with others
Both solitary and communal work have pros and cons. Working alone means you don’t have to put up with someone annoyingly prodding you when they get bored (OK, I confess, that’s usually me). Working with others keeps the ideas and feedback coming and is sometimes more fun. Experiment with both – which do you prefer? Linda Addison is the only African American horror writer to win the Bram Stoker award. Her book of poetry, Dark Duet, was a collaborative effort with Stephen M Wilson. She says “some were written together and others in response to the other’s poem. They were written through emails and we both worked without egos.”
Linda Addison worked collaboratively on Bram Stoker award-winning Dark Duet.
Conversely Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist, was in a near fatal traffic accident at 22 and suffered pain much of her life. She painted many self-portraits, saying “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
Well, there we are. I expect you all to run off and make lots of arty things and claim me as your benevolent (mostly) ruler. Well, maybe not the last bit. Good luck!