Answering “What Inspires You?”

    Laying in bed last night, I found myself contemplating the question I’m most often asked, “What inspires you?”

    Some nights I wish I was like Paul – asleep within 10 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I, however, tend to lay awake…pondering. The topics can vary from the day’s events to a book I’m reading, a movie, recent conversations, or even important life questions like – finding a way to continue eating ice cream despite becoming lactose intolerant.

    I digress, back to the question at hand, “What inspires you?”

    I dread this question. I really do. It’s not the question as much as the implied weight of the expected reply. “Oh, I don’t know…nothing, everything” is usually the first thing that pops in my head. Followed by, Oh Shit, they’re serious. They really want to know what inspires me; they’re expecting something profound! I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal…what you see is what you get…I’m not profound. Isn’t the art suppose to speak for itself? It’s just a momentary panic, one that passes just as quickly as it arrived.

    I believe the question is really just a way to break the ice and start a conversation. At least this has come to be the way I prefer to think of it when asked, “What inspires you?” Instead, I replace it with “What is it that inspires you to choose to paint what you do?” It’s much less panic-inducing.

    What inspires me to choose to paint what I do? I’m so glad you asked.

    Light. Emotion. Color. These are the three things that have the most significant influence on my choice of what to paint. And, not just what to paint – but how to paint. The inspiration source helps to inform other decisions, such as what to emphasize, what to edit or leave out, how to crop, what format (horizontal, vertical, or square), high key vs. low key, and more.

    Nancy Murty
    6x6 inch, oil painting of a branch of red crabapples with gold leaves
    © Nancy Murty | Autumn Harmony | 6×6 in | oil on linen | sold


    The play of light and shadows across an object or landscape will often stop me in my tracks with an “oh, look at how the light is hitting _____, and it’s just gorgeous.” To which my husband (if he’s with me) usually replies with a “Yea, that’s nice.” He’s such a good sport. He really is. Light can often set a painting’s mood, and I find the light and shadow pattern adds an abstract quality to the composition.

    The light and shadow patterns cast on the crabapples and leaves, specifically on the leaf with the two smaller crabapples in front, was the inspiration and excitement I had for this painting.

    6x8 inch painting of a White-throated Sparrow on Forsythia
    © Nancy Murty | Passing Through | 6×8 in | oil on linen | sold


    The anticipation of watching for the White-Throated Sparrows in the yard once the Forsythia blooms and then the joy of spotting the first one was the inspiration behind “Passing Through.” It’s hard to separate art from emotion, both for the viewer and the artist. I don’t know, can they even exist apart?

    © Nancy Murty | Apple.1 | 5×7 in | oil on linen | sold


    Who can resist the seductive lure of color? It may be a color harmony that attracted my attention, and other times it will be something much more subtle. The beautiful bright red of the apple surrounded by the various green leaves with all their subtle changes in hue and temperature…color gets my paintbrush flying every time.

    There it is — light, emotion, and color, the three things that inspire me to paint what I do. What inspires you to do what you do?

    Please leave a comment below, and I’d like to know where you draw your inspiration from to do what you do.

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    1. I love this, Nancy! I found myself chuckling out loud. And also thinking "What inspires you" is a stupid question. I’m sure I’ve asked it before, but it is pretty ridiculous when I think about it. A better question is "What was it about that <bird, plant, landscape> that made you want to paint it?"

    2. First how to continue eating ice cream when lactose intolerant- Eat Me Ice Cream!! I have tried it and it is great! Try the deep dark chocolate and the lavendar (all made with coconut milk).
      Now inspiration: for me it is similar to yours but primarily it is faces that get my juices going. I have to unabashedly admit that looking at my three grandchildren’s faces stirs me the most! I don’t think I could ever get tired of painting them except my daughter keeps politely reminding me that there is only so much room on the walls!

      1. LOL. Thanks for the tip for an ice cream alternative. That’s awesome, and their little faces change so much as they grow – it’ll be endless inspiration!

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