Gathering Inspiration While Traveling

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We all know that feeling of being completely uninspired. I usually go through these phases of artist’s block a few times a year. For me this feeling is a mix of boredom, and a complete lack of creativity. I don’t know why these phases occur, but nothing can pull me out of them quicker than a well-timed trip somewhere new.

Whenever I’m choosing a new place to go, I usually consider how different it is from where I live, and how much history the city has. Bonus points if the climate is very different from my own town. To me, that means new plants, architecture, and textiles! I love the Southwest U.S. for this reason. It has its own unique look and feel that is different from anywhere else.

I recently visited Portland, Maine and New York City. Both places were so different from each other, but also really different from where I live. Just to give you some context - I live in a quiet wooded area in the Midwest. Most of what surrounds me is swamp and forest. I often see deer, and the occasional turtle or toad trying to cross the road. I love where I live, but I’m definitely used to it.

Portland smelled like lobster and the sea, and was swimming with colorful fishing boats and buoys. New York smelled like…New York :) It was colorful, alive, and decorated with rich history and architecture. When visiting both places, I had the urge to have my camera out at all times. I also felt that familiar excitement creeping in that I needed to hit my sketchbook ASAP.

We travel a lot, so by now I’ve gotten into a rhythm for gathering inspiration. This process usually fills up my tank for a few months of non-stop creativity. Here’s what I do in every city I visit:

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  1. Go to the local art museum. I take pictures of the art I love on my phone, and catalog them on my desktop by museum for later inspiration. The MET did not disappoint! Portland also had a beautiful art museum.

  2. Observe the local architecture. Take pictures of any buildings, bridges, and finishes I love. I’m always drawn to very ornate, historical buildings. I love touring old mansions, and staying in historic or boutique hotels. Historic cafés are great too. All these places teach me so much about color and pattern. In Portland, we toured an old Victorian mansion, which was really neat!

  3. Visit local shops. I beeline to the paper, home decor, and antique shops. I make visual notes of lovely things I see, and buy the items I can’t live without.

  4. Eat local. In Maine, I had lobster. In NYC, I had bagels and Italian. I love to immerse myself in the culture this way, and I often end up painting what I ate.

  5. Visit the local zoo or aquarium. I love painting wildlife, so this is always great inspiration. I take pictures of any striking animals I see. The Central Park Zoo was amazing!

  6. Retrace the steps of artists I love. When I know I’m going to a new city, it’s fascinating to research artists from that city, and retrace their steps. I love learning about where they lived and where they did their work. In New York, I loved visiting Bemelman’s Bar. The walls are adorned with paintings from one of my favorite illustrators - Ludwig Bemelmans.

  7. Work in my sketchbook during my trip and after! I love documenting color palettes from the cities I visit. I also like to look back at the pictures I took, and paint the things I loved most.

  8. Gather mementos. I like holding onto items that remind me of my trip - like old tickets or napkins. These take me back to the city every time I look at them, and it helps me feel a wave of inspiration all over again.

My recent trips have left me feeling renewed and inspired. I feel like I don’t have enough time to paint all the things I want to paint, which is a great feeling! My final tip on this subject is to make sure you spend enough time in a city, and that you have lots of downtime. I find that 5-10 days is the perfect amount of time for me, depending on how large the city is. I think slow travel is the best way to really take the city in and experience it as a local would. It’s hard to be observant when you are too rushed.

That’s all I have for now! How do you all gather inspiration while traveling? Leave me a comment below!

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Nicole Cicak