by Tammy Irvine on July 29, 2014

I’ve been at New Boston for a mere five months and have listened to the effortless flow of words from my colleagues. Fully engaged with work, community, and politics, it seems every topic is a springboard for idioms, parodies or some sort of dialog that leads everyone down a rabbit hole.

Writing is not my forte, and as I write this post, I’m using my ear-buds as ear-plugs, because I literally can’t form words or sentences if I can hear other people forming words and sentences. My thoughts, especially organized ones, tend to be fleeting. (And I have already spent an embarrassing amount of time on the first two paragraphs of this post.)

Obviously, our minds are wired to enjoy certain types of tasks, while other endeavors are downright painful. My first love has always been drawing, later painting, and very specifically I’m drawn (no pun) to nature. I don’t call myself an artist — because I think it’s cheesy. I don’t consider myself a creative, because my subject already exists; I simply make it more obvious. I’d like to think I’m a naturalist, but I’m too lazy to memorize the scientific names of my subjects. Besides, I don’t care what they are, just that they ARE. An endless inventory of intricate beings with fur, feathers, and armored little bodies, decorated with brightly colored spots and stripes — it’s a visual smorgasbord.

Art principles are the same across most visual art fields. Knowing how to compose the elements allows many artists to slide comfortably from one art arena to another. I’ve humbly played the role of graphic designer for many years and although I’m competent, I’m far from being a natural. I study every ad, piece of mail, and TV commercial, paying attention to font styles and sizes, proportions, color schemes, textures, and how they play together to create the message for the intended audience. I’m amazed at the quality and complexity of work done by great designers; it’s truly inspiring. I strive to expand and raise the level of my work by observing the path of others.

Painting, however, is an entirely different beast. Inspiration ought to be a friendly co-conspirator. It shouldn’t feel like a burr in your shoe or an involuntary muscle spasm. And yet, for years, that is how it has felt to me. There’s an inconsolable whining in my head about how there will never be enough time to put all the images on paper.

I once had a friend describe me as a “small, twitchy Asian in a big gorilla suit.” Not only did I feel constantly spurred, I had an attitude to match. I’ve mellowed since then, although I’m pretty sure I’m not an “old soul” and the gods will be sending me through a dozen more times. I still feel the burrs as I drive down the highway, snapping pictures in my mind, turning landscapes into shapes and compositions. I add an imaginary shutter sound and momentary pause after each shot just to play along. I love the way light hits the underbelly of swallows as I cross bridges and think, “Ooohh, ahhhh,” as they flit past my window. I throw the images in the back of my mind where they lie in a sticker patch of inspiration.

I’ve always wondered what other people who are stalked by their passion see in their minds? I see pictures; do writers see words? Do they add the typing sound, is there a narrator, is there background music? Is the calculator in a mathematician’s mind actually a calculator or just a constant stream of floating numbers and equations? Does Sheldon Cooper first visualize a theory or does it just projectile onto a white board like an involuntary growth?

I feel a little guilty talking about inspiration in such raw terms…it seems so wrong. The big “I” — making your dreams come true. But then I think, ‘The big INSPIRATION shoves me around all the time, poking and jabbing at me, making me draw little bugs.’ All’s fair in love and inspiration, right?

Then again, maybe I just have a burr in my shoe.