Have you ever wanted to unleash yourself artistically and create free from the confines of always using reference materials when you embark upon an artistic adventure? Are you looking for a key to unlock and tap into a limitless supply of imagination and creativity that informs and inspires your creative process?
Lots of artists are looking for this, and recently one of my podcast listeners reached out for some strategies on how he could begin doing this. Nigel wants to break free from relying on photographs as his source materials into creating paintings birthed out of his imagination, but he's finding it challenging to make the transition.
If this feels familiar, I get it, and I want you to know you're not alone. I spent many years using reference materials, photographs, other works of art, and even general inspiration, to inform, inspire, and shape my woven sculptures. But as I began to understand the nature of creativity in the Kingdom of God and the role that divine inspiration plays in the artistic process, my whole world began to change.
As I pressed into my calling as an artist in the Kingdom of God, I began to discover the keys, Biblical truths, to unlocking the inner creative well* of inspiration that the Father has placed inside each of us. But before I dive into the "how-to," let's back up and take a look at how a healthy Holy Spirit-led imagination is supposed to function.
Creative Imagination is a Beautiful Engine
I believe that creative imagination is a beautiful creative engine that God has given us. It's full of emotion and fully capable of sensing both the natural world we see and spiritual realities we can only perceive. In a sense, it's a kind of divine alternate reality we can explore with the guidance of the Holy Spirit where we see, hear, feel, touch, and even taste things that are not YET tangible. And it's not just what I believe; it's an idea birth in scripture:
It is by faith we understand that the whole world was made by God's command. This means that what we see was made by something that cannot be seen. Hebrews 11:3
Or this classic verse talking about Abraham's faith:
God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. Romans 4:17
Your God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired imagination is how you get to see those things that are not as though they were. And as you begin to embrace the reality of what the Holy Spirit reveals, you have an opportunity to co-labor with the Father to bring those things to life through your creative expression.
Intentionally Jumpstarts Your Creative Imagination
Pulling inspiration from your imagination isn't something that's going to happen on its own. Just as you've gathered reference materials specifically and intentionally over the years, you're going to have to start cultivating and using your imagination intentionally as well. But believe it or not, you're already off to a good start.
Your divinely inspired creative well won't spring forth from a vacuum. As a Kingdom artist, you are called to create from not only Holy Spirit inspiration but also from the fruit of everything you've cultivated in your heart and mind over the years. That means that all of the inspiration you've gathered, the music you've listened to, books and poems you've read, and beautiful things you've been a part of are already in your well.
With this already in place, the next step is to partner with the Creator of the universe. Start by asking the Holy Spirit, "Holy Spirit, would You blow over me and awaken inspiration that is in my heart from years past? From things that I don't even realize? Would You begin to activate those things in me so that I can begin to pull on those in my creative process under Your inspiration?"
Visualization Fuels Your Creative Engine
Now, the other thing is that I am a big believer in visualization, allowing the Holy Spirit to take your imagination on a journey that fills your creative well with inspiration. I believe that when you visualize in your creative imagination with the Holy Spirit, that your faith is activated as you come into agreement with:
It's how you begin to see those things that are not as though they are. It's also how you begin to co-create your artwork with the Lord. If this is feeling a bit new to you, don't worry. Let me walk you through your first adventure with the Holy Spirit. To begin, you'll need a few things:
Your sketchbook or art journal & a pen (Need tips on journaling? Read This)
So, begin by putting on the music, sitting down in your chair, and closing your eyes. Take time to connect with the Father and to let the cares of the world and the day wash off. Then once you feel ready, just say, "Holy Spirit, take me on a journey and open up my imagination."
Now don't be surprised if you find yourself drawn to some of the source photos or reference materials you've collected over the years. This is normal. But as the Holy Spirit begins to focus you on one idea or location, maybe an old Cathedral you've visited or a landscape you photographed years ago, invite Him into that place and into your imagination. Then begin to watch, look, and listen with the eyes of your heart.
Stay in that place, exploring with the Holy Spirit, until you feel a release. It may take 5 or 10 minutes, maybe longer. Then once you're ready, open your eyes, pull out your journal and begin to capture in words or sketches what you just saw, sensed, and felt. But it doesn't have to end there.
Over the next few days, go back and revisit this with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to highlight and reveal more details, insights, and nuances. Again, finish by capturing what you saw in your journal, sketching in additional details to better capture the essence of what you're seeing. The goal is to use your God-given creative skills to capture the beautiful things you're seeing and experiencing with your Holy-Spirit-inspired imagination.
Another Creative Tool for Your Belt
Over the years, these Holy-Spirit-led journeys have become vital to the ongoing practice of filling my creative well. I still use reference materials, gather inspiration from my walks in the woods, music I listen to, books I read, the art I admire. But now I allow the Holy Spirit to fuse these together in my creative imagination.
One time, I had a basket that I wanted to create. I'd never woven a basket like this before. I was stuck on how to connect the inside to the outside. That night before going to sleep, I simply asked, "Lord, would you show me how to do that?"
That night I had a dream, now this doesn't happen every time, but that night it did. I woke up the next morning, jotted some notes in my journal to capture what the Lord had shown me, and then I went to the studio and did what I saw in my dream. WOW! And why not? If you could ask the Holy Spirit to lead your spiritual life, why can't you ask Him for the same in your art life? That is the normal way that the Kingdom works.
I hope you'll give this a try. Start going on some Holy-Spirit-led journeys in your imagination. As you do, you'll begin to create unique works of art from your creative imagination that reveal the Glory of God.
Got Questions? I'd Love to Answer Them
If you have a question for me, I'd love to answer it here in my blog and on a future episode of 5-Minute Mentoring. Just stop by my podcast page and leave me a voicemail. Thanks for reading.
* I was first introduced to this concept by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way, where she says "In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish – an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem..." As I have explored it more over the years, the Holy Spirit began to bring me more revelation about how inspiration works - how it's discovered, held and nurtured within us. Central to my understanding is that the Holy Spirit moves over all the inspiration we sow into our heart and mind, allowing us to co-labor with Him in the creative process.
Matt Tommey is an artist, author and mentor who is passionate about empowering artists to thrive spiritually, artistically and in business.