Finding Inspiration: A Lesson from Kiki's Delivery Service

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whenever I read or listen to interviews with artists and other creatives, I’m always prepared to for the inevitable question about their inspiration. Sometimes people ask what inspired a certain painting or their latest fabric collection. Sometimes that ask about inspiration in a broader sense. I hear and read these questions and answers on such a regular basis, but only recently did I ask myself that question. What inspires me?

I think inspiration can be a tough thing to explain because it means different things to different people. When I talk about inspiration, I always name external things, like people, movies, and songs. But what all those things have in common is that they have helped me come to understand myself.

One of my earliest and strongest inspirations came from an animated movie I saw as a kid: Kiki’s Delivery Service, written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki. Most people I’ve told this to laughed. Some people can’t look past their assumption that animation is nothing more than shallow entertainment meant for children. Even as a child, I knew this movie was so much more than that.

If you haven’t seen it (spoilers?), the movie follows Kiki, a thirteen year-old witch, as she leaves home to begin her witch training. This entails living on her own for a year and developing a skill that will be her livelihood. Her mother is a healer, and she briefly encounters another young witch who tells fortunes, but Kiki has no idea what her skill may be. The only form of magic she knows is how to fly her broom. She settles in a coastal town where she befriends the owner of a bakery. The two strike up a partnership with Kiki operating a flying delivery service out of the bakery. After a few months of working, the unimaginable happens: Kiki suddenly finds her magical powers have disappeared. 

In an effort to help her take her mind off things, Kiki’s artist friend Ursula invites her to spend some time away from town in her cabin. The two come to find that they have both had similar struggles. “Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly,” Kiki says, “Now I'm trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.” Ursula, who is a bit older than Kiki, recalls when she was a young teen that all she ever wanted to do was paint. Then one day, she felt like she couldn’t paint anymore. Nothing looked any good to her. Finally she realized that didn’t understand what or why she wanted to paint. “I needed to discover my own style.” She adds, “We need to find our own inspiration. Sometimes, it’s not easy.”

The scene between Ursula and Kiki is the one that always sticks with me. It’s like an internal conversation I could have had with myself. Ursula’s story is one I relate to on a literal level. Some days I can’t draw anything that feels worthwhile. Kiki’s story however, is the one I relate to on an emotional level. I see how hard she struggles, physically, mentally, and emotionally to fly once again, and I totally understand that feeling.

Kiki’s Delivery Service showed me that I’m not the only one who hits creative roadblocks. Creative people don’t always like to talk about it, but it’s super common! It’s hard. It’s depressing. It can feel like your abilities aren’t under your control like you thought they were. Feeling powerless is just a crappy state of mind. But it’s not forever.

Sometimes we need to take a break and think about why we do what we do, whether it’s drawing, sewing, writing, etc. Maybe we’ve lost sight of what motivates us. Maybe we’re just overthinking it. I think creative blocks are our bodies’ way of telling us to slow down.

Lately I've been trying to do so much in so little time. While stepping back and slowing my pace  on a project can feel like a stupid thing to do, I think it's important in order to keep everything in balance. 

What do you do when you feel like you've hit a wall?

1 comment :

  1. Kiki's Delivery Service is a favourite here. :)
    When I feel stuck.. I take a break. Don't think about it, don't stress about it. Sometimes read blogs, especially creative/maker blogs NOT related to whatever I'm working on... like if I"m stuck on a scrapbook layout I'll read quilting or typography blogs for a while (which also happens to explain why I'm burning through my list of quilting blogs today..). And usually I realize that the reason I'm stuck is because I'm trying to do something based on what other people do. Trying to live up to someone else's popularity, expectations, or style. And once I realize that I can usually go back to what I'm working on and just do what I want, and I'm happy again. :)