Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finding Inspiration in Life

It's easy to lose inspiration. One minute you're full of exaltation and motivation, encouraged by new ideas and creativity; the next you're struggling for stimulus and stuck in a quagmire of inactivity. To make things more difficult, influences come and go so quickly that sometimes we miss The Muse when it passes through. All too often I've noticed something amazing that illuminated that moment in time, but have then forgotten it in the onslaught of life. The flash that could have been a magnificent impetus had faded before I'd even had a chance to properly absorb it.

That's why I take photos. Instagram is no doubt wonderful for this but a simple camera or notepad will also do. I'll use anything to scribble, sketch, record or jot down notes and ideas as they appear. I'll also collect things – beautiful cards from bookstores and museum and gallery giftshops, publicity material from exhibitions, and of course pages from magazines – and then collate the 'Papers of Inspiration' (as my partner calls it) in a pocket of my suitcase for when I get home. (That's the best part: going through it all again!)

Inspiration doesn't just come on cue. You have to seek out The Muse. It's like being an anthropologist of ideas; a David Attenborough of stimuli.

Here are some places where I find inspiration. Hopefully they'll help you find it again too.

I was lucky enough to write for this beautiful magazine  in the 1990s (albeit under a different name), and I still have a soft spot for it. It's one of the most inspirational magazines in the world, which is why you always see it on newsstands in New York and London. I was saddened to hear that long-time editor David Clark has resigned (quite suddenly) and is now taking a much-needed break in Hawaii. However, I'm sure the new editor (whomever it is) will take the publication to even greater aesthetic heights. The latest issue is quite possibly the best ever. The online version has a story on the remarkable photographer Steve Back and his aerial shots of Hutt Lagoon (image at very top of post). If I could paint, I'd paint that photo. Just beautiful. Here are two more of Steve Back's extraordinary landscape studies...

Earlier this year, my partner bought me a vintage copy of a New Yorker magazine from the day I was born (or close enough to it). I've always loved vintage magazines, and this was a surprisingly thoughtful gift. It inspired me to spend half a day in London's vintage magazine stores last week looking for a vintage Vogue from the month my sister-in-law was born to give her for Christmas (top). But apart from the sentimental value, vintage magazines are full of inspiration: incredible photography by great names such as Irving Penn, cute stories on long-lost pastimes and gorgeous ideas, colours, interiors, gowns and places for modern projects. You can find them at the Conde Nast online store, or in London's vintage magazine shops. (I used the one in Soho.)

It's difficult to make time to see exhibitions – especially in Paris, where the queues for the just-opened shows, Paris By hollywood (Hotel de Ville), the Bohemians (Grand Palais) and Van Cleef & Arpels (Les Arts Décoratifs) took over an hour. (Surprisingly, London's shows, including Tim Walker, Hollywood Costume and Ballgowns, and were easy to access.) However, it's worth tracking down and seeing good exhibitions, as the inspiration they provide can keep you energised for months. If you can't see the exhibitions, then ordering the book can be the next best thing. I've just bought the exquisitely miniature catalogue of the Cristóbal Balenciaga, Philippe Venet, and Hubert de Givenchy exhibition. It juxtaposes the gowns with the influences of the designers – from roses to paintings, staircases, artwork, interiors, mirrors, even balustrades (one of my favourite things.) It's format is so beautiful, it has inspired the design of our next Paris book.

A bookshop is a magical place, which is why it's such a shame that Amazon is teasing us with cheap prices. In Paris last week, I popped by the bookshop at the Decorative Arts Museum next to the Louvre (Les Arts Décoratifs), and stumbled upon an entire section of vintage fashion books. It was like finding the veta madre – the Mother Lode! Bibliophilia bliss. There was more inspiration there than you could shake a Balenciage gown at.

Those of you who read The Library's regularly will know I have a great weakness for a foreign place (especially if it's Paris or New York). Condé Nast Traveler magazine and its English version are valuable sources for ideas on places to go, even if you're only an armchair traveller. Their stories are always wonderful sources of inspiration, and this month's 25th Anniversary Issue, with Hilary Clinton on the cover is one of the best yet. The issue has offered a list of the 32 Best Trips in The World, and it includes Australia. (Thanks CN; we love you too.)
As a little addendum to the list, here are five destinations on my '32 Best Trips List':
1. Lake Como, Italy, and a day-long tour of the waterfront mansions in a 1950's wooden speedboat. BYO picnic and handsome man. (I'd take mine.)
2. Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and arriving at either island in a puddle-jumper plane from Boston, crossing the beauty of Cape Cod as you do. Nantucket village and Edgartown are arguably two of the most beautiful villages in the US.
3. Key West on Fantasy Fest Weekend. Hire a convertible Mustang, drive down the Keys, pay your respect at Hemingway's mansion, have a drink or three at a sunset bar and stop for some palm-tree-enhanced R&R at The Moorings on the way back.
4. A long weekend on Harbour Island, a far-flung island in the Bahamas. The celebrity spotting is incredible, but the pastel-painted Caribbean architecture (above) is even better.
5. Sailing the Whitsunday Islands in a little Beneteau yacht. Ask one of the sea plane companies to pick you up on the way out to the reef and go snorkelling on the reef: one of the world's most magical places. I get inspiration just from swimming amongst the tropical fish for an hour.


  1. Dear Janelle
    Your partner sounds such a sweetie! I'm in awe that he found a vintage copy of a magazine you love, issued so close to your date of birth. So thoughtful and original.

    Vogue Living is a lovely magazine, always buy it (Vogue too of course - a subscriber). Often seduced by The World of Interiors as well. When travelling I buy fashion and interior/garden magazines from places we're visiting. So, lots of French and Italian - but also Polish, Hungarian and Austrian, from more recent trips. It's interesting to see how stylists and homeowners combine traditional things from their own cultures with modern style influences. The exhibitions sound wonderful, love the catalogue for the Balenciaga Venet Givenchy exhibition. Just the Fabulous Schiaparelli pink cover is a big draw.

    Your list of five favourite destinations is great. So far have only been to Lake Como, ravishing! But have swum with tropical fish and coral with just goggles, not even a snorkel. In the Maldives years ago with our son when little (we were then living in Sri Lanka where swimming was a way of life, so he could swim like a fish). It was beautiful, the water so clear and the fabulously coloured fish, so unafraid would swim really close. My husband was there for work so he didn't get much chance to swim but later we were taken out on in his boat around the tiny islands by the then Maldives Foreign Minister whom we'd known since he spent some time in Canberra. Very beautiful. He was an expert on the risks of global warming and often lobbied at the UN and elsewhere on the dangers of climate change. The Maldives are only just above sea level and will be completely submerged if predictions are true. Maybe one or two of your five destinations would be badly affected as well. It's a serious concern, highlighted by the terrible US hurricane and assessments that its track and magnitude were affected by global warming factors.
    Best wishes, Pamela

  2. You are quite right, travel is such an inspiration. I know that my overseas trip left me very fired up with all that I'd seen and experienced, even though it was a very short break. Perhaps it's the fresh perspective, the break from routine as well though? Sometimes just trying to view the city you live in through a tourists eyes and do something different can have the same impact. xxx

  3. Glad you like my images of Hutt Lagoon, it has occurred to me to paint them too and one of my most common comments when they are exhibited is that people actually think they are paintings...


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