Everyone knows that I was inspired by my trip to the far north of Scotland, and I have an enduring love of wild seascapes, but what you may not know – and I had utterly overlooked – is that I am probably most at home in London! I was born in Paddington, and after some unsettled early years, spent the rest of my childhood in west London.
I’ve had to take a few trips up to town in recent weeks, and it has reignited that little flickering inside: that feeling of just getting a place, that innate understanding of how it works: how fast to walk, how to navigate crowds and public transport, how to not look like a tourist! And finding comfort in the familiarity of the sights and sounds and swirls of activity.
On my last trip with my daughter, to collect her passport (complete with glorious technicolour French student visa!) we wanted a treat, her choice. She chose Kew Gardens. And suddenly my buried knowledge emerged: which train, which station, which bus, which gate…and we were there in a flash.
In my last year of university, I spent several weeks in Kew Gardens library researching my dissertation. The library itself is fairly non-descript, but you get to it via the herbarium: a Victorian building, with fantastic wrought iron spiral staircases, that houses seven million plant specimens from all over the globe.
Meandering around the gardens with my daughter, following her lead, drifting in and out of the glasshouses, finally completed a loop for me, and makes me feel slightly better about not living somewhere “interesting” or remote, such as the west coast of Ireland or Scotland!
Take my life-long interest in plants as an example: there’s the inspiration that is location specific: for example, plants only found in a certain and specific location, such as grasses, flowers and succulents found in the dunes and machair of a Celtic beach, or the mosses and sundews that I found on top of the mountains and in the peat bog in Scotland.
But then there’s inspiration that is location independent, such as the structure of plants, the microscopic details, the things that are common to all plants – branching patterns, leaf shapes, the internal structures. I don’t need to live on a mountain or a remote coastline to draw direct inspiration from that, or even leave the house: I just need to look at my (somewhat desiccated) houseplants on my windowsill!
And suddenly the loop is complete – even though it’s been staring me in the face, and I even wrote a blog post about it just a few short weeks ago!
So if, like me, you sometimes find yourself completely uninspired by your surroundings, perhaps you just need to look a little closer – really close, magnifying glass close, maybe microscope close (if you have one to hand!)
Using a viewfinder can really help with this: you can make a very simple one just out of a piece of old cardboard, like the back of a cereal packet. Cut out a tiny square, say an inch square, and use it to hone in on the minutiae in your immediate surroundings.
What can you discover?