top of page

What inspires an artist to paint?

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

This is a popular question to ask an artist, and I can see why. The answer gives the reader a peek into the mind of a creative and hopefully along with it, better insight about who the artist is as a person.

Some people are inspired by raw emotion; they go through a crisis or feel a heaviness in their heart and need to release that feeling to paper. Others are inspired by beauty - the breathtaking view of a sunset or the Redwood Forest, for example. And a few fortunate artists are inspired by the simple act of picking up a paintbrush.

My inspiration has come from all of the above mentioned things at some time or another, but what inspires me most when creating for this series is a feeling I get from the animals themselves.

Um....what's that?

Okay yes, I understand that last sentence sounds a bit out there, but to those who know me this isn't groundbreaking news. To those who don't, allow me to answer your question which probably sounds something like, 'What in the heck are you talking about?'

If you follow my spirit animal series at all, you know that I write animal symbolism to accompany each animal that I paint. My idea for this stemmed from research I stumbled upon regarding my great-grandmother whom I'd found out was Cherokee Indian. I began reading about Native American culture and the way they honor Nature. In particular, I really connected with the idea that animals serve as messengers, assisting us when we need them most by guiding us through life's challenges. I began opening myself up to this possibility, I became very observant to the world around me and how animals interacted with me; sure enough the paintings started coming.

Today I completed my most recent piece, Spirit of Flamingo. The way she came about is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that I'm observant to the way animals interact with me.

Flamingo bird art Ellen Brenneman

Earlier this week I stepped into my studio and sat down to the usual: a cluttered desk full of Daler & Rowney ink bottles and a single sheet of YUPO paper. I sipped on my black tea, began Spotify and tuned into my favorite relaxation music channel. Before the first song was over, the image of a flamingo appeared in my mind. Not a fleeting thought, but rather a crystal clear image that prompted me to begin sketching before my mind got in the way with thoughts of, 'why on earth a flamingo? Wouldn't a bear be more appropriate? Look outside - it's 5 degrees and more snow is on the way; a hibernating bear just makes sense!'

But I kept sketching an outline of a flamingo for the next hour before I took my first break. As I went back to the kitchen to replenish my empty tea mug I began scrolling through my Instagram feed. Lo and behold I came across another artist sharing her progress on - you guessed it: a flamingo. Hmm...what a coincidence, I thought, until I scrolled further down my feed and saw another artist working on....another flamingo. Okay, this is just strange I thought, as I filled my mug and headed back to the studio.

Before the end of the day three flamingos had presented themselves to me, further indicating that I was indeed being led to continue on with my painting. Yesterday as I added the finishing touches to this beautiful bird, I figured out why.

I'd been speaking to my husband about my work/painting schedule and how incredibly hectic it was becoming. All new and wonderful opportunities that I was very grateful for, yet I was finding myself becoming overwhelmed and a bit frustrated with the weight of this schedule. I'd been creating in the studio so much that my shoulder ached nearly all of the time - something I tend to ignore and push through, not a good practice for me I admit. As I discussed my thoughts I wondered how I was going to find balance through it all. Suddenly, it hit me: I'd painted a flamingo once before for this series back in 2014 and along with it, wrote the symbolic meaning for Spirit of Flamingo. I went back through my work from that year and read what I'd written:


The Spirit of Flamingo brings the message of balance, community, and the ability to remove impurities from one’s life. Flamingos need social interaction in order to thrive, but don’t feel the least bit pressured to be part of the crowd. Standing straight and tall and often resting on one leg, the Flamingo exhibits an incredible sense of balance. We can learn a lot from watching this marvelous display. When our lives feel out of alignment Flamingo is there to remind us to filter out the things that pull us out of center and in too many directions. By being mindful of where our priorities lie, we too, will learn how to find that sweet sense of balance and live a harmonious life. Be mindful of your priorities. Be well-rested; allow time for friends and fun.

Find balance in your life; be like Flamingo.

I sat back and laughed; what a wonderful reminder to keep oneself balanced and how spot-on that symbolism was for me right now. I immediately rearranged my schedule to better serve my mental and physical health and not only did I feel a great sense of relief, but I also realized I was now capable of offering a full 100% to my projects instead of splitting myself into too many bits and pieces which did no one much good. Balance was restored.

As I admired this very special painting, I imagined my great-grandmother saying, 'The Spirit of Flamingo came to you as a messenger bird. She presented herself in places she knew you'd find her along with the message she had waiting for you.'

Inspiration comes to those who take the time to open their eyes to it. I hope this painting inspires you the way it has me.

Until next time,


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page