By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes a creative person “takes dictation from God” (or the muse, or whatever divine inspiration you want to evoke). That’s when the flow is strong and all the words, strokes, notes, or steps come out just right. Other times we are like gleaners coming into a field after the harvesters have been there. That’s when we find ourselves scrambling to find bits and pieces of inspiration.

For the past few days I’ve been in the “scrambling gleaners” group. All over the place mentally. With lots of disparate “input” coming my way. The bits and pieces of inspiration are like little sparkling jewels scattered through deep straw. They’re there. But what do they mean? How can I bring them together into some kind of a “whole” that works?

“Take your inspiration from wherever you find it, no matter how ridiculous.” — Roy H. Williams
Words to live by. Especially the “ridiculous” part. (Quotefancy).

Bits and Pieces

A great example of “bits and pieces of inspiration” lurks in my studio. They are paper sculpture projects I started years earlier but for various reasons couldn’t figure out how to finish. These are not “failed projects,” mind you. They just have to wait to be rediscovered at an opportune moment.

You see, when it comes to creative projects, I follow the adage “never throw anything away.” This drives my “neatnik” son crazy sometimes. But I’ve learned the hard way. About the time I think I’m never going to need something, a serendipitous idea tends to happen along. All at once, it’s the perfect “writing prompt” for the next scene. Or it’s a handy piece of already-drawn, colored, sculpted, and assembled artwork to match with this other thing that didn’t work with the original concept.

I do this often in my writing. But it’s easier to illustrate the idea with my paper sculpture.

The first dragon of the pair: top, the original 2014 drawing on a circle. L-R below: The first of several compositions to “star” this dragon was “Blue Pounce,” 2016. Another variation is “Aka-Bekko Dragon,” 2017, featuring iridescent paint and a scale pattern based on koi fish.
From its start as a drawing in 2014 (top), this little dragon “starred” in several art pieces. At left, Blue Pounce, 2016. At right, Aka-Bekko Dragon, 2017, inspired by the colors of a kind of koi fish. All images are ©2014-2017 by Jan S. Gephardt.
The second, “under-dragon” made its appearance in 2016. Pencil and ink on a tracing paper overlay ensured the two dragons intertwined as I wanted. Then I tested a variety of colors for the next layer.
The “under-dragon” didn’t go through quite as many variations, but after creating it as a pencil and ink drawing on an acid-free tracing paper overlay I tested it in several colors. Artwork is ©2016 by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Tale of Two Dragons

For a long time I’d had a concept of trying to create a circular composition with dragons in midair. I tried several sketches and they just didn’t please me. Nothing looked quite right to me. Finally in 2014 I got a “leaping dragon” on a circular trajectory that I liked. But when I tried to do a “reflected” version of that sketch for the “other half” of the draconian air-circle, it didn’t work. They were awkward with each other. Their tails didn’t fit. It was just bad.

I needed a different dragon. Tracing paper overlays and more frustration followed. I did “dragon variations” on the first design for other purposes. I sculpted it in larger and smaller sizes and made it different colors. Created Koi-patterned approaches. Painted it with iridescent paint before I cut and sculpted it. Most of those experiments sold within a few showings, so people must’ve found them interesting. But I wasn’t satisfied.

“Common Cliff Dragon – Male” at left is Jan’s best-selling multiple original. It depicts a cliff-dwelling dragon in “mating plumage.” At right, “Coming Through!” features an assertive unicorn stomping through a patch of daylilies.
Left-to-right: Common Cliff Dragon-Male and Coming Through! are shown in roughly proportional sizes. Both are multiple-original paper sculptures are ©2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt (these multiple-original iterations of the edition were sculpted and assembled in 2016).

Sometimes it Works, Sometimes it Doesn’t

Of course, I was working on other artwork during this time, as well as writing (and repeatedly rewriting) the manuscript that eventually became What’s Bred in the Bone. That was also the period when I designed Coming Through! and Common Cliff Dragon – Male. Both of those worked exactly as originally designed. Why couldn’t all of my pieces do that?

Because they don’t, that’s why. Sometime in 2016 I finally drew a second dragon that I thought really interacted well with the first. I’d at last managed a good “Yang” to the first dragons “Ying.” They didn’t look like they were fighting, though, so I scrapped that thought. By this time it was 2016, and there was plenty of other strife in the world. But they still needed a background. They couldn’t just do their love-dance in a void. They needed context.

These are some of the newest variations I’ve been exploring. Each piece is 2-3 layers deep and each level has a different color under the same drawing. Bottom levels are darkest (greens, blues, and orange tones), and the upper levels are white. The largest is a 3-inch square. Smaller pieces are 1-inch squares or 1X2-inch rectangles.
Here are the latest “enigmatic pieces” I’ve been working on. The largest is a 3-inch square. It’s a decade-long project: the original ink drawings were made in 2012. All images are ©2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Picking Through the Bits and Pieces of Inspiration

So I started digging through the boxes and bins of “parts” in my studio. I’d been doing paper sculpture for quite a while by then. It took going through various phases before I kind of “found myself.” That process had left behind lots of bits and pieces. And when I say “lots” I do mean LOTS.

Here are the contents of two more bins from my studio. They are designs based on a variety of flower and branch forms.
People familiar with my work might recognize some of these “art parts,” from finished pieces in which I’ve used other versions of them. You might even be able to spot some in other photos in this blog post! All images are ©2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

These bits and pieces of “art parts” vary in style and polish of execution. Some just don’t go together. Some ideas occur to me as a single composition that’s all one drawing. An example of that? Common Cliff Dragon – Male. (The linked blog post goes into greater detail than I can here). It’s made of several pieces, but I did a “base drawing” then made overlays for the parts that needed to be executed separately.

That “needed to be executed separately” part is the thing that all too often gets me into trouble. When I try to bring several pieces that I made separately together into one composition I sometimes discover that I’ve gauged the scale slightly wrong. Or I’ve unintentionally varied the styles. Or maybe the pieces just “fight” with each other visually.

Here are yet more bins full of “art parts.” Most are flower or plant forms, some of which have showed up in other pieces of my artwork. Others include a lioness and an assortment of dragons. Some of those dragons have appeared in my finished art, but not all.
Again, some of you may recognize a number of these “art parts.” Can you spot some of them in other photos in this blog post! All images are ©2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Chaos Waiting for Order

When the “art parts” don’t play nice with each other, they go into my holding boxes with the other quarrelsome bits and pieces. I’m not planning to stop making paper sculpture anytime soon, and I’m a patient woman. I mean, seriously. If I were an impatient artist I’d be making some other style of art!

So I put them in a box with some of their other troublesome cousins, and I keep cooking up new things. Or new combinations of old things. Take the pair of brand-new originals I debuted at Chicon 8 last week. Both are the result of “voyages of discovery” through the bits and pieces that hadn’t worked all that well in earlier combinations. Or they did work well, but that piece came together, was sold, and I’d thought it was completed. In this case, I found a background in my files that offered interesting potential. Here’s how the “variations” came out.

Here are two different artistic expressions on the same background “base design,” each piece “recycles” paper sculptural bits and pieces in a different way.
Variations on a background: each of these original works uses a common background drawing, but for quite different creative statements. L-R: Overcoming Complications and Gemflower Outburst, both © 2014-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Love in the Storm

Remember the “Tale of Two Dragons,” above? When I left off in that story, I finally had a dragon pair that I liked, but not a background. What to do? Seeking inspiration, I went back through my bits and pieces. Eventually I found a “crashing wave” that looked promising. It hadn’t worked out as the background of an earlier piece, but I figured I might need it sometime. For something.

Well, that might work, I thought. So I made three copies of it and went to work. With a little cutting and fitting, it created a great background (in my opinion) for my “air-circle” dragons. I stepped back, lived with it for a while, and realized the waves formed a sort of a heart-shape. Woot! Serendipity won the day! That’s the origin-story for Love in the Storm, now a steadily-selling limited edition of multiple originals.

A green dragon and a red dragon conduct a wild mating dance in an atmosphere full of crashing waves.
The original composition of Love in the Storm finally came together in 2016. This paper sculpture is ©2014-2016 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Bits and Pieces of Inspiration

I look upon my boxes and bins of “art parts” as bits and pieces of inspiration. They continue to yield up treasures from time to time, although sometimes it takes years. I’ll give you another example, The Silver Lady Appears.

I started with a set of Alhambra-inspired columns in 2012 and tried a bunch of ideas and combinations that didn’t work. No matter what I did with it, it looked like a stage-set waiting for the actors. Probably close to a dozen ideas “auditioned” on that stage. Nope. Nada. Nothing.

Nothing, that is, until I found a way to paper-sculpt and assemble acid-free tracing paper. Then the Silver Lady materialized on the stage that had been waiting more than half a decade for her. And at that point the piece came right together.

The Silver Lady appeared at last in 2020, on the stage that had been in the process of being prepared for her since 2012.
It took from 2012 to 2020, but she finally showed up. The Silver Lady Appears, ©2012-2020 by Jan S. Gephardt.

After all that, you probably know what kind of advice I’m going to offer to anyone who’s involved in a creative pursuit in any field. However you do it, be it in a journal, digital files, or half-a-dozen bins of “art parts,” don’t throw away your “didn’t quite work” ideas. You never know when your next project might need some of those bits and pieces of inspiration!


Most of the images in this post are straight out of the author’s digital files. All of the paper sculpture in this post is original artwork © 2012-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt. She also created all of the montages. Many thanks also to Quotefancy, for the Roy H. Williams quote at the top of the post.