Memories: Your Own Creative Database

We all have memories of past experiences that give us pleasure or haunt our dreams.  Our memory is a wonderful resource that can inspire artwork.  It is a way to relive a happy moment in your life by transferring the feelings of joy and wonder into something new and tangible.  Or to use a bad experience and transform it into another form so it no longer has any power to cause too much grief, or at least lessens the impact.

Memories can provide inspiration for both realistic or fantasy works.  Some great literature and art has been created from artists and writers using memory as their starting point.  Just a few examples include Charles Dickens use of his early life as a basis for David Copperfield; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird based upon her childhood experiences in a small southern town; and the painter Marc Chagall’s beautiful and dreamlike imagery inspired by the scenery of his childhood in Belarus, part of Russia at the time.  We all have our own memory vault full of unique episodes and images from life that can trigger the imagination and lead us in all kinds of directions.  You never know what will surface.

Sometimes unpleasant memories require a creative solution so that you can move on.  I had a bad experience with someone on a bushwalking trip who was a bully.  I effectively dealt with the situation at the time, but it still came back to give me some anxiety and put me off bushwalking with complete strangers.  I decided to turn the episode into a series of tapestry designs and have fun with my anxiety and fear.  I also wanted to create a sequence where the girl is no longer the victim, so I created a bogeyman who gets his comeuppance. My two favorite images of the series are where the girl is frozen with fear in a protective egg, while the masked bogeyman stands over her (Overcome by Fear) and then after he is reduced in size and she sprays him with insecticide (Overcoming Fear).  Creating these designs made me laugh and feel a lot better.  If you reduce you anxieties to a manageable size they can no longer affect you and you can stomp on them like a bug (that is in the series as well).

Happy memories are usually the ones you treasure the most, especially those relating to childhood.  When it is impossible to go back and visit people and places long gone, the only thing you can do is to recapture and bring them back to life through art or writing.  My grandparents lived on Melbourne’s Yarra River, with an orchard that stretched down to the river’s edge.  It was like visiting the bush with the eucalypts and wildlife, which were part of the river’s ecosystem.  Looking back with some nostalgia I wrote some short poems that try to capture a child’s uncomplicated memories of that place.


Kookaburra (photo by JJ Harrison, 2010,Wikimedia Commons )

By the River

Kingfisher by the Yarra

Watching the still water

Looking for fish

In a log by the river

Tiger snake likes to slither

Better not sit

© The Artist’s Child, 2017


Tiger Snake (photo by Teneche, 2010, Wikimedia Commons)

There were only two rules that Ellie and I had to obey when visiting our grandparents. Don’t go near the river’s edge and watch out for snakes.  A Tiger snake had been found asleep in the living room fireplace when my mother was a child. One was sleeping under a log near the river when we were children, and we were kept well away.  As these snakes are deadly, we did not ignore this rule, although I never actually saw one.  In fact I have never seen any snake in the bush at all, probably because I stomp and make some noise so they will hear me coming and disappear.  Or I have just been lucky.

The Laughing Kookaburra, a type of Kingfisher, would steal the goldfish from my grandfather’s fishpond, so he placed a removable steel grill over it.  We would hear them laughing in the trees and it always made you want to join in.


Tawny Frogmouth Mother and Chicks  (photo by Alan U Kennington, 2011, Wikimedia Commons)


Three baby Frogmouths

Small bumps in a gum tree

Impossible to see

Then one blinks

Illusion broken

Unlike mother, frozen totem

© The Artist’s Child, 2017

The Tawny Frogmouth is a member of the Nightjar family.  Their tawny feathers act as camouflage in trees.  In one of the orchard eucalypts grandfather pointed out a delightful family of Frogmouths to us as children.  The babies had yet to learn the art of staying completely still like their mother, and would move their heads to look at us.


Bellbirds ringing, singing

In the river valley of childhood

How they echo in my memory

© The Artist’s Child, 2017

This is probably what I remember and miss most about being down by the Yarra.  The constant calls of the Bellbirds or Bell Minors. Some people find their calls annoying but I find them soothing.  It was hard to believe you were in the middle of a city.

Here is a You Tube video that will give anyone unfamiliar with these birds a sense what it is like to be in their environment.

Everyone has a fantastic database full of memories and it is good to get that retrieval system working.  Once you start delving you will remember all kinds of things that can inspire, disturb or make you laugh and these can feed your creative work.