...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Finding Inspiration Across the Arts

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Creative people tend to be creative in multiple ways. Most of my writer friends, for instance, pursue other creative activities when they’re not writing. Several of them make jewelry. Others paint or draw or sculpt. Many writers also garden. Some sing or play instruments, compose music, act, sew, decorate their homes.... If you’re creative, there are really no limits (other than time) to the possibilities.

Wading In -by Sheila Boneham
(watercolor, 11 x14, in private collection)
Unfortunately, our culture tends to treat creative pursuits as frivolous. For most people, giving expression to creative drives comes after the “real” job, and friends and family too often consider painting, writing, and other “artsy fartsy” activities to be secondary, unnecessary, even a waste of time. What a sad attitude. And counterproductive, because creativity feeds on itself, and people who cultivate artistic pursuits become better problem solvers in areas not conventionally thought of as “creative.” (This is one of many reasons to keep art and music in our schools, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Which raises an essential question: what is a “creative” pursuit? (I won’t even touch “art”!) I believe that nearly anything can be done creatively. My husband, Roger, is an extremely creative cook. He modifies recipes with abandon, deleting an ingredient here, adding one there, adjusting proportions, and revising the next time around. Tom Saunders, the “main squeeze” in my mysteries, does the same when he has time.

Pretty in Pink by Sheila Boneham
(watercolor, 16 x 20, in private collection)

Janet MacPhail, the protagonist of my Animals in Focus mystery series, is a professional photographer, and getting good shots of the animals who are her subjects certainly takes some creativity. She also trains and competes with her dog and cat (yes, her CAT!). After decades of competing in equine and canine sports, I can tell you that good animal trainers are very creative. The best trainers find ways to engage an animal mentally, physically, and emotionally so that learning is a game. Oh wait! That goes for teaching people, too! I hope that everyone reading this has had at least one teacher who brought joy and innovation to the lessons. If you have had such teachers, you know how much more readily we learn when lessons are wrapped in Creative Spirit.

We human beings are, deep down, creative beings. Have you ever known a child who didn’t want to make things of her own design? Have you ever heard of a human society that had no art of any kind? To be healthy and balanced–to be fully alive–we must allow our creative instincts room to play. (In fact, I do not believe that creativity is strictly human, but that too is a topic for another time.)

Cock of the Walk by Sheila Boneham
(oil, 10 x 12, in private collection)
Writers, painters, gardeners...people! We are all on journeys not only to make new things, but to learn as we go. Like the student with the creative, inspiring teacher, we all benefit from trying new things from time to time, and (I believe) from feeding more than one passion. My primary creative activity has long been writing, and I write across genres -- fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry. But I also enjoy painting, photography, dog training, and gardening. One of these days I’ll take a pot-throwing class (good excuse to get dirty!). Occasionally I make myself some earrings. And here’s what I’ve learned:

No matter which of my interests I pursue at a given time, my subconscious is playing around with one or two of the others. An answer to a question about a character’s motivations in a piece of writing may surface when I’m painting or drawing. A problem in the composition of a painting sometimes pops into my head while I’m choosing flowers for a hanging pot. Birds whose behaviors I capture with my camera suggest a line of poetry.

Burning Bright by Sheila Boneham
(watercolor & India ink, 16 x 20,
in private collection)
So make a play date with yourself one day soon. Do something creative, something outside your usual art form or genre or medium. If you’re a painter, write a poem! If you’re a novelist, draw something. If you get really ambitious, look around for a class in something completely new. You don’t have to show anyone else what you made, and you don’t have to stick with everything you try, but moving creatively beyond our comfort zones creates (there’s that word!) new energy in the more familiar pursuits. And besides, it’s fun!

Maybe I’ll sign up for that pot-throwing class.


Sheila Webster Boneham is an award-winning writer who writes across genres and interacts across species. She is the author of the best-selling Animals in Focus mystery series from Midnight Ink and of seventeen nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters: How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine Publications, 2009, updated 2013). Sheila also writes creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poems, and she teaches writing classes and offers individual mentoring for aspiring writers. Find her online at www.sheilaboneham.com, on Facebook, or by e-mailSheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog and the companion Facebook group


  1. I believe that creative people sometimes have a different way of looking at things. Doc and I used to take pottery and loved throwing pots. We did it at a local CC for a few years and enjoyed it and then moved on to other things. We both enjoy cooking and get creative with it, as your hubby does. I think if you allow that side of yourself to develop and not be sneered at, you are drawn to those things. By the way: you are a talented painter!

    1. Thanks, Marni. And I agree, but I think most people have the potential to learn to see creatively. I was told all through school that I had no artistic talent, so I never tried to learn until about 8 years ago. Then I finally decided I didn't care whether I had any talent or not, I was going to take that watercolor class I had put off for, well, all my life. So I did, and I was AWFUL. But I kept at it, took more classes, read read read, practiced almost every day. Slowly slowly.... I think it's a shame that so many people do what I did - wait - and that so many of those never stop waiting.

  2. Sheila, what lovely paintings! And I agree. My good friend (and mystery writer) Sara Hoskinson Frommer told me once that her father loved to play the piano. "If I can't play like Horowitz," he used to tell her, "I can play like Hoskinson." There's something immensely liberating in that attitude. Enjoy your creative efforts to whatever extent you can! For years, like you with your watercolor class, I let the fact that I thought I couldn't be good enough at something deter me from trying it. In fact, I felt that way about photography, which has become a serious hobby now, even though I used to say I had no "visual sense" at all. Good post!

    1. Thanks, Susan. I used to work with Sara Hoskinson Frommer, a gazillion years ago :-)

  3. A great post, Shelia. I'm putting it on my Facebook page. I write the Aggie Mundeen mystery series, love to tile table tops, design tables and play piano. Crossover creativity is alive and well.
    Nancy G. West

    1. Thanks so much, Nancy! Glad you came by. See you on FB! :-)

  4. Can I just say how much I love that top dog picture, Sheila!

    1. Thanks so much, Bunny. The colors are richer, of course, in the real thing. I had a lot of fun painting that one - and I've learned a lot since then. I think. :-)