‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.’  Richard Branson

Being scared is part of the creative process.  It seems to me, every time I push myself, and I mean really push myself, that’s when the fear sets in.  But it’s also the time I know opportunity and possibility are at a premium, and I need to lose myself to find both.

‘Poetry is what happens when your mind stops working, and for a moment, all you do is feel.’  Atticus 

Inspiration is something we’re all looking for, but when you find it, and it fills you with that passion to create, that’s when possibility and opportunity are knocking.  Open those doors, put out the welcome mat, and invite them in as the treasured guests they are.  I have an open mind just brimming with ideas and the time to make the mistakes I know I’m going to make along the way.  I’m lost, but I know I’ll find my way, somehow.

Research for The Stitch Safari Podcast has led me down some very interesting paths recently, and one of my favourite pastimes has and will always be, poetry.  I’m old-fashioned – give me rhyming poetry every time, but it’s that rhythm along, and the visual imagery it engenders, that I find so attractive and inspiring.  That’s the moment Atticus, when I begin to feel, so much so, I need to conceptualise my impression, my emotive response, via the work I love to do.

Completely and perfectly incandescently happy.’  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

And when you reach the point Jane Austen describes above, you’re well on your way.  That’s how I felt when I finally read Alfred Lord Tennyson’s tragic, yet unbelievably beautiful poem, The Lady of Shalott.  It’s a blend of classic, Victorian Gothic, and medieval themes and was published in 1833 with a second, revised version published in 1842.  This improbable tale is based on Arthurian legend, of Lancelot and a beautiful maid trapped in a castle by an undisclosed curse.

The work is allegorical, presenting us with a world of fantasy and reality, drawing deeply on magic and legend, with a beguiling message of personal enlightenment – thinking for ourselves and escaping from those who seek to limit our perceptions.  Now to get all that, I’ve had to read and re-read that poem, but I do get it, and I love it.

‘The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’  W.B. Yeats

What’s truly fascinating is the popularity The Lady of Shalott radiated over Pre-Raphaelite painters and other poets who utilised many of Tennyson’s classical and medieval themes, sustaining much of the culture of 19th century Victorian Gothic.  And it’s this amalgamation of poetry and art that lifts the narrative of the poem from the ordinary to the extraordinary for me.  Enter, the work of John William Waterhouse, who used The Lady of Shalott as inspiration for three beautifully ethereal paintings.  Take a minute to watch and listen to this YouTube video, explaining the meaning behind Waterhouse’s paintings.  It helped me understand them.

I can’t help but be moved by Tennyson’s inspiring, lilting words, but Waterhouse captures the story so well in his exquisitely elegant depictions.  I love allegorical artwork – where elements in the design have a dual meaning.  Not only are they painted to help tell the narrative, but they also have the ability to symbolise something else as well.  It’s like having layers of meaning.  Now, why can’t I do that in my work?

Well, that’s what this post’s about.  A poem published in 1833 has inspired me to want to sit down and design – and I haven’t felt like that in a while.  I can’t close my eyes without thinking about castles, gallant knights, and beautiful women weaving at their looms.  Yes, it’s a flight of fancy, but who says that can’t be inspiration for future work?  It can and it is.

So what’s your flight of fancy?  I think in these days of Covid, we need them even more.

See The Lady of Shalott,1888, and further works by John William Waterhouse

cathy jack coupland


Image Credit: By Multiple Authors – http://de.most-famous-paintings.com/MostFamousPaintings.nsf/A?Open&A=8BWTJB, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77164161