Monday, June 5, 2017

Finding Inspiration: Carla Sonheim - by Judi Kauffman for The Queen’s Ink

I hope that during five decades of teaching art I’ve been a source of inspiration for my students. Helping others gain skills and confidence in their creativity is my goal and mission. But where do I turn for inspiration? Good question (and one I’ve been asked many times over the years). I turn to the work of other artists and designers as well as to the crayon drawings of children. I look at my surroundings, finding ideas in the colors, shapes and patterns provided by nature as well as manmade objects. I try to be a sponge, absorbing odd bits of information through my eyes and hands.

By a stroke of good fortune, I was hired by several magazines to write profiles about artists and designers. During the two decades when this was part of my day job, I got to interview a wide variety of people. Carla Sonheim was one of them, and even though we haven’t met in person we’ve stayed in good touch. Right from the start she’s been a constant source of inspiration. I follow her blog. I have been her student, taking several online classes, and we’ve exchanged ‘real (snail)’ mail, too.

Once a month Carla posts a photo of a sidewalk crack on her blog and challenges the rest of us to find something in the lines that we can use for a drawing. Most of the time I print the photo and then use tracing paper for my drawings. For some reason, this time I decided to draw right on top of the gray-scale printout.

It’s so much fun to turn the paper upside down and sideways, looking at it until a bird, animal, person, a still life or a scene magically appears! As you can see from the cat above and the mice below, there’s no way to predict what I’ll find.

Sometimes I use a pencil so I can change my mind, erase and revise the basic outlines, but most of the time I commit to the marks and use a broad nib black pen right from the get-go. Then it’s all about adding color and more line work.

I hope you now have a new-found respect for sidewalk cracks, or for that matter cracks in ceilings, walls and roadways. Or the wrinkles and folds in your laundry, the patterns that water makes when it flows from the hose and down the driveway after washing the car… That’s the fun thing about inspiration: It’s everywhere and it’s FREE!

A suggestion for all who keep art journals: Instead of working on loose sheets of paper, work straight in your journal! Glue the printout onto a page, paint and draw right over it.

Instead of 8.5” x 11”, work much larger or scale down to postcard or rotary file card size. There are so many ways to incorporate this kind of ‘seeing’ into whatever you’re already doing.

Be sure to visit Carla Sonheim’s blog and if you leave a comment, tell her Judi sent you!

  • Lightweight paper
  • (optional: Tracing paper)
  • Markers and pens of choice
  • (optional: Colored pencils, paints)
  • Printout of sidewalk crack photos


  1. Who would have ever thought cracks in a sidewalk could inspire you to draw? Wow! How cool is that. Might have to go searching for sidewalk cracks!!!