Finding Inspiration: Chihuly

Chihuly Boat

Let me take you on an inspiration journey – a trip to the Chihuly exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Chihuly is a celebrated American glass artist known for his innovation and large-scale installations. An inspiration journey is a nourishing adventure that fills your creative well. It’s the act (and the art) of intentionally engaging with the world in order to deepen understanding, expand possibilities and spark your creative response. It is an opportunity for you to be inspired in your creative life and to discover and free your artistic voice. 

Chihuly Composition

When you go on an inspiration journey, you step into the world not as a passive receiver but as an active participant engaged and in conversation with what you encounter. A great first question to ask yourself is “What do I notice?”

As I turned a corner at the exhibit and encountered this installation, the first thing that struck me was its scale: the height of that wiggly white “tree”, the bulk of these bulbous white “petals”, the sheer volume of pieces that made up what, to me, looked like an underwater world. Noticing how large this installation was in height, in mass and in numbers deepened my understanding of the impact of scale.

Chihuly Red Rods and Birch

When you see this installation, what do you notice? Take a moment before reading on. Independent of what anyone else might say, including me or the artist, what do you see?

Perhaps you noticed colour or the impact of repetition. Maybe the contrast of the straight lines of the rods and the crisscross of the logs. I immediately thought this would make an amazing theatre set (though I am sure stage managers everywhere would shudder at the idea of actors being near that glass!)

Whatever you noticed, how might that inform your own work? What would it be like to create a piece in red and white or a piece that juxtaposes man-made and natural materials?

Chithuly Orange Bowls

Often when we encounter something, we don’t go much deeper than assessing whether we like it or not. If we like it, we relish it while we can. If we don’t, we move on. On an inspiration journey, we try to understand why we feel the way that we do. For example, I really like this set of pieces. Right away I know that is in part because of the monochromatic colour scheme. I love monochromatic. I find it both soothing and exciting. What else do I notice? I notice that these almost seem wet. If I imagine physically holding and swirling one of the bowls, it seems like everything within it would swish. I love that unexpected element and because it’s an illusion, my brain is hooked. It wants to keep looking at the piece as it tries to figure out what it is seeing.

 Blue Chandelier Full

Now it’s your turn. Do you like this piece or not so much? Whether you do or you don’t, what is it that attracts you or repels you from this piece? What does that tell you about your own aesthetic? How might that inform what you are creating?

Chihuly Passthrough

One thing I noticed in all of Chihuly’s work was the many iterations of a particular idea. We saw dozens of expressions of a particular shape or technique and that was within the limitations of one exhibit! Chihuly and the people who work with him sometimes make hundreds of creations within a particular format.

I found great inspiration in this. When I’m exploring something new, I tend to make it again and again and sometimes I judge that instead of recognizing it as a way of developing an idea, a body of work and a set of skills.  In fact, Chihuly’s approach assured me that repetition is simply a part of the journey. We create, create, create in order to discover, gain experience and eventually mastery. This exhibit also showed how that volume of creation can open up amazing possibilities of combination and contrast, that works grouped together can become something more and different than they might be on their own.

Chihuly Baskets

This process of actively taking inspiration from one another  and from the world around us is a part of the creative process. Chihuly did this himself when he created his series of glass baskets. Inspired by Northwest Coast Indian baskets that he had seen at a museum, particularly the way they slouched and folded after having been stored, he recreated the effect in glass, which was a revolutionary shift from the tall standing structures that glass had been in the past.

An art gallery or a museum is the perfect place for an Inspiration Journey like the one we’ve shared today but the choices for your journeys are endless! Consider neighbourhoods you’ve never visited, botanical gardens, the library, even the grocery store. And though it’s always wonderful to go somewhere in person, you can also explore places online, like Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum  or a beautiful blog or a favourite Pinterest board. My sister Shannon and I recently went on an Inspiration Journey together in a children’s book! We sat and turned the pages and noticed the colours, the lines, what we loved about the creation of the characters. Wherever you go, the process remains the same – a simple act of intention, awareness and wondering that can inspire your creative work and your creative life.

Thank you for taking this journey with me today.

Take Yourself on an Inspiration Journey

  • Choose Your Journey
  • Encounter the place/the work/the content
  • Ask yourself:
    • “What do I notice?”
    • “What else?”
    • “What is it that attracts me or repels me from this work?”
    • “How can what I have noticed inform my own creative life and work?
  • Make use of what you have learned

May your Inspiration Journeys wake up your creative heart, challenge your creative mind and open up creative possibilities in your creative work and life.


  1. Alexis says:

    I saw Chihuly at Garfield Park in Chicago. And there was a chocolate show side by side it. What better than free chocolate and gas flowers. A cacophony of the senses.

  2. Pamela says:

    I really enjoyed going on this “inspiration journey” with you – it was a brilliant idea! Inspiration is one of my favorite words.
    The photos you shared were amazing – I especially liked the colors, shapes, and reflective qualities of the first photo. The questions you posed took it all to another level of understanding.

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