The Evolution of an Idea


Ophelia-Leah Wilson

Beautiful Trash: Ophelia, Oil on wood panel, 2009, 17 in. x 25 1/2 in., Leah Wilson (Sold)

Ideas with Legs

Unmoored and Drifting

In the past I was afraid that I would run out of ideas. I was afraid that the project that I had just finished would be the last good idea that I would have. In between projects when an idea hadn’t yet taken root was always a stressful and anxious time. I was unmoored, drifting. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
But the more I work, the more ideas I have. Now I have so many ideas, and many of them are good ideas. There is not enough time to make them all. I have to let some go; they need to remain unformed.


Sometimes I need to make time and space to mourn those ideas that will never come to be. Or I need to wait patiently until they come around again in the spiraling shape that defines my creative process. When ideas do come back around, sometimes they have shifted shape so much that, with their transformation, they are almost unrecognizable and they appear to me afresh as a new idea.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Even so, I every time I finish a project I am still afraid that my last idea was the last good idea that I will ever have.


Burns and Scars: Spiral, Photograph, Leah Wilson

There is not checklist or litmus test to decide what ideas to work with and which to leave untouched. It’s not that clear. Most often the idea needs to be pulled out of the pool and handled. It’s a wad of Play-Doh that begs to be kneaded.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Sometimes something starts to form. If it asks for something else, then the idea might have legs.

Hear the Waters Detail

Hear the Waters (Detail of prototype), 2020, Leah Wilson

Ideas with Legs

The idea doesn’t necessarily need to have good strong running legs. At first, it just needs to be able to stand up on its own. If it does, then there is the possibility that it could develop strong running legs.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
It also needs to be flexible. Sometimes an idea comes in a form that is too big. If it can be scaled down, it is probably flexible. Sometimes it asks to be made in a material that I don’t work with, like glass. If it is flexible about its material, it probably has at least one leg.

Metanoia Catalyst Nodule Detail

Metanoia Catalyst Nodule Detail, 2018, Leah Wilson

But mostly, I need to like the idea. Realizing an idea is like having a relationship with it. If it can make me laugh, that’s even better. It definitely needs to have depth and breadth. If I’m going to spend time with it, we need to be able to have good conversations.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
After writing this I realized that I regularly go trail running: I have running legs. I also do yoga and I am flexible. And I love good conversations. It sounds like my ideas need the same things from me that I need from them.

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