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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

A World of Pink Zebras and Purple Trees

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

How to find creative inspiration everywhere.

A lucid dream

As the nurses from the recovery ward repeatedly called my name, I woke up, still half-sedated, and was repeatedly muttering “pink zebras.” I remembered replying I saw pink zebras having a tea party in my dream.

A painting of a pink zebra, rosy lion, springbok, blue giraffe and cheetah having a tea party.
"Mrs. Zee's Tea Party" | 594 x 841 mm | Gouache and Watercolor | 2018

A week later and completely sober, I rushed to the art store and searched for the perfect pink that would go well for my hostess, Mrs. Zee (a pink and blue zebra) at her safari tea party, where she invited her good friends, clairvoyant Sandy (the springbok), Blue (the gentle giraffe) and a special guest, the King (a cotton candy-colored lion). Lurking in the corner and quite nonchalant, is another character I met in one of my pressing waking thoughts, Cheetah Doughnut. Pressing because the word cheetah and doughnut kept on buzzing in my head for days and in order to purge it out, I had to put it on paper. My cheetah was crouching on the floor like a doughnut.

So much of my creative inspiration stems from nature...

Nature nurtures

So much of my creative inspiration stems from nature and I suppose it has so much to do with my present location, South Africa, where I am blessed to be surrounded by scenic views and teeming wildlife—not that giant cats and rabbits pose as sentinels over the city or zebras leisurely cross the street. Although, there was one incident when a zebra indeed caused a traffic jam along a major highway! Johannesburg is one of the greenest cities in the world and in spring through summer, the city is dotted with brilliant flowering vegetation, like the jacarandas and the bougainvilleas all over.

An abstract painting of purple jacarandas and green trees in Johannesburg
Abstract representation of the jacaranda trees all over Johannesburg in spring.

The more I see animals in the wild up close, the more I am inclined to paint them, and the more I am falling in love with them. This genuine interest triggered a childhood memory when I went crazy with coloring animals in my school books with illogical crayon choices. My teacher called my mother’s attention to point out that her child was acting strangely. I recreated this coloring technique in my series "Technicolor Animal Kingdom."

Green and purple trees
Spring in Johannesburg means purple jacaranda trees

Big ideas come from small things

Unknowingly, my unusual coloring, which I did in solitary for fear of judgment as well as sheer enjoyment, was an indication of what would be my core persona, which most people would probably find strange. My introversion has become more pronounced the older I become, which, again triggered by a social encounter, pushed me to tell it all through a series of images portraying the excruciating life of an introvert.

A watercolor painting of a woman with flowers and ornaments on her head
"Thought Bubbles and Flowering Ideas" | Watercolor and copper leaf on paper | 2017

Every creative a-ha moment has its roots. Mine stems from my environment, nature, childhood memories, emotional turmoil, or social encounters. Sometimes, it can be a haunting vivid thought or a lucid dream that never dissipates. The range is endless. It is amusing when many people ask me how I have all of these in my head. In fact there was a point when I thought I was rusting and nearly banged my head on the wall just to get the juices out. What did I do? I painted a rusting pipe on a panel and wrote about it, too! And then continued painting enough pieces to fill up an apartment. When you look around and when you're mindful enough, creative inspiration is infinitely abundant. It's like opening the Pandora box of creativity!

So tell me, what inspires you?

Jacaranda Season” and "Village Guardians" are available on my online store at Society6.


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