The Role of Muses

Recently I’ve been pondering the role a muse plays in my artistic journey. This started when Dinoczar tagged me on an instagram post that quoted a letter Nick Cave had written to MTV. In this letter Nick graciously declined his nomination for Best Male Artist that year in fear of offending his Muse. Again the idea of a Muse reared her head in an earlier post this week by Dave. Coincidence? I doubt it; there is no such thing as a coincidence.

Sometimes I take a photo and I’m in awe of what I captured. I don’t think I’m alone in wondering where my ideas come from, and how they’re translated successfully to the final image. Even if I pick apart the idea and execution in minute detail, there will always be some aspect of the creative process that can’t be explained; at least not very well. And this is where the idea of the Muse comes in.

What is a Muse?

muse (noun)

  1. (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences.

  2. A person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

In short, a muse is a mythical female goddess that acts as a creative guide for all types of artistic inquiry. She is the invisible force that guides and inspires our creativity. A muse is the intangible essence of the creative process personified.

The creative process is a mystery. Sometimes I have ideas flowing so fast I have trouble capturing them while at other times I’m stuck and have no idea where to point my camera. What separates these two states of creativity? Is life simply conspiring against me or maybe my Muse has abandoned me?

“My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.” – Nick Cave

The Photographer’s Muse

Traditionally a muse is a female goddess, or simply a woman. There are countless stories of male artists being inspired by a woman who has touched his life in some way. (This is where sexism rears its ugly head. The art world is filled with countless stories of women marginalized by male artists in pursuit of their own artistic success. But I digress…) There is another type of muse which is referred to as the Photographer’s Muse. This term is meant to signify the object that a photographer loves to take photographs of.

There are plenty of toy photographers that have one particular toy or character that inspires them. Dave has Deadpool, Kristina has her Stormtrooper, Vesa his Snowtrooper, Lynn her Gymnasts and Princess Leia while Janan has his Spiderman. All of this thinking about muses has made me consider if I too might have my own muse.

I’m not a toy collector, rather I’m a photographer who likes to take photographs of toys. I may collect LEGO minifigures but if I’m honest with myself very few of the characters inspire me photographically. When I look back over my own work, I see a handful of recurring characters: classic space, pandas and Keko, the robot created by Peter Reid. There are also various small companions who make frequent appearances in my work such as the teddy bear, the cats and many types of dogs. And how can I forget my beloved Chima, with their beautiful wings! They might not be in high rotation, but they’re always on standby in case inspiration hits. Are these my photographic muse’s?

New Year, New Projects

It’s a new year and like Lizzi, I have new projects on the horizon. They are big scary projects that require me to start to connect the dots of my work. Rather than randomly take photos and share them on social media its time to move in what might be considered a more serious direction. I’ll be honest this is scary to me; failure seems imminent.

And this is why i’ve been pondering the idea of a Muse, both the Greek and Photographic versions.

My current photographic muse is the Fairy Unicorn Princess. What started out as a custom figure I created to celebrate the Christmas Holidays has morphed into a constant companion. In fact she is so dirty from her many adventures that its almost impossible to clean her up in post production. But I still love to take her out and see what silly adventures a Fairy Unicorn Princess will have.

Its easy to start projects but oh so hard to finish them. So while I have my photographic Muse, maybe now would be a good time to invoke the Greek Muses and ask for their help? Because as we all know creativity can be a fickle beast. A new work assignment or a particularly devastating news cycle can easily overwhelm my creative energies.


This is why I think Nick Cave is on the right track when he openly appreciations the fickleness of the artistic process. By honoring his Muse he respects both the creative process and honors his own work. Personally I think we should each pay more attention and respect to the delicate spark of creative inspiration.

While researching the idea of the creative muse I found several examples of prayers or invocations to the Muses. Why not say a pray to an unseen fictitious goddess? I’m desperate and I’m willing to grasp at any straw!

Here is my favorite:

Muses, I know my greatest work
Will come from my deepest sense of play.
Help me find the joy, the spark, the wild
Childish abandon in my art today.
Help me move like water, sing
Like birds, dance like leaves
Falling from the great oak.
Can you come out
And play?

~Bella Pirri

In conclusion

In my attempt to bring my projects to completion this year I’ve printed out the above prayer and I have it pinned to my office wall. Going forward I will silently pray to the Muses before I begin writing, before I pack my toys and before I head out onto a photographic adventure. Why not? It cant hurt and more than likely it will help.

~ Shelly

  • Rituals can help with creativity, do you have any that you’ve created for yourself?
  • Do youΒ believe its possible the Muses are whispering ideas into your ear?
  • Do you have a Photographic Muse that inspires your own imagery?

If you would like to join me and 20+ other amazing toy photographers in Utah, April 11th-14th let me know. We have a few spots left in the group house, but space is limited. This is the fifth year that we’ve hosted one of these events and they just keep getting better; this one is will be no different.Β 


  1. kristina

    interesting concept, I usually see the light as my muse. with the light comes a need or a willingness to photograph. What I use as motive is always, almost the same (me) but I hide that behind it only different forms, sometimes as a trooper, sometimes a princess, a robot, another person, but light and how light changes I would see as my muse.

    • As always you’re correct Kristina, light is your muse, not toys or your other photography subjects. I should have remembered this from our previous conversations on light. May the Muses continue to whisper in your ear and inspire you in your photographic pursuits!

      “We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves.” (Arthur Dove)

  2. Fantastic post Shelly! I had never heard of a Muse before reading your post, so I really enjoyed learning this definition πŸ™‚ Thank you for mentioning the gymnasts and Leia. I have many ideas in my head for the gymnasts lately but none that I’ve been able to translate into a decent photo…. but hopefully some day soon. I think the gymnasts are always whispering ideas into my ear, I just need the skills and time to get some of these photos taken πŸ™‚

    I always love your photos of the Fairy Unicorn Princess – she always looks so happy and carefree πŸ™‚ Your photos of her always brighten my day πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much Lynn. I know I can get a little esoteric sometimes, but the idea of a Muse helping with the creative flow makes me happy. Your photos of the gymnasts always feel the most authentic to me. May they continue to whisper in your ear for years to come!

      And thank you so much for your kind words about the Fairy Unicorn Princess. We have fun together and Im glad to hear that comes through in the photos!

  3. Great look at muses/inspiration! Mine varies from time to time; for a while, I had a Lego minifigure I’d made of me, and brought him everywhere I went – work events, vacation, everyday places. Even did one of my wife so we could be ‘together’ during our vacation time. It was really cool to break him out and start photographing; inevitably people would come up and watch, or ask what I was doing.

    This year, I feel a need for a different muse and I think it’s actually by joining a toy photography community – this one, actually. I’m inspired daily by what I see all of you do, and it makes me want to elevate my own game…. when I can find the time. πŸ˜€

    • Thank you Ben for your comment and adding to the conversation! It sounds like you are very failure with the nature of Muses! May you find more inspiration in our MeWe and Flickr communities in 2019. I think we all struggle with carving out time for our hobbies. Hopefully you can make it a priority in 2019. Even an hour a week dedicated to creating an image will help you to reach your goals!

  4. brett_wilson

    I adore this post Shelly!
    I too have been toying with the idea of setting myself a little project for the year. After reading this I now know I need a muse to help me refine the purpose of any project I set for myself.
    Thank you for making me realize this.

    • Thank you for your kind words Brett. I hope that the Muses will whisper in your ear and help guide your creative inspiration. If not, I highly recommend finding or writing your own prayer to them. It may sound weird, but I feel better after having recited the above poem. πŸ˜€

  5. I LOVE this post, Shelly! I was familiar with the concept of human muses, but never really considered how it could apply to toy photography. Looking back at my own work I see that I’ve been under the influence of several muses without even really knowing it.

    Now that I do, maybe I can lean into that even more and see where the muses can really take me.

    • Thank you James, I’m glad you enjoyed my ramblings. I hope you consider Kristina one of your Muses! While she might not be one of the daughters of Zeus, I can see her influence on your photography. I will be interested in seeing where you take your photography this year now that you’re hitting your creative stride AND you have your Muses whispering in your ears! πŸ˜€

  6. Thank you for this creative post, Shelly ! Your Fairy Unicorn Princess is so beautiful! The “Muse” is a perfect word to characterize her. It’s rather difficult for me to choose one Muse, so I just make some shots with all of them in order to make them happy: It will have a positive impact on the photos. πŸ˜‰

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