Being a creative can be a tough calling these days, there is so much competition and yet from a young age you are told to follow your dreams and passions. When you realise you are a creative person and you unleash your creative drive, it’s hard to keep that desire at bay, unless you fall into that dreaded hole of artist’s block, or worse yet - a lack of inspiration!


Nora Heysen painting a portrait of Mrs Ernest Watt nee Ruth Edmunds Massey by Harold Cazneaux -

For a creative, inspiration can, at times, be elusive. As an artist myself, I find I have weeks when I can’t put my paint brush down and at other times, picking it up can be the most painful and overwhelming experience. People will offer advice and tell you to go to an art gallery or look at things that make you happy, however how often would you think or be told to go to a library for inspiration? 

When I first started working at the National Library of Australia, I didn’t realise just how much of a treasure trove I had found myself in. Like many creatives, having a day job is somewhat of an essential part of being able to survive, but it is rare you manage to find a day job that ends up influencing your creative work in such a positive and exciting way.  

Within the first few weeks of settling into my role, I started to realise I wasn’t just working in a place of learned academics and books. I was working in a building of uncharted inspiration with music, art and history at my fingertips. I couldn’t wait to get into work each week to find out what collection item I would discover next.


Tom Bass at the installation of his Library Lintel Sculpture above the entrance to the National Library of Australia, 1968 [picture] / David Reid -

Even the National Library building has an air of creative energy surrounding it. From the moment you walk up the front stairs you are invited to enter the building under the Lintel Sculpture created by Tom Bass. This sculpture personally moves and comforts me, as I had spent some time studying at the Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School. Once inside the Library, you are welcomed by the sunlight bursting through the Leonard French stained-glass windows with a kaleidoscope of colours enveloping the main foyer.  

But the treasure’s I’d like to share with you in this blog are treasures that can be accessed at any time of the day or night without coming to the National Library building. 

The National Library’s catalogue, online resources and Trove are hubs for inspiration. I’ve collated a (by no means exhaustive) list of must-listen, must-watch and must-see artistic resources guaranteed to end any creative drought.

Art/Science of Illustrating Nature Expert Panel

Looking at history is a great place to find artistic inspiration. In this event recording, Genevieve Jacobs, botanical artist Julia Landford, ANU anthropologist Dr Bronwen Douglas and leading botanist Dr Judy West discuss the context and importance of natural history art, as well as the continuing significance of natural history art in the scientific field today.

Listen out for Julia Landford saying:

“I think art is a really important communication tool so being able to use an illustration like that to tell the story about a plant or a specimen”

You may also like to see the National Library’s 56 George Raper’s watercolours in the Library’s treasured Ducie collection of First Fleet art. It’s a spectacular collection of native Australian flora and fauna from the eyes of some of the first visitors to the country. You can also discover more details on the Joseph Banks collection that was discussed.


Glossy black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) by George Raper from the Ducie collection of First Fleet art. -

Inked: A Short History of Australian Cartooning Lecture with Dr Guy Hansen, The Best of The Bulletin Cartoonists with Dr Guy Hansen and  Forty Years of Cartooning at the Canberra Times In conversation with Geoff Pryor and David Pope

The Inked: Australian Cartoons exhibition was a marvellous showcase of a selection of the best cartoons from the National Library of Australia’s extensive collections. Exhibitions Director Dr Guy Hanson gave a number of curator talks with even more insight into just how amazing and detailed the collection is. 

I was astonished to hear Dr Hanson say that the National Library holds more than 14,000 cartoons in its collections from more than 200 years of Australian cartooning. 

The Art of Storybook Illustration Panel discussion

Revisiting your childhood can sometimes be helpful when looking for a creative release. The creative expressions from this panel of illustrators is bound to give great insight into how you can extract your innovative essence.

Listen out for when Director of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Belle Alderman asks the panel where inspiration comes from.  The answers are different and diverse and may relate to your process. 

This talk is linked to the Story Time: Australian Children's Literature exhibition which offered a captivating glimpse into books, manuscripts, illustrations and ephemera of from Australian children’s literature. Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll curated the exhibition and wrote a fascinating article titled Stories in an Exhibition for the Library’s Unbound magazine. You may also be interested in listening to her lecture about curating Story Time.

Book Launch: Olive Cotton Helen Ennis with Alex Sloan

For authors, photographers and art lovers, this is the must-listen of the list. Award-winning author Helen Ennis shares her experience writing the moving and powerful biography of modernist photographer Olive Cotton. 

The creative process can be fickle, odd and yet so opening. Hear about Helen’s early creative struggle in getting started on the biography.

“My room was an egg yolk yellow which I loved but I knew I couldn’t write about Olive Cotton while the room was that colour so I had to work out from the paint charts what seemed appropriate and it was a blue.”

Comets in Canberra: Leonard French's Universe in Glass

Working with different mediums can sometimes be inspiring for your creative practice. This talk between Treasures Curator Nat Williams and Leonard French’s daughter Alison French gives insight on how mediums effected Leonard French’s work. During the talk you also hear from Leonard French himself:

“I find that firstly that my forms in painting fitted very happily into glass but whereas in painting one is working in a sense in just flat colour one’s – the moment you start with these windows you’re working in – with a luminosity with light reflected and fractured sort of light and red is no longer red, blue is no longer blue, it takes on an - entirely different dimensions and you’re working with light.”

Reading list

If you’d like to learn more on some of these subjects, you can find the books below on the National Library Bookshop’s website.

•    Inked: Australian Cartoons
•    Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books
•    Olive Cotton by Helen Ennis
•    Leonard French's Stained Glass Screens - National Library Australia by National Film and Sound Archive
•    Ellis Rowan: A Life in Pictures by Christine Morton-Evans
•    Explorers' Sketchbooks - The Art of Discovery & Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert
•    Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing - A Creative Path to Awareness by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh 
•    Right-brain Workout by Russel Howcroft
•    Ngaanyatjarra: Art of the Lands by Tim Acker and John Carty 

If you’re still stuck for inspiration, why not start your own search in the National Library’s rich and varied Pictures collections here

Find all of the talks featured in this blog on Spotify and SoundCloud.