The kids go back to school this week. It got me thinking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the beginnings of that fantastic period when first I put all my energy and focus into making artwork inspired by the paintings in the cave of Lascaux in France.

What did I do to get to that place? What were my processes?

I can remember at least one clearly.

I remember I set aside a day of soul-searching, determined to start from scratch in my search for inspiration.

I put a pile of my favorite art and art history books on my work table, and made a bunch of bookmarks. (Okay, strips of torn paper, but they were ready to go!)

I slowly leafed through each one, marking pages of images and artwork that intrigued me. Anything that caught my attention got a bookmark.

Today, there are only two pages I can clearly remember marking. One was the Bayeaux Tapestry, a 230 foot long embroidered piece depicting the Norman Invasion in 1066. It was supposedly created by Queen Matilda, wife of the William the Conqueror, so of course it shows the winner’s point of view.

I loved the horses, especially panels like this one showing the horses being unloaded from the ships. I can’t find the charming panel showing the boat full of horses, with rows of their heads and necks showing above the boat, looking anxiously around at the waters of the English Channel.

Of course, the other pages I marked depicted more “French horses”, the painted ones from the cave of Lascaux.

Last weekend, we visited the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and I discovered for the first time their collection of Northern American artifacts.

Many artifacts tugged at my heart, but the first was this beautiful painted buffalo robe. And not surprisingly, what captivated me was the little painted horses, reminding me so much of the ones in the Bayeux Tapestry.

I found other beautiful objects in the exhibits there, and sketched madly on a scrap of paper I found in my purse. I plan to go back soon and spend an afternoon there.

And on this second day of the new year, I realize there is something I can do to recapture the heady excitement of those early days, when I first discovered my passion and my inspiration:

I can take time off to study.

I don’t mean the normal reading I do, browsing through magazines and books looking for a neat new idea for a closure or a color scheme.

I mean the total immersion, the time set aside to do nothing but browse, and peruse, and accumulate images and simply think. Nothing but art and artifacts before me, and noting which ones speak to me. Making notes and sketches. Listening to, and following my heart.

A true study period.

It’s been hard to set aside that kind of time in the last few years. Seems like there’s always another exhibit, or show, or order or something to get out the door. This year, I really have the time.

I remember, too, the what–what I wanted to make–came first. The why came later.

Fair enough. One step at a time. Can’t wait to see what the results will be!