We can create triggers to push our creative process

Creativity at the push of a button (if there even is such a thing) requires many years of practical experience. Even then, we can never be sure that ideas will pop out of our heads exactly when we need them.

In my experience, however, simple tricks give our creative minds a little support. We can build triggers into our daily lives that put our entire body into work and creation mode.

For example, I always run the same Spotify playlist when looking for ideas for my Mindshot illustrations. Sometimes I even start with the same song for months (i.e. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence by Ryuichi Nakamoto). Most of the time, I listen to instrumental music, like movie soundtracks or video game tracks.

Additionally, when I want to work concentrated and effectively, I go to my favorite café and order a cappuccino and sparkling water. So far, this is my best routine to get work done.

Through such developed habits, we condition our minds. We create a button that puts us on autopilot, just like we brush our teeth when we get up in the morning. It signals to our brain, now it’s time to work.

Inevitably, I am reminded of the famous example of the cow whose mouth fills with saliva as soon as the farmer rings the bell. By habit, the ringing signals to the cow’s subconscious, now it’s time for food, and the legs automatically move towards the jug.

Let’s work the way Lionel Messi plays football

Playing soccer has always been my hobby and passion. I used to play in local football clubs three to four times a week. Most of the time as a goalkeeper.

As a teenager, I played as a striker in football clubs. I thought that was a suitable position for me. After all, I scored many goals on the small pitches in my neighborhood or in the indoor sports hall during school sports.

But in championship games, the pitch is larger. Here you don’t play 5 against 5, but 11 against 11. I was utterly overtaxed. Suddenly it was a completely different game. I didn’t know how to move right, I was blindly chasing the ball, and after a few minutes, my lungs and thighs were burning like hell.

On the big pitches, it’s not just about physical condition and skills. “Football is a game of the mind,” said Holland’s legend Johan Cruyff, and a game lasts at least 90 minutes. That’s why it’s essential to manage your energy, judge the timing for a full sprint, and let the ball run instead of the legs. A striker cannot afford to waste his energy carelessly. A striker lurks, then explodes at the decisive moment when a promising pass reaches him, or the opponent makes a mistake. Then he focuses all his energy, concentration, and talent on the objective: to score a goal.

I didn’t understand that at the time. Instead of using my energy effectively, I was constantly trying to be moving. I thought that if I didn’t, my coach would substitute for me. The problem was that I lacked strength and concentration in the few offensive situations. I was simply scoring hardly any goals.

In my working life, it helps to keep reminding myself of this. Being diligent or busy does not automatically mean being effective. I need to focus my energy. As an illustrator, I can’t afford to start a commissioned project immediately if all the necessary points and questions haven’t been clarified. I risk wasting my client’s and my own energy and time. It usually helps to hold off, review the situation, and go full throttle when the path is clear.

Let’s instead do it like seven-time record world footballer Lionel Messi. He’s already a living legend and scoring machine. According to sqaf.cluband besoccer.com, a striker runs, on average, 9.5 km in a game. On the other hand, Messi runs an average of 7.906 in Champions League games, making him the second least running player in the competition. If that’s not a role model for effectiveness …

Clients pay us for the process, not the outcome

Working as a creative requires courage. A writer doesn’t know how his book will end when he writes the first page. An artist doesn’t know what her painting will look like when she starts mixing the colors. Even the most experienced professional cannot guarantee that his next work will be a masterpiece.

The final result is written in the stars. To charge for creative work, therefore, requires even more courage. The outcome is intangible, and its impact is initially hard to measure. We need confidence in ourselves, a form of self-awareness that makes us realize that we can only influence and control the process. We are paid for finding the idea, not for the idea itself.

The difference between learning in school and studying design and art

The most significant difference between school and a design and art degree is that it’s no longer primarily about getting good grades. Studying is about experimenting, developing joy and ambition in creative work, gaining new perspectives, and learning from others.

It may happen that our vision of a project does not match the professor’s vision. This is fine, as long as we have considered and tried out his objections and idea in the creative process. After all, the long experience of professors is a gold mine for us. The chance to benefit from them is a privilege. But design and art are harder to measure in their impact than a math path or a Spanish exam.

So instead of chasing good grades as usual while satisfying parents and teachers, it’s all about being creative. In this way, we come closer to our own voice and calling. This is what makes us interesting for future clients and job applications. Once we have achieved this, no one is interested in grades anymore.

Inspiration – a romantic notion of the origin of creativity

Waiting for inspiration is not enough. We have to get it, work for it. From my experience, it only comes in the making and playing. Not necessarily at that exact moment, but when we switch our minds into discovery mode.

This happens as soon as we try to physically capture our idea. For example, when an advertiser scribbles his first ideas for a campaign on a napkin, a screenwriter writes down the plot for the first time, or a children’s book illustrator draws his first sketch of the character in his sketchbook.

Once we break through that initial barrier, we start to see things that we can relate to our project or story anytime, anywhere. We put out our feelers, and we pick only the best from what the world has to offer us.

Let’s embrace frustration in the creative process. It will strike us anyway

Frustration is usually perceived as something negative. In a way, it is. Who likes that uncomfortable burning feeling behind the chest when the drawing, the layout, or the story doesn’t look like we imagined it. In our minds, it looked already finished, so simple to accomplish.

Continue reading “Let’s embrace frustration in the creative process. It will strike us anyway”

Silence is a tool for creative ideas

Creative meetings, where participants brainstorm or play ping-pong with their thoughts, are an effective way to come up with original ideas.

I believe that creative thinking in a group is ideal for starting and finishing a new project. However, in my experience, the real magic happens in silence when there are no external stimuli like voices, music, time pressure, Instagram, emails, or phone calls. When we have the opportunity to listen to what we have to say to ourselves. Whether we call it inspiration, gut feeling, or the inner voice. In solitude and silence, all the big fish of ideas swim. Steven Spielberg puts it this way:

“Your instinct, your human personal intuition always whispers. It never shouts.”

Steven Spielberg

Switching our minds into discovery mode

The first step is the most important, they say. But why is that so?

We have managed to conquer the first stage of resistance, for one thing. This can take a lot of strength, overcoming, and a lot of time in the worst case.

The best part is that the first step can be minimal. The first sketch of an idea for a new advertising campaign, the first sentence of our novel, or the first Google search on our bachelor thesis.

The first step may take a few moments, but what happens to us at that moment changes everything. Because the moment we start, we put on a pair of glasses. More precisely, we look through a template or filter from now on. We switch our minds into discovery mode.

Suddenly, whether consciously or subconsciously, we begin to perceive things around us differently related to our project. Similar to the phenomenon that if we bought a red jeep, we now start seeing red jeeps everywhere on the roads. They were always there, but now we see them first.

Our subconscious works from now on, even when we do something completely different, like the household. The well-known brilliant idea that struck us in the shower is not creativity. It is only the result of creativity.

Building a new routine: the Golden Coin Method

A small change can make much bigger changes happen in the future. That’s the idea behind the butterfly effect. Likewise, a minimal change in our daily routine can have a massive impact on our lives in the long run. The best part is that it doesn’t take much effort to drastically change our lives and achieve our goals. All it takes is some consistency and perseverance.

Continue reading “Building a new routine: the Golden Coin Method”

Creative freedom comes from limitations

“We give you all the creative freedom.” If this is the client’s briefing, it sounds tempting at first. The client seems to have blind faith in us. After all, we can do and try whatever we want. We have the license to play. But actually, it means that sooner or later, we will inevitably lose control.

A game in which we can do whatever we want, without a clear goal, is not a game. We need guardrails. Basic rules that limit what we do and think. Only then can we focus our thoughts, dig deep, immerse ourselves in the task at hand and become truly creative. Too much freedom can be intimidating, superficial, and counterproductive.

A tight briefing is like a lighthouse on the open sea at night. How we get there is up to us, but the destination is always there for all to see. 

So let’s accept the client’s constraints and rules to reach his goal. They are what ignite creativity.

Do what you love. Then love what you do

A dream job does not only consist of dream tasks. The first step is to follow our passion in search of our calling. Once we find it, we quickly realize that our dream has a few catches. For example, writing invoices, maintaining the website, night shifts, stressful negotiations, and calls.

Project requests can also seem unspectacular and monotonous. “Why do I always get these boring jobs?” “I’ll get this one over with somehow now, and I’ll go full-throttle on the next one.” However, with this attitude, we sabotage our arduous journey to get here.

The only thing that matters is the work on our table here and now. Instead of condemning and devaluing it from the start, let’s dive into it and grow from it. This is the only way to keep the passion that got us here in the first place.

Starting a creative journey is always a leap of faith

Rules, constraints, direction, templates, time pressure, or experience are guardrails of creativity. When we create something that is not bound by any conditions, such as a briefing or deadlines, it can quickly scare us… We are 100% responsible and accountable only to ourselves. Without some kind of primal trust, fighting this resistance is hard. We freeze instead of starting the journey and having an adventure.

The first hour of the day is gold

I used to feel that the evening and night hours were when I was most creative and worked best. This is not the case.

Over the years, I’ve found that the time right after I get up is when I’m the most productive. I am concentrated, work faster, and hardly get distracted. I also find it easier to come up with ideas. The tank of thoughts is relatively empty in the morning. They don’t jump around yet.

As the day goes on, the tasks on the to-do list pop up and stick stubbornly because I still want to wash the car, write the bill and go grocery shopping.

Meanwhile, I put the most critical tasks in the first hour of the day. That means no meetings, appointments, and no social media, or news.

The first hour is sacred to me and belongs to me alone.

Our childhood is an excellent guide to finding our passion (1)

The search for my illustration style has been exciting, full of highlights, and at the same time, often tedious and frustrating. Because I wanted to reach clients, there were always thoughts like what might appeal to potential clients and what’s trending right now. So I tried my hand in different areas. But again and again, I hit a wall. I just didn’t enjoy the topics.

Without motivation and vision, I came across drawings I made as a teenager – a small A6 sketchbook. It was full of ink portraits of Hollywood stars and rappers. When I made these drawings, I wasn’t thinking about customers, the market, or my dream to make money with it. Nobody had paid me to draw this. It was my own drive. Maybe I’d better focus on that, I thought. I did, and it felt liberating.