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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes we feel unmotivated, sluggish, and without energy. We all know this feeling. Yet we wanted to get so much done today. This mood can last for several days or even longer. The unpleasant thing is that we find it more and more challenging to get going each day. To get out of this hole, we can use a little trick that becomes easier the more often we use it: We consciously turn off our mind for a moment at the right time when we feel doubt and the nagging voice creeping up. For this moment, we leave all hindering thoughts outside.
In 2003 I worked as a comic artist for an advertising agency. My boss at the time, Andrea, noticed that I was taking notes on my drawings during all our meetings and every brief feedback. She said this sentence, “The smart one writes it down, the dumb one remembers it,” which has remained in my memory. So often, we forget things. Yet we were so sure we would remember. Then we get annoyed when we have to ask the customer or teacher.
But taking notes is not only helpful in conversations with others. Without a notebook or sketchbook, a thinking mind is like a gold panning sieve with large holes. So many creative ideas, clever ideas, and ideal solutions slip through our fingers because we haven’t captured them at the moment. This can be recognized because long-forgotten thoughts jump at us when we browse our old notebooks.
On the other hand, we can also see it like Stephan King, who says: “A writer’s notebook is the best way in the world to immortalize bad ideas. My idea about a good idea is one that sticks around and sticks around and sticks around.” So maybe we just need the fat gold nuggets in the sieve after all? The fat fish in the pond?
Sure, the sooner the dishes or paying bills is done the better.
However, in the creative process, we often read about the burden of procrastination, the first stroke on the canvas. The first step is always the hardest, it is said.
But what does procrastination mean in creativity? It means to be afraid. Fear of our own failure. It means being afraid of disappointing ourselves when what we create doesn’t look, sound, or feel like we thought.
However, it also means that it is important to us. We want to do it well. We want to give it its due. Resistance knocks on the door whenever we care about something.
So as soon as the often frustrating state of procrastination and uncertainty arises, we can see it as our compass. We are on the right track.
One of the most frequently asked questions by design students is “How do I find my own style?” The way to get there is by observing or absorbing our environment with all our senses. That’s why many teachers and professors insist on sketching regularly, capturing our environment. More about this here.
At the same time, we closely observe our reaction to it. What do we like, and especially why do we like it. Why can’t we get that book cover out of our heads? Why can’t we get enough of that song? What do we particularly like about this painting? Is it the colors, the motif, or the loose brushwork? By observing our inner emotional world, it is as if we are trying to taste the ingredients of our favorite dish.
Now comes the most crucial thing: action. Without the act of creating, we are stuck in this world. We hold on to our discoveries. But we need to make room for the next ones. So we start taking action. We draw, write, design, compose or build. We create. Only then are we open to new things again.
The intensive observation pays off because the gained “ingredients” slowly start to flow into our work. The more we produce, the more intensively we “taste” them, and the stronger our intuition becomes.
One student said that she always feels guilty when she tries to copy work from her role models and lacks the motivation to start. “It’s not even my work.”
My math teacher at school once said, “Go ahead and make your cheat sheets. Write down the formulas, the example calculations, and the solutions. Then before you enter the classroom, throw the slips of paper in the trash can.” She knew that something was already happening in our minds when we write things down, and more of the subject matter sticks.
It’s the same with creative work. Let’s copy, trace, and replicate our heroes’ work as many times as possible. Eventually, something magical happens. The more we copy, the more a secret ingredient gets mixed in: It’s ourselves. In the process of creating, it is impossible to prevent our personality, our view of the world, our interpretation, our handwriting, our attitude from flowing into the work.
There is also nothing wrong with sharing this work with people, as long as we include the source of inspiration. There is hardly a greater and more flattering compliment than reading “Illustration based and inspired by one of my favorite artists Sergio Ingravalle.”
Only when we copy work and put our name on it, it’s like slowly pulling the cheat sheet out of the pencil case during the exam and painfully straining our eyes.