Tag Archives: tools

Five Ideas for Jumpstarting Creativity

No preamble – here are five great ways to jumpstart your creativity today:

1. Make an  External Change.

Change is the greatest creativity kick starter there is. If you are stuck, change your environment. The fastest fix is to go for a walk, or perhaps a bike ride. Go somewhere to sit. Change your view out the window.

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” ~ Jane Austen

Disney Concert Hall tree and spiral

Or make a bigger, if temporary, change. Work in a different part of the house, or a different place altogether. J.K. Rowling loves coffee shops for writing:

“My ideal writing space is a large cafe with a small corner table near a window overlooking an interesting street (for gazing out of in search of inspiration).”

One of the reasons people go on artists’ retreats is the change of environment. Use the change as impetus for some quick creativity jump start exercises.

  • Notice and list 10 different objects or items in this new environment that aren’t in your old space.
  • Use all four walls to inspire four zentangle doodles.
  • Look for shapes in the clouds.
  • Play a different piece of music inspired by the space. Startle yourself.

2. Revisit The Old.

Go to a place, read a book, watch a favorite movie or enjoy a song from the past, especially those that stirred emotions. It might be the comfort of a beloved book, a movie that always makes you smile or cry, a song that you always dance to, or a place that you haven’t seen in a while. Take a break to a happy place to refresh your spirit.

Ancient classics in a row

Or rediscover the old and almost forgotten – old notes from past projects or journals, old projects still incomplete. We call these UFO’s – UnFinished Objects. Sometimes time has softened their edges and it’s time to dismantle the contents or take the whole story in a new direction.

  •  Maybe an old story will inspire an illustration.
  • Choose colors for how you feel and pin them to a vision board for a pallette.
  • What had you forgotten from your notes? How do they apply to your current project?

3. Try Something New.

Not to instantly achieve mastery, but instead to inspire originality in your ongoing work, play with a new art form. If you write, try visual art. If you predominantly explore one genre, play around with the conventions of another. If you always work by hand, explore CGI. If you always create on a device, remind your hand what a pencil feels like.

Try a new medium. If you generally work in acrylics, try paint chip mosaic or embroidery. If you usually play piano, try some electronic percussion.

Add a new activity to your day. If you rarely read, set aside half an hour for a book – try a compilation of short stories. Bake, garden, sew something. Bring in a piece of history – an activity that is rare now – polish your leather shoes, darn sox. These kinds of gently physical activities can be very meditative.

 4. Play With A Child

Always without a time table, allow the child to direct the play. Follow their lead and direction. It will probably be magical. You will see the world in a new way. You might have to improvise a whole story about a doll and its animal spirit guide.

Jayn with her doll

 5. Make an Internal Change

Not forever – unless it works fantastically – try working to a different schedule or muss your routine. If you are a night owl, try an early morning work session. If you set your tools down at sunset, try getting up at midnight. Try – just as a test – reordering your task list.

If you always plan every detail of your work first with sketches and detailed instructions, try doing something off the cuff without a plan. Or a baby step: if you generally lay out all your tools before you start, would pausing to fetch each one as you need it change your process to one that was more extemporaneous or simpler? Embrace the random.

Or conversely if you always improvise as you go, waiting to see what emerges from your process, try giving yourself strict guidelines or a definite plan. Write a treatment or outline before starting your story. Lay out all your tools.

butterflies and tools

I’ve always planned essays, but improvised stories. I’ve researched and made sketches, been very plan oriented in set design, but embraced random serendipity with art dolls. More and more, I find having a plan, writing a treatment, working to my own sketch, to be helpful. There are more steps, but the final result is better. And how I love mind storms and vision books.

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Inspired By Research; Inspired To Research

I love doing research as a creativity tool. With the internet this is so much easier than it used to be.

When I was young research for any type of project meant a trek to the library. Our high school library was nice but it had nothing on the State Library of NSW downtown in Sydney with its subterranean stacks and endless card catalog. Plus the building was very impressive with its sandstone dignity, stained glass skylights and traditional wood decor.

What’s a “card catalog”? the whippersnappers ask. It was where research began – looking for an author or book mentioned in a bibliography, or going to a subject index and starting there. I was being my own Google.

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW - just one of several cabinets

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW – just one of several cabinets

While a tremendous number of books are available on the reading room shelves, many more are kept in stacks.Having found the reference book I wanted, the process was to fill out a request form and hand it (possibly after standing in line) to the assistant librarian on stacks duty, and then wait while they used the mysterious series of numbers that are the Dewey Decimal System to find the location of the copy, send some even more junior person to walk the stacks, and return with the book.

Reference books could not be borrowed, only read in the adjacent reading room. Long heavy wood desks, hard wood desk chairs, art deco style reading lamps.

I’m not really nostalgic for that process at all – it was time consuming and dependent on the assiduousness of the people creating the cross reference notations. A whole trip to the library could be taken up just with formulating the reading list.

But I do still like the visceral elements of this process. Hand typed cards, with faintly yellowed edges and even hand written added notations – sometimes with actual ink pens. The decor. Silence as a palpable thing, reinforced by the sound deadening architecture. The smell of old books.

Every time I designed costumes for a new show, I reinforced my own personal library with a trip to downtown. I liked to immerse myself in period information, making copious notes, sketches, and – get this – having a few select pages photocopied by the librarian! We weren’t permitted to make our own copies with those new fangled and supposedly temperamental Xerox machines.

How Research Stimulates Creativity

Sometimes it only takes a little bit of research – priming the pump – to get my thoughts, ideas, lists and sketches flowing. It’s always good to pause the research and make notes, mind storm some of the ideas, and go where your thought journeys take you. Personally I find if I don’t grab the moment and jot down ideas immediately, they sometimes get engulfed by the ongoing information input. You can pick up where you left off with your reading and notes, but not always with your idea flow.

At other times, I have been at a loss, and found I needed more comprehensive information before anything useful arose in my mind. I might have been looking for a hook, or a way in to my story. I might have been looking for the right visual motif.

Sometimes I found the theme of my vision adjacent to my mainstream research. For example once I was looking at wartime young people’s clothing, but what really helped me capture my design was looking at school uniforms from 10 years earlier.

Research might mean refreshing the memory – revisiting facts and ideas somewhat known – or it might mean finding information wholly new to you. It’s a stirring stick. It’s new ingredients thrown in. You don’t have to rely entirely on what is already in your head.

Research might be goal oriented and directed. The question is “How do I achieve this”. It generally has been so for me when I am designing something, or need to understand particular techniques to achieve a predetermined result – such as my webpage.

Or it might be experimental and exploratory – following threads until something sparks. The question is “Where will this take me?” If you are stuck, research might be the key. It could be a simple as going to the paint department and looking at the new paint colors, looking at a catalog, going to a different section at the Natural History Museum, or following a repin trail on Pinterest.

The Dark Side of Research

Research can be a time sucker and productivity killer. It’s all very well to follow the rabbit hole and surf the endless links for new connections, when you have plenty of time or no deadline. But sometimes it’s time to stop and actually do some creative work.

Mad Hatter Latin design

“We’re All Mad Here”

Some people, and I have certainly been guilty of this myself, will use research as the ultimate procrastination tool. I think we know when we are putting off getting started, and when we are genuinely stuck or need a bit more information. It can take self discipline to stop following the tantalizing tangents, especially now with so much information so easily available. In the old days at the library I was conscious of definite consequences if I decided I needed another tome, and sometimes a look at the clock decided the matter for me.

I know the feeling when I am using research to procrastinate. I start shifting around in my chair, and feeling twitchy inside. Better just to stop then – put in a bookmark – and instead move on the next step of collating my notes.

You can’t know everything about a topic – even if you are an expert. The old joke is that experts are people who know “more and more about less and less” – and that is great. But for creative work, you only need to hold in your head and notes, as much as you need to move forward. There will always be more and new information to find – some of it may be what you contribute.

Let research be a tool that you use, not a barrier to action.

 Research tools

  • Written published material – whether on line or in hard copy
  • Spoken word, oral histories – ditto – but the web makes access so much easier
  • Video material – documentaries, histories, how-to videos on You Tube
  • Memory – interviewing people, finding instructors
  • Trial and error, and exploring materials, as I mentioned in my prior theme.
  • Museums, galleries, and Aunty Mabel’s attic – places with visual artifacts.

Here’s my latest Infographic – about intentional research:

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Please share this wherever you wish.

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