Creativity does not happen in a vaccuum…

Posted by on Jun 17, 2010 in blog, illustration, projects

This is a reprint, with permission, of my article from the Spring Issue of THE HIGHLIGHTER, SCBWI Mid-Atlantic’s quarterly newsletter. It was written for an audience of children’s book authors and illustrators in the VA/DC area, but you can really apply the concepts here to any creative practice. Who doesn’t need to stimulate their creative mind from time to time?

sketching in a museum

On the Hunt for Inspiration: Real-time Adventures to Foster Creativity

Whether you are an illustrator or a writer, there are golden days when ideas flow like water. But, at any point, the water can dry up, leaving you flopping around like a fish on the bottom of a dry lake.  So, how do you tap the springs of creativity when it appears that your well has run dry? Below you’ll find a few favorite ways to recharge my own creative batteries. Hopefully, they will give you the shot in the proverbial arm you are looking for.

Go On Your Own Photo Shoot:
Digital cameras are an easy and inexpensive way to capture inspiration. I try to carry my own little quick-shot Fuji with me when am out and about, although most cell phones have a 2-megapixel camera built in.  So head out into your neighborhood or favorite park and shoot some photos, upload and print t hem out using your favorite application or online photo site. Then create a compelling collage of your favorites and hang them up in your studio as a visual reference.

Look at Art:
Not your neighbor, Art (he might not appreciate you staring); we’re talking “fine art.” Whether you visit your local art gallery or a museum, looking at artwork can give you a creative boost. Artwork can tell a story or just expose you to amazing colors and textures. You may even get a unique perspective on a commonplace subject you never thought of before.  In most areas, local galleries will join forces for a monthly Gallery Walk to encourage interest in the arts.  It’s a great excuse for a date night and don’t forget there’s usually free wine and cheese at the openings (no one can be inspired on an empty stomach).

Feed Your Creativity:
Like I said, you can’t be creative on an empty stomach, so go eat. Try out at that little bohemian bistro you’ve always wondered about, but never ventured into. Try a new dish you’ve never had. Shop at an ethnic food store. Sometimes the label on a foreign food package is enough to provide inspiration without even eating the item it contains. I could spend hours looking at packaging in the shops in Chinatown—nummy!

Head Downtown:
Speaking of Chinatown, cities are rich with the texture and layers of decades of human habitation—ideal fodder for artists and writers. There’s color and life around every corner. Visit a culturally unique area of the city, like Chinatown, or an older downtown that’s experiencing an urban renaissance. Pay attention to the details, the mix of new and old architecture, store signs, graffiti and street art, even people milling around. Think about taking a friend along for a different perspective.  And if you’re not a walker, ride the bus. Load some travel tunes on your iPod, get a window seat and watch the scenery go by. You’ll be amazed at what you see. (Don’t forget that camera.)

Take a trip:
A train trumps a bus, every time. It’s a romantic, slower-paced and nostalgic mode of travel. If you have the time and money, a train ride is a great way to take in new scenery and maybe even log a visit to some museums or historical places in a distant city.  J. K. Rowling first conceived the ubiquitous Harry Potter on a long train ride from Manchester to London. Who’s to say it can’t happen to you?

Carry a Sketchbook/Journal:
The habit of keeping a pocket journal/sketchbook puts you in league with artistic and intellectual greats like Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway. They, and many others of their kind, knew the benefits of having a means to record that brilliant line of prose that pops into your head while sitting in a bustling café. It’s the simple, mundane details of life that make stories and illustrations richer and more believable. Record them for later use.

Go Antiquing:
Antique stores, flea markets and local charity stores are all great places to browse for inspiration. A local antique mall is where I stumbled upon the first of my growing collection of mid-century, illustrated children’s books.  Find a quirky, unusual item that speaks to you; it can be anything from a chipped teacup to an old wooden spool of thread that has great design on the label. If you can, splurge on it, take it home and give it a prominent place in your studio. Like most old things, it probably has many stories to tell, so listen carefully.  Better yet, give yourself an assignment to write about it or do an illustration involving it or a component of its design!

Your Own Collections:
Collecting things seems to be a common human trait. Many are drawn to keep sets of like items. If you fit this description, there is nothing to say you can’t derive more than just satisfaction from your collection of Fiesta Ware, state spoons or tin sand pails from the ’50s.  “Cars have always been a source of design inspiration for me. The cars I collect have a message of timeless beauty.” says fashion designer, Ralph Lauren about his world-class collection of rare and classic motorcars providing him with endless inspiration for his fashions. The stitching on a leather jacket mimics the stitching on the seat of a 1938 Bugati Atlantic Coupe. The lines of a shoe are the same as the rear fender of a Ferrari.  You may not have the financial latitude to own a McLaren F1LM, but your own collections, no matter how humble, can provide you with much in the way of inspiration. Go ahead and give that spoon collection a role in your next YA novel.

Go Online:
I saved this suggestion for last. Even though I’m a level-10 geek girl and fully believe the “interwebs” are one of the greatest resources since the public library, inspiration should first come from the world around us.  But on a sweltering summer day, when the cats are melting on the tile floor like a Salvador Dali painting, there’s nothing wrong with sitting in the air-conditioning and surfing to some favorite inspiration sites.  But that, my pretties, is the subject of a future article about the delightfully diverse and accessible world of internet inspiration.

So, if you are feeling adventurous, head out of doors while the weather permits, with camera or journal in hand. Keep your inspiration antennae up. The dog days of August will soon be upon us and I’ll return to share some fun inspiration websites to perk you up in blissful, climate-controlled comfort.

Until then, happy hunting!