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A behind the scenes look at the thoughts, processes and development ideas behind creating art.

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What I have learnt about creativity, inspiration and being stuck in a rut.

As someone involved in a creative industry, I have thought a lot about inspiration over the years. It is that magic ingredient we search for in both our personal and professional lives that will help us find solutions, where there are problems, and get us excited about where we are heading. Whether we are looking to improve our lives, our businesses, our ideas, products or skills, we all welcome the odd flash of inspiration. When I was a young designer inspiration seemed like such an intangible thing that I often worried whether it would come at the times I most needed it. I am a bit more trusting now, although it is still very much of an unknown quantity, I trust that if I put the work in and set the scene for it to arrive, then sooner or later it will come.

Inspiration often gives the appearance of arriving out of nowhere, a eureka moment, where you suddenly make sense of everything that has gone before. Something you are experiencing allows you to see things from a different viewpoint, which in turn allows you to see a resolve to your problem. It arrives often when you are at your most relaxed or not even giving attention to the ideas you are trying to develop, or the problem you are trying to solve. In my experience, however, this can only happen after you have sown the seeds for your idea, done some research, put in some thought, and often some hard work. You have to put something in to get something out.

As a photographer and artist, my currency has always been visual, and as a consequence many of the ways I have found to get inspiration have been applied in a visual way, but there is no reason why they cannot be used just to prompt a different viewpoint when applied to any number of situations. I will leave it to you to interpret how this can be done.

Here are some of things that have helped me to shift my viewpoint, engage my creativity, get out of a rut and find inspiration.

They have all been done at times when I felt stuck and unable to move in any direction, so I know from experience that all of the below can be done when you feel switched off, stuck and uninspired, so stop trying to solve the problem, give yourself a break and maybe have a go at the things below.

1. Playing – Creating a starting point.

I am a great advocate of playing. Far from being some idle pursuit, I have found it to be one of the most important parts of the creative process. Sometimes sitting down with all the separate elements of your project in front of you, pictures, words, locations, names, quotes, colours, what ever forms part of your research and playing with those elements, without agenda and without knowing where you are going, can if nothing else create a doorway into your project – a starting point.

It allows you to absorb the big picture that you see in front of you and look for patterns and directions emerging. Create collages- groups of images/words/objects. These could be things that look good together or things that you feel instinctively go together. How do you feel about these starting points? What do you like / dislike about them? what do you need to add take away from them?

Creating these collages or groups is like making a mark on a blank canvas. When you have a starting point, you have something to react to, and as long as you have something to react to, you have somewhere to go.

2. Developing ideas – What if?

So you may have made a start. Where do you go now? The idea of developing any idea can be daunting. It immediately looks like a lot of work and a mountain to climb. When I was an art teacher my pupils had a hard time understanding the whole concept of developing an idea. They always wanted to get to the end of the road without the journey, and felt they had to know the answer to their project before they had even looked at the wealth of possibilities in front of them.

It was in trying to teach them about development that I read this quote by artist Jasper Johns. His response when being asked to describe the creative process was. ” It’s simple: you just take something and do something to it, then you do something else to it. Keep doing this and pretty soon you’ve got something.”

The simplicity of this to me was genius. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start simple and make small changes to your initial ideas, one at a time. Do this even if you don’t know why you are doing it. Pretty soon your ideas will have more depth and more complexity than you would have imagined. You will find a way in to your project. I have always found that my best ideas have started like this.

3. Get out of your way

I have found that sometimes I actually get in the way of my ideas, My own limitations and fears stop me from taking ideas where they could potentially go, so I really responded to the surrealist approach to generating ideas. It takes ownership away from the artist/ thinker as he generates ideas through a series of games, accidents or exercises over which he has little control.

Why not take an area of your business, project or life that you are feeling stuck on and inject something random into the way you think about it. Pluck a word out of the dictionary, or pick from a selection of relevant words you have placed in a hat. Try to join the dots between your problem and this new ingredient. Fill in the grey area between them. I guarantee you will be thinking about your problem differently.

If working in teams, games such as exquisite corpse or consequences are fun to play. They are played on A4 paper, which is folded back every time it is passed from player to player, so the next player cannot see what has gone before. Each player has a piece of paper and will start of by writing the first part of a sentence, or the first part of the drawing ( a head for example). They will all fold the piece of paper back to hide what they have written and pass to the next person who will write the next part of the sentence, or draw the next part of the drawing ( the body for example). When the paper is unfolded at the end of the game, after all players have contributed, you will have a resulting sentence, or drawing, beyond anything that one person would have come up with. Of course this can result in complete and often hilarious nonsense, but if you give the sentence a particular structure involving elements of your problem, you may find fresh, even thought provoking ways of looking at your problem.

4. Apply your skills differently

Sometimes we have worked so hard on solving a project or taking an idea forward that we can’t see the wood for the trees. Maybe it is time to switch off. By taking your skills away from your problem and applying them to another small personal project, one that has no urgency, no responsibility and no deadline, we can loosen up and regain some of the confidence we may have lost in getting stuck. Give yourself permission to have time away from your main area of focus.

Every time I walk through my local bookshop I see a series of books for sale. They are a little bit gimmicky, but I like the idea behind them and they all take the form of a largely empty book with prompts on each page.  Prompts to doodle, to write, or to take photographs, amongst other things.

The book ‘624 things to write’ published by Chronicle books lists 624 random starting points, starting off a sentence that you need to finish, or setting a scene that you have to write about. 104 things to photograph is in an album like format which titles the photographs you have to take – things as diverse as Roller skates, a winding staircase or the colour green. These are things that can be done in between times, and which allow you to apply yourself in different ways. They can be fun, take you away from what you are stuck on and encourage you to use your eyes and your mind to re look at the world. This is of course one example. Any personal project will give you the space and freedom to develop in ways you may not feel free to try otherwise.

5. Go for a walk.

There is nothing more refreshing and mind opening than going on beautiful walk. Your senses are blasted with sights, sounds, smells, textures. Your whole body is engaged in the experience and quite often I have found when you physically take yourself somewhere else then your mind can follow.

6. Reading

Books are a brilliant way to get you into a different zone, to get you to look at things  from a different point of view. There are so many passionate, wise, funny, dark, creative, visionary writers out there, that can carry you with their words into a completely different mindset.

It was reading that inspired me to write this post. I had seen a blog post from the Aspire Photography Training Book Club by Catherine Connor, recommending the book ‘Peaks and Valleys’ by Spencer Johnson so I decided to read it. I wasn’t expecting it to be written in the way that it was but found it both inspiring and insightful and it shifted something in the way I was looking at things. It also got me thinking about some of the methods I had found to start my ideas moving, when I felt a bit stuck and prompted me to share them.

I would love if you shared some of your thoughts on inspiration and how to get those creative juices flowing.

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