Keeping Creativity Alive

Posted by James Tanner on


Creativity is a flame that needs to be stoked and cultivated in order to thrive. When the fire starts to die out, panic might step in when all we see are the final orange embers turning dark. An author colleague of mine once said that “writer’s block is just a lack of planning.” We need to plan ahead for our own dry spells, here are some helpful tips that get me out of a pinch every time.

It’s important to still make time to draw for yourself, aside from your professional projects. Collect imagery that you would like to emulate, or better yet try to imagine a genre crossover. What if the scene from Empire Strikes Back when the giant AT-ATs are assaulting the Rebel base on Hoth was depicted in the Ukiyo-E style?

Expose yourself to new ideas. I like to select a science-fiction movie from Netflix. Even if the story might be a direct clone of another big-budget film, there’s always at least one novel concept that makes the movie worth watching. It could be a clever special effect, or plot device, or new technology. Those novel ideas get me thinking, even if the movie was terrible I’m already thinking of ways that it could’ve been better. And guess what? That’s creativity talking!

Word prompts are extremely effective. Try using a random word generator. I found a fun website that can produce up to 50 random words at a time… but that’s overkill. I like using three words, and here’s what I just got: Rear Requirement Trouble. As a cartoonist, that was an absolute gold mine of inspiration.

Our mom would play this game with us kids where she’d have us scribble on a paper for a couple seconds with a pen. She’d then look at the scribble and turn it into an Appaloosa horse or circus strong man. We’ve all learned how to become conjurers in our own regard, bringing to life absurd animals and characters in this way. Being able to look at apparent chaos and find an order is something that our minds are primed to do. We are pattern-seeking primates.

 If the white canvas is too daunting, try this: use a toned substrate. This is a technique that pastel artists have had in their toolkit for a very long time. Artist Audrey Kawasaki does brilliant paintings on beautiful sections of wood. She only paints what she needs to and uses the wood as brilliant negative space. As a digital artist, I’ve collected various paper textures to throw down so I’m not drawing on a blank screen.

Worst case scenario? Work in the abstract. No, seriously. Just play with color and texture. I have a file that I just work on when I’m stuck on something else. Alternatively, I like to open a new file with the express goal of creating a backdrop for a portrait. Often enough, those backgrounds were strong enough designs to stand on their own.

Hopefully, these tips help you stoke your creativity back from the embers into an epic beach bonfire. Now, If your door is lacking in creativity, we have the solution for that.

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