Monday, January 17, 2011
From Blank to Something
Above is a sketch that was ultimately rejected for a project I'm doing for a client. I liked it well enough to post here, though, and it provides a good segue into a brief talk about brainstorming.
The creative process, as I experience it, can be a lurching thing. You have goal, or perhaps an assignment. You have a blank piece of paper -- either literally or metaphorically. You want something winning to end up on that piece of paper, whether it's a splendid poem, an alluring short story, a portrait, an illustration or a design for a page or a product.
How do you get from here to there? Are there steps or activities that you regularly use to ease the passage?
Sometimes I read blogs where the creative person cops to having an abundance of ideas -- too many, actually. (See the wonderful work of Alisa Burke on my blog roll.) For most of us, though, it might be a matter of generating a lot of ideas with the hope that one or two are worth fine-tuning.
But I have to say that for me, this is both the most challenging (and therefore exciting) and frightening part of the process because the trip from Blank to Something can be like a brisk 15-minute walk or like a sun-drenched drive across the country in a 1987 Buick with a bad radiator. The unpredictability of it all is just so unsettling.
Here, though, are a few things I do when I have an assignment.
1) Scan my bookshelves and the internet for imagery of all kinds. The point is not to see what others have done like this, necessarily, but just to set fire to the visual imagination. One of my favorite short-stories got written after I was captivated while watching a guy who worked behind a counter at the local deli. The medium there was fiction, but the inspiration was visual.
2)Make lists. My brain thinks faster in words than in images sometimes, and it seems that whipping through ideas -- half-baked and otherwise -- at a brisk pace is better for the process than torturously examining what my gray matter produces at its regular clip.
3. Ask for help. I can't tell you how many times people I know, especially my kids, have offered some little tweakishness to something I'm working on that makes the whole concept snap into place. But even when that doesn't happen, getting feedback can deliver insight into how other minds look at an issue, which is likely different from how you look at it. The idea, after all, is to produce something that isn't the first cliche to come to mind.
4. Ask questions. One of the best questions, in terms of making decent art a little better is, "How could this be better/funnier/bolder/more dramatic?" When I'm working on idea-generation, starting ANYWHERE and asking, "How could I pump this up?" will probably move me along the rope.
All right, so those are some ideas on ideation from me. But as I've indicated, I'm still a struggler with this process. So how do YOU get the wheels turning? I'd love to hear!