A flash of sudden brilliance is all that’s required to push through the creative doldrums.
Thomas Edison, the man who had his very own ‘light bulb’ moment in 1880, wrote down a string of valuable words many refer to today when in need of motivation – “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”.
But it’s that elusive one percent we are concerned with today. Where do people, and in particular creatives, find that fresh idea, the famed ‘moment’ when all the pieces seem to fall into place? The inspiration that pushes your project out of your head and into the real world.
What we have discovered, through practice and discussions with creative peers, is that there are many ways to become inspired. These are a few tried and trusted ways we continually use to enrich our creative dry spells.
1. The Kids are All Right
When we are young our formative years are an endless stream of wonder and curiosity as we explore and experience things for the first time. We know nothing of the big, wide world out there but with dogged determination we discover the who, what, when, where and why.
Then we grow up. And sometimes we forget how to be courageous, dream big and continue the learning process. Our boundlessness now has boundaries, sometimes they are imposed on us by society, or we set personal ones as we fall toward adulthood. Not all boundaries are bad of course, some are healthy such as a refusal to break the law.
We cannot change, Benjamin Button style, reversing the ageing process. But we can adopt simple tricks of the childhood trade. Survival skills you’ve learned – to use your imagination – but perhaps set aside. Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…”
2. Better Living Through Chemistry
No, we’re not advocating a drug dependant lifestyle here. Instead we see the value in the natural highs and (s)lows that organic compounds can provide – such as a morning coffee to stimulate not just the body but also the mind, or a glass of wine at night to free yourself from the tension of the day and allow the ideas to flow.
Coffee – that dark, rich elixir that even has its own culture – not content simply to be the first thing on our minds when we awake, comes equipped with proven health benefits. We all know it can improve our mental acuity, in addition this super drink can assist you to be socially adroit, enhance your mood and give you the ability to brainstorm your way through the most tiresome of projects.
Wine on the other hand is best consumed under the cloak of darkness. Not to infer that it is a drink to be sipped guiltily in the shadows, rather one can reward themselves with red, white or rose to calm an unsteady nerve. Give yourself over to the clarity of thought that comes with a relaxed state of mind and rescue those ideas once drowned in a flood of information.
3. Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
The last thing anyone needs is to see another Keep Calm and Carry On iteration materialising before their eyes. It’s modern resurgence is serving only as a source of humour or mild annoyance. Thankfully there are many wonderful ways to keep calm that don’t involve age old government messages rooted in pre-World-War anxiety. Never fear, similarly we won’t foist any faux motivational messages, you know the ones, replete with bad typography and artificial sunsets.
Instead we believe the path towards carrying on a successful and inspired life lies in the subconscious pursuit of Meditation. There are a number of iPhone apps a few clicks away that can bring you closer to this state of being. Giving yourself a time out from all forms of mental stimulation to unlock those competing thoughts and visualising them float away. (And yes, we see the irony that plugging in to technology in order disconnect brings.)
Meditations most famous champions include David Lynch who claim it can tap into “unlimited reserves of energy, creativity and happiness deep within”. Or The Beatles who pursued spiritual guidance in India in the late 60s and earlier gave us the song Tomorrow Never Knows in which we are instructed to “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. Yet you may see the meaning of within.”
4. Slave to the Rhythm
When people study music they start out learning how to read each note using the acronym Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit. They also get lost in back catalogues of their favourite musicians, which can be an even more enriching endeavour than a simple read and play method. Because observation and experience, rather than formal education can be the best teacher.
The Avalanches (first and only) full length album Since I Left You was a sonic medley featuring some 3,500 samples, including a sound bite from Madonna’s song Holiday no less, deftly interwoven with vintage music from across the globe to create one seamless celebration. It was a critical and commercial success. But what we really embrace here is there eclectic choice in styles.
In the studio we see the importance of surrounding ourselves with vast arrays of music from Electronic, Hip Hop, Rock or Ambient and even Classical. Our playlist defies lazy pigeonholing, although we do like to prescribe to a loose format of calm music in the morning, graduating mid to late afternoon to something a little more adventurous. Then on Fridays, it’s a shout out loud, fun, frivolous race to the finish line with tracks to prepare us for a weekend mindset.
5. Delve into the Celluloid Closet
Normally we would recommend you reach for the laserdisc but we’ve titled this as such because we want you to go way back. As graphic designers we reference the past masters of our profession in order to shape our design sensibilities with a foundation in the classics.
We digress. So, it can be difficult to encourage new generations to embrace the pre fast editing, foul mouthed, special effects, genre blending era of film. But with the rise of television shows such as Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire it has encouraged younger audiences to allow this old world under their skin. Then further exploring the medium of film.
Becoming enamoured by the set design, fashion, sparkling jewellery, big hair and language of the script. There is a purity in these works that can teach us to not simply recognise and remember these styles but understand and have them influence our ideas creatively. Then, instilled with the design knowledge of old, we have the wisdom to execute great things.
6. Digital Detox
The New York Times recently reviewed the film Web Junkie, which examines ‘internet addiction’ in China, the first country to classify it as a clinical disorder. Its subjects, mostly teenage boys, are sent to a Beijing boot camp to kick their habits. Such habits are not unique to the east and many of us, those fixed to computers for their 9 to 5 but perhaps not ready to be diagnosed with this addiction, are in dire need of digital detox.
Returning to the natural world – be it taking a walk in the park sans phone, breathing in a lungful of salty sea air down at the ocean or simply having a wrestle with your dog. The colours, the textures, the shapes, and smells, amplified (operative word use here) with a distinct lack of noise pollution.
It is a complete sensory immersion and one that has evolved (or been created – dependent on which belief system you fall within) without the hand or mind of man. When confined to the great indoors though, always keep a David Attenborough documentary close at hand. You probably don’t realise how vital and inexpensive this therapy can be.
7. Daydream Nation
The value of sleep is vastly underrated. Sleep deprivation can cause imbalance in your waking life, effecting learning, memory, health and even contribute to depression. To restore the natural order to your whole self, you must pay back your sleep debt, to ensure you are performing at peak levels. It’s not simply a question of how much sleep one must get in order to be productive and happy, because quality also plays a major role and this is never an either or situation, rather an and. Balance, always.
Now that your eyes are closed, the visuals begin. Often dreams are a way of dealing with events we feel somewhat powerless to control during daylight hours. We process these, albeit in quick vignettes, many scenes both wonderful and sometimes frightening. Searching the subconscious for a resolution. Not only are they remedial but dreams can also be a rich source of imaginative ideas.
Generating them though can be somewhat unpredictable, but this rarity lends currency. For director James Cameron, the idea for Terminator came to him in a feverish dream, in the form of a robot, red eyes ablaze, crawling menacingly toward him. And a better example cannot be found of the way dreams affect real life than in Christopher Nolan’s Inception where people are able to share the same dream space of others and cause events to take place in the physical world.
Henry David Thoreau wrote “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake”. Yes, when we do chance upon a crossover from dream to reality, it can be a wonderful thing indeed.
8. Let’s get Physical
Put down the mouse, step away from the computer and free yourself from the shackles of technology. It’s time you went for a walk. Sometimes being in the same place for too long can render us dull and lifeless, dazed or even confused.
To prevent mental RSI we find the best solution can be found in a new challenge. It doesn’t have to be a permanent change and certainly cannot be concluded as giving up. Instead these temporary shifts in behaviours can easily be achieved by a walk around the block (obvious), how about a session at the gym or even a shower? Last (and least) – perhaps you’ll find simple solace in cleaning.
So to relieve temporary insanity, give yourself space to breath, time to process through all the gymnastic workouts your brain has endured. This is a body over mind experience with known benefits. You’ll come back ‘fitter, happier, more productive’, thanks Radiohead.
9. The Eye has to Travel
There is so much to learn as we connect with other cultures. Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” These lessons happen naturally.
For example, did you know Bhutan uses an index of Gross National Happiness rather than GDP as a measure of success? Or that there are Amazonian tribes who are completely isolated by jungle, having never made contact with modern society? In Tibet a traditional form of greeting is to poke out one’s tongue. Then the fun fact we should all know: otters sleep holding hands. How human of them!
You can also travel without moving. By reading explorers memoirs like Conde Nast Traveller Book of Unforgettable Journeys or flip through a weathered edition of National Geographic. Online we can find beautifully curated photography of the Earth. These accounts now proliferate on Instagram. They inspire awe through beauty, diversity and unfamiliarity.
10. Old World Wisdom
Aside from regaling us with stories of the way things were, people older than ourselves have an uncanny knack of imparting wisdom learned through a lifetime of experience. It’s not important that their experiences match ours absolutely, however it is of value that we share a commonality in our approach when searching for a way forward. Attitude is key.
If you don’t have access to a real life, age appropriate person you can read biographies or watch documentaries and discover what coping mechanisms they employed when adversity struck. For those of you who are time poor, pull up a new window in your web browser, type in ted.com and treat yourself to a wealth of nourishing talks. Their mission statement is Ideas Worth Spreading.
These conversions are essential. In the end, we should hold dear that contented feeling we get from realising what really matters in life. Knowing how long to hold on and when to break free and run.
The Odd Couple
In the studio at Another Colour we are in continual pursuit of the next big idea to build anything from a new branding project to an invitation for a special event or even how to satisfy our hunger during the lunch break! Yes, even our base instincts require invested thought.
Above all what we have learned is that inspiration for these ideas can spring from the most unexpected places. Buddhism holds the lotus flower to be sacred, a symbol of fortune, purification and rebirth. As the flower rises through the mud and murk of water to the surface where it blooms, beautifully.
A creative person and their ideas have a relationship like this flower and its environment, an unusual alliance, that is a wellspring of persistent tension and potential. When the two are united it can be life changing.
The Guardian Top artists reveal how to find creative inspiration
The Loop 5 Things to remember when you’re discouraged by Deborah Ho
New York Times Web Junkie examines internet addiction in China
WikiPedia Five Ws
Wikipedia Since I Left You