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Can Anyone Be Creative?

I fundamentally believe that anyone can be creative. Working in the creative industry for the past decade, it’s easy for me to say, right? But ideas don’t just happen, at least they didn’t for me when I was starting out.

There are methods, processes and tools that can be learned, practiced and utilised for coming up with new ideas. It may be a little tough for someone brand new to coming up with ideas, but with a bit of work, anyone can be creative.

I’m starting a brand new creative project and I’m documenting the process from day one, hence my first vlog above. I’m doing this as a journal for myself and to demonstrate methods to come up with creative solutions to interesting and difficult problems for anyone interested in learning.

In the next video and blog I’ll be talking about the project in a bit more detail, so be sure to look out for that.

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Steal from Your Heroes

We’ve all had our heroes since childhood, from family members to film stars, musicians to sports stars and beyond. These people inspired us to dream about what our futures could hold. As we grow, our heroes change. We may not even call them heroes anymore, but there are people we admire for their abilities and character traits we’d like to see in ourselves. As Oscar Wilde once said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. What better way to repay our heroes than by stealing from them!

Imitating Our Heroes

When learning a new discipline, a good place to start is by looking at what people before us have done. When learning guitar for example, it’s a good idea to learn songs by our favourite musicians. At first, we might sound like a clone of a certain guitarist, but as we broaden our influences, we’ll start to pick up different techniques and styles that we blend together to develop a unique voice.

The same applies to any craft. If you like business, start by modelling existing business strategies or business people. Start simple. Slowly implement ideas you like from other businesses to see if they work or not. Over time your specific mix of influences will make your business unique.

Everyone Does It!

If you look at the early works of various masters from any discipline, it’ll probably look a lot different from the signature style you’re familiar with. If you research enough, you’ll see how their heroes influenced the work and how over time how their own style evolved as they took on new influences or dropped certain techniques or strategies.

Become Your Own Hero

It’s tempting to put a single hero on a pedestal and simply try to become them. I did this as a kid (I wanted to be Bruce Lee). But this is impossible, there is only one of them, but more importantly there is only one of you.

Sure, implement traits and techniques from your heroes that are helpful to your development, but get your inspiration from a wide source of influences. Strive to create your own flavour and become the hero of your own story.

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Learning from Survival Horror

I played a lot of video games as a kid. I don’t play many at all these days, but one of my favourite game series was Resident Evil. If you’re not familiar, it’s a survival horror game where you solve puzzles to try and escape the city whilst fighting off zombies and other scary creatures.

I recently started playing the remake of Resident Evil 2. Let’s just say technology has come a long way since the original and it’s far creepier. I find myself procrastinating and having to psych myself up to enter a new area because I just didn’t know what might jump out of a dark corner.

I noticed that the same is true in life. We stall when we’re scared, often waiting too long before entering unknown territory. Like in the game, the thing itself doesn’t turn out to be that bad. It’s the anticipation, your mind creating all kinds of worst case scenarios that will probably never happen. It’s trying to stay safe and survive.

But by walking down the dark corridor despite the fear of the unknown, you’ll realise that most of the fear was unfounded. You’ll probably even feel a sense of pride and satisfaction because you stepped towards the fear, conquered the darkness and made progress towards your goals.

This is a blog about creativity, so how does all of this relate? It’s the fear of creating something bad that often stops you from starting at all. If we go a little deeper, it’s probably the fear of what people might think if they see this work.

This is understandable, but there comes a point where we need to accept the fear and do it anyway if you want to make significant progress towards your goals.

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Learning to Observe

One of the most important skills in visual arts and in fact all walks of life is the ability to observe. It’s a skill that is often overlooked, but one that can help build our mental library, whether we’re taking photographs, drawing, writing or developing a business.

Objective Observation

As humans we don’t just see things as they appear. We add meaning to them. This can make it really tough to observe something objectively, but it’s an essential skill in separating truth from interpretation. When learning how to draw from observation for example, you try to draw what you see. The difficulty is seeing the object and its surroundings as a collection of lines, shapes and shades?(objective observation) rather than seeing an apple sitting on a table in a room (subjective or interpretive observation).

Our brain has a tendency to try to predict what something should look like rather than what you’re actually seeing. If you’re looking at an arm coming towards you, you might try to draw more of the arm than you can actually see because your brain is interpreting an arm rather than a collection of lines and shapes.

Subjective Observation

What does it mean to us? How does it make us feel? This is subjective observation. Different people interpret things differently. Red might mean danger to one person, but good luck to another.

All of this is a long way of saying, go out of your way to consciously notice things. How does something look, sound, smell, taste and feel? How does it make you feel?

An Observational habit

Spend 5 minutes a day observing something.

It could be with your eyes, like an object. It could be a piece of music. It could be the taste of food. As you observe, write down what you notice. Describe in words your observations, both objective and subjective. This could be paragraphs, bullet points or mind maps. The method is up to you.

Doing this every day will help develop our observational muscles. The more consistently we do this exercise, the stronger our observational skills will develop. It also gives us more material to work with when we’re being creative.

Go and notice something.

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Be Open to the Unplanned

For some of us, being in control brings us peace. When we’re in control, the world makes sense. When we lose control, it can feel like we’re spiraling into an inescapable pit of despair. We plan, we execute, balance is retained.

As creators, we come up with ideas and form a vision of what we want to create. We often produce a close approximation of what we had in mind, and we’re done! We remained in control of the outcome. Good job!

But what if we opened ourselves up to some randomness and experimentation, not knowing what the outcome might be. What if we just played? We might just find that there was something hiding, some creative solution that we probably never would have conceived otherwise.

There is a way to stay in control. Simply plan for the unplanned. Create your original vision, but also add some time into your project schedule dedicated to seeing what’s possible. Turn things upside down, look at it from a different angle. You just never know what you might discover.

Be open to the unplanned.

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To Be or to Do

Wrapping your identity up in what you do can be dangerous. You can become too attached to a title. It becomes your identity, “I am a graphic designer” or “I am a photographer”. But what happens if you never make it as a professional “photographer” or graphic design is made redundant due evolving artificial intelligence? What would that say about who you are? Are you a failure? Are you obsolete?

Better I think, to be who you are. Be a passionate, disciplined, resilient person. Continually develop positive, transferable character traits and yes, make these a part of your identity.

But keep that separate from what you do.

Instead of being something,?do something. Instead of being an illustrator, do illustration. Then if the work isn’t good enough, that’s different from “I’m not good enough”. It’s about the specific actions you took.

Learn from the mistakes, be passionate, disciplined, resilient and do better next time. If all else fails, do something different.

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Creating Change

Something clicked for me this morning. I’d just finished my shower when I saw the mop and the knickknacks that I’d taken out of the storage cupboard two days earlier, yet to be tidied away. For whatever reason, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed that these would somehow just disappear. In this moment it struck me that the mess I saw in my physical surroundings was a direct manifestation of my mind.

The responsibility to tidy up this mess was mine and mine alone. The same applies to everything else in my life. Family, work, money, health, I create? everything that appears before me. If I wait for things to sort themselves out, I’ll be waiting a long time. If I want to change what appears in my life, it’s me and only me that needs to take responsibility.

I must create change.

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Force Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’ve been an Apple Mac user for the past fifteen years, since starting college. During that time, Apple became hugely popular and the Mac / Macbook became much more widely used, especially in the creative industry. For a long time I said that I would never go back to Windows, yet here I am typing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro.

There are a couple of reasons I chose the Surface pro, one being price, but the main reason being that it’s a laptop with the full Windows operating system that doubles as a tablet. It turns out that these tablets are pretty good to draw on! The best alternative is an iPad pro that still runs on iOS rather than Mac OSX. For work I need a ‘proper’ computer running the full Adobe suite.

Getting Uncomfortable

Getting to the point of this article, I’ve always been a pencil and ink on paper kind of guy. I’d scan in my illustraton and trace it with the pen tool within Adobe Illustrator using a mouse. This process works really well, to the point where it’s not been challenging for a long time. It’s a very comfortable space for me.

I’ve had this Surface Pro for less than a week and I’m amazed at how it has forced me to move outside of this comfort zone. I’ve started using an app call Sketchable to produce my Instagram sketches. I’m still getting used to it, they’re a bit rough and ready, but I’m already seeing improvements. Last night I created an character in Illustrator, but instead of using a mouse to do my pen tool work, I forced myself to use the tablet pen. It wasn’t the quickest, but it’s prompting me to explore different workflows and techniques. I’ve also just completed my first finished illustration with Sketchable, drawing straight into the computer with the Surface Pen!

Burn Your Boats

A whole new world of potential has just opened up for me and I’m not sure I would have explored this had I not forced myself to try something new. I’ve arrived on a new island and I’ve burned my boats. I can’t change my mind now as the purchase was made and I no longer have my Macbook, so I have to make it work no matter what. I have to learn new skills and explore different ways of producing my work. And I’m loving it!

Force yourself out of your comfort zone. You never know what potential you might uncover!