Finding Inspiration When You're Stuck at Home :Part 1
Firstly, this isn't going to be a preachy post about finding endless inspiration and being super creative while in isolation, because, full disclosure - I am not at my creative peak right now.
I hit the first few days of isolation hard - started painting the hallway, deep cleaning the kitchen, planning a daily project... which all came to a screeching halt before the first week was out.
I was reading post after post about how to find that spark again, but honestly, I felt that the rhetoric was all around letting things go, not comparing yourself to others, having long baths, and reading books. All of which I'm sure is good advice for some people, maybe even the majority of people, but I know from previous mental health dips that I need to be creative in order to lift my mood. So I started to think about practical steps that would get the creative juices flowing again. So far I've split these steps into 2 parts:
It's been a slow process over the last few days, starting with very small creative tasks when I felt able to. The key is baby steps. Start small, start stupidly small if you want - whatever you can achieve that day. It's a slow process but I feel that whenever I push myself too hard to pretend things are normal I spend the majority of the day lying in bed listening to the same audiobook chapter on repeat, so if you have to start small then start small.
I've found that the idea of working creatively, of using that bit of my brain, just isn't an option. This is new to me! I was formally in agreement with the Chuck Close quote 'inspiration is for amateurs' - years of working in a design studio will back that up - sometimes you don't have time for inspiration - you have to just get on with it! I haven't had creative block in over a decade because I haven't had time to be stuck on a project - well guess what we all have plenty of now!
So what do you do if you can't get into that creative mindset? Well, I've discovered recently that getting creative-adjacent is the way to go. Get started on tasks that can spark creativity that don't require much energy and certainly don't require opening sketchbooks or picking out the right pen.
Do the tasks that come before creativity, the things that you always wish you had spend more time on at the beginning of a project, that you skipped over in order to get straight to the creative stuff.
I found this idea from Emma McDowall aka Studio Emma's Instagram stories (instagram.com/_studioemma) where she challenged her followers to create a still life using objects of one colour found around their homes. Some of the images her followers created were stunning, but I felt that even in the gloomy mood I was in that I could still manage to put some objects together. I'm very glad I did, the act of hunting around looking for green objects (and gold, I expanded the colours to make it easier - again, baby steps!) was a fun distraction and also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the objects, where they had come from and what they meant to me. Flashbacks to fun thrift finds, holidays, and gifts from loved ones.
The joy of this task is that the requirement to complete it is so low, getting a sense of achievement with low energy output is what I've found works best. Can't face a sketchbook? Start here.
Pinterest Clear Out
This is one you can do even on the days you can't get out of bed. We've all had Pinterest accounts for years, so sometimes It's good to have a bit of a clear our out every now and again, delete all the boards that were for old projects or that represent a part of your creative past you just don't chime with now. I also went through all of my old pins ( on the 'Pins' tab) and collected a 'best of folder' all the images from over the years that still feel relevant to where I am now - call it 2020 inspiration and use it as a visual reminder of who you are as a designer, don't have anything on there that doesn't 'spark joy' to Marie Kondo this shit or that you wouldn't happily have attached your own name to creatively - your looking to distill your influences into what feels pure to you, is that getting a bit too airy-fairy? This can take days to complete - there's no rush. I was working on this before the world went to hell in a handbasket, in order to help myself 'figure out my style' but it's useful to do now as a reminder of who you want to be when you get back on track. Just try not to get hung up on the fact you aren't creating this work right now, the task is to solely visualise what you want to create in the future, no judgment if that future is tomorrow or next week or even next year.
I found that Pinterest was more helpful to look at than Instagram - despite both being visual platforms, Pinterest is lacking the time stamp attached to work on Instagram. The real time-y-ness of Instagram just served to remind me that others are capable of carrying on with producing good work during this time. Pinterest is more of a timeless void, so who knows when these images were created, *lalala not during the pandemic lalala* don't tell me otherwise.
This baby step will set you up in good stead for the moodboard project.
Catalogue Old Inspiration
So we are all stuck inside, our range of non-digital inspiration sources has narrowed drastically. But, if you're anything like me then your phone is packed full of inspiration you've collected and never used. I find that when my creativity is lacking then carrying out creative-adjacent tasks is a good start. So let's start working on the foundations - the pre-creative part of designing that we sometimes don't have time for when things are 'normal'.
For the last few years, I've taken photographs of my old Staffie, Bella aka Sad Dog, next to graffiti as we've walked around town. The idea was to collect colour inspiration for future projects, something about Bella's limited range of facial expressions - sad, sadder, worried etc. (don't worry she's smiling on the inside) - worked really well against the colourful, fun backgrounds.
Along the way I'd forgotten why I started collecting these images - not just for the annual family calendar, so when I looked back through my phone, searching for inspiration I decided to gather all the images together. I've cropped them and filtered through to select the best ones. Even the act of cataloging them has sparked ideas for future illustrations, and now I have them all to hand in my colour inspiration folder - ready to use as reference for my next project.
Try gathering images you have taken on your phone into themes - things to draw, colour palettes - whatever themes come to mind as you scroll, try and remember why you took the photo in the first place. Once you have the images selected then share them to your Google Drive - or whatever you use- and stick them in labeled folders so that when you feel the urge to create, your inspiration is easy to access. You never know what sort of creative sparks might trigger while you start compiling your collections, linking images taken months or years apart in a way that simply scrolling through your phone doesn't allow. Now you also have a collection of inspirational images that not everyone with a Pinterest account has access to, fresh content that is unique to you and your creative eye.
Forever the precursor to all of my projects - moodboards are easily accessible to me even on bad days.
Similar to project 2, this small step towards creative work is a creative-adjacent task. Pick one of your Pinterest boards - I know we all have boards that we frequently add images to but never go back to look at what we've pinned previously. Obviously we once felt something for these images and decided that they would be useful for future work - but when was the last time you really looked at them?
Creating a moodboard is an easy way to engage with these images, try new layouts, be as creative or as nit-picky precise with alignments as you are in the mood for. Again, this task is about making connections - combining imagery in a way that you wouldn't have thought of doing before. You don't even have to be consciously trying to make these connections, let accidents happen, work and rework the layout, try new combinations of favourite images.
I stumbled on moodboard making as a therapeutic pastime last week when in an utter pit of non-creativity I tried to focus on the house we recently bought (no idea when we'll be able to move in!) and how I would like to one day decorate it. Is it the nicest moodboard I've ever made? No. Is it nicely aligned and pleasing to the eye? Hell no. But it was an escape, it was perhaps the longest I've spent not thinking about the state of the world in a while.