Over the next few posts, I’m going to share a few tricks on how to be more creative. These are a few rules I’ve stumbled upon for making great art in whatever form the art is.
(I’ve made thousands of mistakes, but so that you will still listen to me for a sec I’ll tell you about a few times I actually got it right.)
+Some of my products can be found on the shelves of retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and have been on TV commercials (:19). +I have done graphic design that has been used on national PR campaigns of Fortune 500 companies. +I made a music video that has over 88,000 views for Vintage Trouble, a band that’s played on Letterman, Leno, and Conan and opened for the Rolling Stones and The Who. +My friends and I did an animation that was presented to the decision makers of Atlanta. +I’ve written for major blogs such as Boundless.org which cumulatively garnered about 12,000 shares.
So after all the mistakes and successes, here are the first 4 of my top 10 rules of being more creative that I’ve found seem to span all creative crafts.
Rule #1 to be more Creative: Value- Unbury gems and polish them.
I used to think creating great art involved producing something from my head out of nothing. Since then I have discovered that the process is much less about me. It is much more akin to stumbling upon gems that touch something deep in my heart, digging them up, and then polishing them into a form that people will love too.
I’ve found that the gems are often the things we most longed for, or loved, or most feared when we were kids. If you cry in a movie, at church, with a counselor, in the mountains, or when you hear a song, it’s a pretty good indicator one of your gems is hidden in there. And it almost always comes back to being a glimpse of an abundance or scarcity of something beautifully transcendent within humanity.
Do you remember Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”? The drawings were plain and the writing was simple but something in the story is tremendously powerful for most of my friends and me. The famous priest, Brennan Manning, claims that Shel was an old friend and that that book was Shel’s attempt to describe God’s undeserved love for him. The polish on that gem could be almost transparent because the gem was so compelling.
Wikipedia says that Modern Art is “art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.” Of course experimentation with new methods is great for creativity but I think we miss the point if we throw aside the gems too. I think there is a reason that themes like bravery, friendship, love, sacrifice, and determination are sometimes considered cliché. It’s because those are the ones that all generations have realized reach deep and change people, and therefore they get used a lot. Let's experiment to find new ways to tell these things and deeper ones like them with more creativity and culture-savvy excellence. Let’s polish them in new ways that will make people pick up these gems and wear them close to their hearts, adopt them as part of their identity, and live a richer life that believes in the deep layers of meaning that were built into us by our maker.
Rule #2 to be more creative: Awareness- Don’t grow pot in your basement.
Let’s say you’re growing pot in your basement (not that I’m endorsing this). If you stay down there you’re gonna get the same stuff every time. The pros are mixing pot with their friends and engineering their way right past ya. T-H-C-ya later duuuude. (Sorry, puns may be the lowest form of art. Bad puns, even lower)
Art made in a vacuum is most at home in a vacuum. I know because that’s where so many of my projects have grown and died. Unless you simply want to create for the sake of purging, you must learn from your heroes and be aware of your audience. (Austin Kleon has a great book on this. Thanks JJ and Tricia for telling me about it!)
When the company I was working for decided to start designing patio furniture, I had never paid attention to it before. I didn’t know what shapes and materials had worked their way into the fabric of my culture. I had never paid attention to the chairs that mothers had rocked their babies in, or the love seats teenagers had their first kisses on. Neither had I been watching what the most desirable people were putting on their patios. I might have still been working there if I had cared about that stuff. We need to observe, not only to find the gems of meaning, but also to know what color they are polishing them with.
After I got a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering it might have been foolish but I got another 3.5 year B.S. in Industrial Design when I could have gotten a 2 year masters degree. Anyway, I say this because I’ve seen enough to know that even in Engineering we must reach out of our heads so we can know our tools and find their limits. I designed a couple of potentially patentable patio umbrella mechanisms but we’ll never know if they could be patented because our factory didn’t have tools articulated enough, nor do there exist materials strong enough to make them.
You gotta look out of your head to be the best type of creative.
However, after you look at what everybody else likes and does, the keenest gage for what you can best give to the world is finding what YOU love. LOVE. And pursuing your unique version of it, in your specific style.
And also, don’t let what the other guys are doing limit you. I have never seen a flip book in a novel, but after I wrote my 200-page book I thought, “That’s a lot of pages. I can draw. I’ll give my novel a flipbook.” And when someone sees that flipbook, it’s usually when they decide to buy the book. That’s a good way to be creative.
I like to watch movies, but since I am unhealthily obsessed with being productive, I’ll turn it into research. When I watch movies at home I open up my iPad and take notes on storytelling. (I broke my notes out for the first time in the theater last weekend because the movie “Whiplash” was so good. Sorry people behind me!). I wait until something is sparked inside of me and then I ask myself, why did I like that? Or what do I hope will happen, and why? And then I try to use that to inform my own work. We can do this with everything we observe. Do it with billboards, magazine articles, pieces of music, even people’s social interactions. Notice what you and other people love, observe what works and what doesn’t, figure out why, then take that knowledge home to help you master your craft.
Many of the other rules will help us do great polishing.
Rule #3 to be more creative: Audience- Don’t call your girlfriend fat.
Among the biggest fumbles of my life was when I basically told a girlfriend that she looked fat. I know, horrible. I was young. But looking back, the reason I told her was because I felt insecure, scrawny, and scared and wanted to purge that feeling from myself and onto someone else.
Don’t do this with your art.
In other words don’t give the world something because you want to GIVE it; give them something because you would want to GET it. (Again, this is another Austin Kleon concept. Thank you, sir)
For the first draft of my fantasy novel series I included every clever thing I had thought of to build that world, including short stories I had written for other things. After I finished the fifth book in my series I went back and saw they were basically unreadable. I realized I was mostly trying to give people everything I had ever produced because I didn’t want any moment in my life to go to waste. My life.
Again, it was all about me.
I filed those novels away (it’s okay to make things for your own mental purging, but that’s not usually the form in which you want to give them to the world.) Maybe I’m going too far, but after I rewrote the first book in the series I told my novelist friend the new compact storyline and she said, “I think you could make that one book into three books!” I replied, “Oh, actually it’s only 168 pages with illustrations every few pages.” I’m cutting out any space fillers so ya’ll can love every moment and get on with your busy, and now enriched lives.
If you write a story and make the character’s crush named Melerictally just because that’s what you get when you put your three secret childhood crushes’ names, Melanie, Erica, and Natalia together, just beware that it may not be helping her chances among your audience. If you have inside secrets in your art, just remember your audience does not have those secrets and you may be hindering their reception of it. You can do it for you, but modify it if you’re giving it to them.
One time I tried to write a worship song and showed it to my brother (who’s a great song-writer) and he said, “Dude, you can’t use the word PROSTRATE in a song. It sounds too much like PROSTATE.” Yep, again, I wasn’t thinking enough about what my audience would be thinking, just looking for the most accurate way to express MYSELF.
But remember it’s not just about them, but about what you would want if you were them. And a great way to find that is to create things that you wish existed.
When I designed my blog I wanted a site that was calm and relaxing to go to. To go to. Not some blingy thing I’d be proud I made. And it was only after I built that blog that people started asking me if I could illustrate things for them. They saw what I made because I had wanted it, and they wanted it too.
A few years ago, I wanted light, mobile furniture that I could transform into anything I needed. So, I had these things built that I call Mocha Blocks. They are upholstered foam blocks that you can velcro together into different shapes. I have used them continuously for the past eight years for couches, chairs, tables, bed frames, beds, flip crash pads for youth group kids, padding in moving vans, and on Valentine’s day my date and I made a fort and read to each other in it. People usually love them and ask me, why haven’t you marketed these? I hope someday I will! I bet people would like these because I think they’re awesome! But the point is that this came not from what I wanted to GIVE the world, but what I wanted to GET from the world. I wanted modular furniture so I made some, and now other people want it too!
And just a bit of advice, if you didn’t gather from above, things go much better when you tell girls when they look pretty, and keep it to yourself when they don’t. But luckily I’ve grown up a lot and they all look more pretty to me. Now I can better appreciate the ample curves of a healthy feminine physique, because I’m realizing it’s a lot less about me and my scrawny little butt.
Rule #4 to be more creative: Purest Beauty- That bird’s got bugs
Sometimes I catch myself looking at things with simplistic beauty like a perfect red cardinal or something and thinking, “Pure and simple beauty just seems so easy.” But, then I remember that underneath those pure colors are hugely complex systems that are supporting life as well as constantly fighting off all sorts of messy bugs and diseases (loads of bird mites, and there are 60 diseases in their droppings, etc.)
The simplest, purest beauty usually holds huge, intricate complexity behind it. So don’t be dismayed if you can’t seem to make something simply beautiful with just a dash of your pen or paintbrush. This is usually normal in creativity.
You all have heard the story about Thomas Edison making a thousand failed attempts before he came up with the perfect light bulb that we now take for granted because it is so simple. And that dude was a master at being creative.
The minimalistic beauty of the Eames plywood bent chairs came only after the Eames duo (husband and wife) pioneered whole new technologies with bending wood.
I’ve made like 20 prototypes of a bent wood wallet I designed (which will probably now be made of metal because of material constraints) and I still haven’t found one that will be functional and simple enough to produce.
Development costs seem most ridiculous when you see the most simple, beautiful products, I know. But don’t be dismayed if a project is taking longer than it would take to simply draw all the lines, or pound out the notes on the piano, or write that many words into a book. There is glacier of development under the surface of the water which holds up the beautiful little peak that people will see.
And don’t think that because you’re putting so much time into something, it won’t still be better by taking unnecessary things out of it. If it can still be made simpler, and nothing critical of value will be missed, it’s usually the best idea to take stuff out.
… click to step 4 below to see the rest of this hack to be more creative.
Sneak peek at the other rules to be more creative: 1. Value: Unbury gems and polish them 2. Awareness: Don’t grow pot in your basement 3. Audience: Don’t call your girlfriend fat 4. Pure Beauty: That bird’s got bugs 5. Passion: Feed your monster 6. Focal Point: Give them a paper weight 7. Patterns and Variations: If life is a series of roads, give me some windows to look in 8. Storytelling: Give all art the guts of a joke 9. Details: Dress your art to the T, even if it’s skateboarding clothes 10. Brand: The singer has to be as cool as the song 11.Bonus rule: There are too many rules to know, but try
Raw Spoon, 2-17-15