As deviants, we are serious about our craft, hobbyist or professional. We study hard to become better at what we do. There are many great tutorials here and elsewhere on these kinds of craft based skills and techniques. However, sometimes all that serious study and hard work gets in the way of our imagination. Therefore, it is important to remember to establish a wonder filled mindset, actively seek out inspiration, and curate a library of inspiring content to reference in the future. This article explores some ways to do these three things, and I encourage you to comment and share even more tips on this for other deviants!
Inviting the Mind of a Child
“The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play.”-Albert Einstein
The biggest part of imagination is playing the part of Peter Pan. You might be 99 or you might be 12, but it is often important to imagination to be in the head space of a 5-7 year old. I’ve spent some time with 5-7 year olds and there are some great things we can learn from them about imagining.
Curiosity may have killed the cat but not people.
First of all, always be curious. Children are always asking “why?” and to the point of annoyance for a lot of teachers and parents. Their minds are actively seeking out why and how things work, soaking in knowledge like a sponge. This kind of curiosity feeds imagination as we fill in gaps between what we know, what we’re learning, and the completely unknown.
Did you ever get in trouble for pointing as a child? How about staring? I know that I did. Children are always looking at things, observing and pointing out details or experiences that we as adults have simply learned to tune out. Observation is important to art and writing as a study, and it is also important to imagination. Remembering to not only look but to see simple details like the gem-like qualities of raindrops on bare trees, give your imagination a lot of fodder.
Play and pretend.
Play is enough important aspect of the childhood mind that allows for imaginative creation. A big trick of that is having no fear of what others think of you. In other words, don’t be afraid to look silly. To be fair, this is easier to get away with as a child. I could talk to my imaginary friends all day when I was 5 and it had an air of normalcy. As an adult talking to imaginary friends all day arouses suspicion. That is hardly fair, because in the world of comics we indeed spend a great deal of time with our imaginary characters.
Find wonder in everything.
Above all else, maintain that sense of wonder and delight at little things: birds chirping, the night sky, the smell of rain, your morning coffee. The details you notice, celebrate, and enjoy creep into your work and add dimension to your imaginary exploits.
Adventures in Inspiration
Now that you are in the right mindset, it is time to take to the road and get your hands on that juicy inspiration that let’s you imagination take flight. Where do you start, though? Well, there are a lot of different ways for you to expose yourself to new ideas, sensations, and experiences that lead to a vibrant imagination.
Get out and explore.
“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”-Marie Curie
We love our digital tools, our students, and our routines. However, the best experiences come from actually going out and experiencing the world with all 5 senses. What’s even better, there is a way to “get out and explore” for every type of creative.
I have often had to walk to and from the office or class as part of my daily routine. I often find my mind and eyes wandering on these walks. The very act of physically moving around seems to stimulate my imagination in ways I don’t expect. If I really need to shake things up, I add a soundtrack, go on a photo excursion somewhere completely new, or pretend I’m one of my characters and try to see the world through a whole new lens. Mind, I recognize the last might make me seem a little off balance-but trust me, it is worth the ideas it brings to mind.
But what if there is nothing interesting where you walk? That is mindset again. Be a child, have wonder! You can even do this one in the country. I used to live in an area surrounded by farms and it is amazing the ideas that come simply from getting outdoors and wandering through cornfields. Why yes, that did indeed inspire the opening to Infinite Spiral.
Driving is like walking and simply being exposed to new territories and focusing on the road always seems to get ideas coming. The main downside to driving is you have to retain those ideas without committing traffic violations. If you are inspired by driving I recommend a dictation device (recorder or mobile) to get down your ideas so you can focus on the road. Otherwise, do your fellow drivers a favor and pull over.
Visit a museum.
There is no better way to get inspired than to learn something new. Museums have better and better experiences as time goes on, and if there’s a particular kind of object or costume in your comic, they provide an opportunity for you to get up close and personal with physical artifacts (zooming in on pixels only goes so far). Do you not have a museum around you? A library is a nice place to go too, even if it is more likely to be full of secondary sources.
Sit in your backyard or on your balcony.
That seems simple, but your imagination really can go for the outdoors. I was stumped on my Master’s project ideas in 2011, after long secondary research and a lot of listing. Frustrated, I moved to my balcony, where the spring trees were beginning to fade. Following the patterns of branches and fading flowers in the trees I came up with the initial concept for what became, Star Crossed and allowed me to graduate.
The basic rule here is to break your routine!
Be a dreamer.
“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw
Whether dreaming while asleep or daydreaming while awake, dreams are powerful sources of inspiration.
Dreams are a huge source of inspiration for me, and I can name more than once scene in Infinite Spiral that was borrowed from my subconscious wanderings. However, dealing with your subconscious though can be a bit slippery, so here are a couple quick tips: 1) Keep a notebook by your bed. 2) After you wake up, don’t try to think about the rogue dream directly, let the details drift in bit by bit. 3) The more often you write down and actively remember your dreams, the more likely you will be to remember them in the future.
In additional, daydreams are also a brilliant source of inspiration. I am a huge proponent of the value of letting one’s mind wander. Often, the best ideas come when you aren’t paying attention. The truth is that our imaginations need to relax too and flights of fancy are good for soul.
“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle
Music, movies, television, books, comics, videogames-all of these media are powerful vehicles for storytelling, and as writers and artists the are incredible resources for new ideas. I’m sure this isn’t news around here, but I didn’t want to leave it off. If I listed all the media that influence my comic then you’d just up and stop reading the list out of boredom.
In addition, don’t forget simply browsing deviations of all kinds is a way of consuming media and gaining new ideas. Just remember, there’s a difference between plagiarizing and being inspired by the work of others. But I didn’t have to tell you that.
Wander the world wide web.
"When John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry developed the first digital computing machine at Iowa State University in 1937, little did they know that their invention would become an integral part of a sophisticated worldwide cat picture distribution system." - David Burge
Oh, you're still here. Sorry. The internet is full of everything, especially cats, but that's neither here nor there. It has never been so easy to access information on virtually any subject. If you don’t have somewhere to go and explore physically, then there are plenty of virtual experiences you can partake in to get inspired.
If you aren’t there already, Tumblr is great source of inspiration and so is Pinterest. The two are different browsing experiences, but full of great images to spark ideas. I’d also suggest hitting up photo libraries on Flickr and Picasa and searching tags, or simply browsing. Of course, there is also the obvious Google Image Search.
If text and reading is what you crave, gather your news sources and blogs in an app like Readability or Flipboard and bring in articles that inspire you. Wander around the vast pages of Wikipedia-you’d be surprised what new ideas are hiding in stub pages.
In other words, indulge that curiosity. You are seeking inspiration, not credible sources.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. --Carl Jung
Of course, getting inspired would not be complete without the idea of play! Play is such a rich source
Doodle or free write.
Create inspiration games.
Roleplay your characters.
This is all coming back to that “Childlike Mindset!” There are hundreds of ways to play and inspire your imagination.
Curating Your Inspiration Library
"First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination." -Napoleon Hill
- Journal: The classic tool for writing words. Pen may be required.
- Sketchbook: The classic tool for drawing pictures. Pencil may be required.
- Moodboards: Boards, like a storyboard, used more for the purpose of capturing feel. Images that invoke certain emotions, colors, textures, and more are organized on the board as guidance for visual work. They can easily be modified for other purposes.
- Walls: This is like moodboards, only requires wall space. Alas, my current apartment has little available wall space, but during my Serious Game Design program at Michigan State, I covered my walls in sketches, photos, inspirations, concept art, and more to fuel my projects.
- Scrap Paper: Make sure your pen is handy. I use scrap paper and sticky notes a lot, but usually have to move the "inspiration" to a more secure location, like a notebook or digital archive. These are just way to easy to misplace when I actually need to reference them.
- Audio Tapes: These are great for people who get inspired while moving around! Other devices for dictation, such as those available on mobile devices and your computer, are similar solutions. I don't use them yet, but know others who value them as a way to make sure ideas are not lost. Just stay out of Watergate.
- Photography: I think I annoy my friends with this method. I am constantly stopping for potential reference photos when even the most minute of details catches my attention. You don't want to see my iPhoto Library. Or do you?
- Evernote: A popular browser based tool for collecting content and taking notes. I can't provide much more information than that, as it is not a service I use. However, there are many who prefer it over Pinterest and Springpad. There are also mobile versions, which is helpful.
- Pinterest: Pinterest allows you to pin images to boards and repin socially. It is a nice tool for quick curation. It is also mobile. As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration.
- Springpad: This is like Pinterest, only uses notebooks instead of pin. It has a "Spring it" button you can add (like Pin It). However, where it differs from Pinterest is that you can display content in your notebooks in three ways, one of which is a "mood board" like organization. As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. Like Pinterest, there is a mobile version.
- Mural.ly: A digital mood board space that allows you to embed and write notes on a variety of media, as well as use arrows and other effects to map and connect them. This is currently in beta and may eventually be a paid service, but I am a bit fond of it. This web app doesn't currently have a mobile version.
- Popplet: Not to be confused with delicious Popplers, Popplet is similar to Mural.ly but focuses more on a kind of mind-mapping of different content. This web app has a long load time and is not available mobile.
- Tumblr: Tumblr is great for artists and writers that don't need a lot of organization, provided they have a stream of content to go back to. As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. A plus, Tumblr is easy to access on mobile devices.
So you have a childlike mindset, know how to go on a variety of inspiration adventures, and plan to curate those ideas so you don't lose them. What's next? Well, that is where the adventure of comicking continues. From here you can brainstorm, draft, sketch, refine ideas, thumbnail, sketch, revise, and of course, add new inspiration at any time.
Have a grand journey into your imagination. And remember what Carl Sagan wrote:
"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."