The perspiration of inspiration: tips to get the ideas flowing

Perhaps when I’m retired I’ll have the luxury of letting inspiration come to me naturally: sipping espresso in a sidewalk cafe and watching people bustle by, strolling museums and taking in the great works, or rummaging through family heirlooms in the attic.

But the reality is, I’m a working graphic artist, and my clients can’t afford to wait with the clock ticking while I siphon inspiration from day-to-day activities. So I’ve developed a process to get things moving. And while I don’t try everything every time, these creative jump starts are great to select from as I stare at the blank page in front of me:

  • Start with words. Brainstorm similes and metaphors for the concept/idea you are presenting. Expand the list to include words that express the personality of the project, colors, shapes, cliches associated with it. Be expansive at first, then go back through and highlight the words that BEST express the idea. Use those as your guide.
  • Brainstorm images. Start with sketching many of the words you listed earlier. Play with ways to show those ideas visually. Don’t try to design anything. Just make a lot of sloppy marks on the paper to act as placeholders for ideas.
  • Research images. Go online now and use Google Images to look up images that correspond to words on your original list. You’ll be surprised how many more ideas this will give you. For example, say you look up the word “cake”. You’ll expect to find lots of images of birthday cakes, cake slices, cupcakes. . .right? But you may be surprised to see something like a rice cake. Or the band, “Cake”. Print out images that surprise you or convey an idea really well. Take note of colors that are commonly used in association with the images.
  • Research your competition. Take note of the traditional colors, fonts, images, and designs of your client’s competitors. You’ll want to know the competition well if you want to create something that sets your client apart.
  • Research fonts. Visit font sites online or use your own software to investigate font choices. Type in your client’s name and preview how it looks in different fonts. Take note of and print our your favorites.
  • Review design annuals, art books, historical resources. If you know you want to work in a certain style, this can give you a good baseline for the elements that go into it. Sketch variations on elements you like. Keep your sketches loose to make the ideas your own.
  • Create an inspiration board. Now that you’ve collected words, images, colors, and sketches, get them up on a board or wall in front of you. Organize them into chunks that make sense to you.
  • Create thumbnails. Referencing your inspiration board, create tiny layout sketches that suggest elements of the design. Create dozens of these, then go back and select the ones you think will work the best. Flesh out these top ideas in a larger format and include more detail. Play around with adding colors and simulating the fonts.

Have your own sources of inspiration? Share them with us, we’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below.

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