My creative process…

needs serious help.

I’ve had a 30×40 blank canvas sitting at a friend’s apartment since last summer. Whenever I come over I walk into that room and it stares back at me, taunting me with its blank vacancy. If anyone is afraid of a blank page it’s me.

But “afraid” isn’t exactly the world I’m looking for. It doesn’t quite capture the conflict of emotions I face when assigned a new project that requires some level of creativity. One would think, well isn’t that supposed to be fun? It is, but it’s also stressful for someone like myself. Something I’ve discovered about myself just in the last year, is that when faced with a blank page the following happens:

EXCITEMENT! -> burst of inspiration -> brainstorming and lingering on seemingly good ideas -> blankness for days or weeks -> anxiety -> S.O.S.

During the first three stages I’m on top of the world, anticipating a challenge, equipped to creatively solve a problem, and most of all, ready to show others what I’m capable of doing. Then it just stops. Once I reach the hour when all of my ideas must be structured into some coherent, tangible form, I draw a blank and the fear settles in. It is so frustrating, mainly because I have proven to myself time and time again that what I finally output is usually something to be proud of.

So what do I do? Let it sit, especially if I have the time. I’m not admitting this because it’s a good thing. It’s something I am working on for the sake of my work and sanity. I have a few personal mechanisms I have tried this year when pursuing challenging creative tasks.

To explain these mechanisms and my general creative process, I’ll take you on my journey as a new graphic design student. This semester I was tasked with designing a logo, stationery set, brochure, website, poster, and brief promotional clip for an education consulting company. It might not seem like a lot, but for someone new to this stuff it is. I initially began doing what Twyla Tharp calls “scratching,” which is essentially seeking out ideas in any way that works best for you. I began by thinking of every word or phrase I could think of that related to this company.

Passion, learning, relationships, team-building, children, growth, etc.

From there I picked out some of my favorite words and simply googled them followed by “symbols.” I.e. educational symbols. I do this because it keeps me from looking directly at other company logos and provides breathing room to coordinate all the images I see in a way that is unique to my taste. Then it’s straight to the sketch book – pen, paper, and too many thoughts. Sketching is my favorite method because I’m still very new to Adobe programs and am therefore much slower at making ideas come alive directly on the computer. The final product never ends up being exactly what I draw out, but it sure does give me a great starting point.

Naturally, things don’t always go our way. Design can be so frustrating and terribly discouraging when nothing you do seems to look even half good. That’s when I stop. It gets exhausting looking at the same thing for hours on end. The more you stare at the screen, the harder it gets. I promise it’ll still be on the USB if you walk away. Guilty as charged, sometimes my walking away constitutes a full day or even days. If there is not time, I simply go outside. I’m not really looking for shapes or inspiration, I’m seriously just getting fresh air and resting my eyes and mind. I also just love the outdoors. Another thing I love to do, which happens to help in creative funks, is talk to people. I love getting another person’s opinion, particularly someone who is completely unrelated to the project at hand. It’s my means of getting an outsider’s perspective. I constantly remind myself that this may look totally different to someone who hasn’t looked at it all week.

The reality is, funks don’t last forever. Maybe not the best explanation, but when deadlines start creeping up, something in me clicks and I get it done. And I know I’m not settling for less because I’m annoyingly nitpicky about doing the absolute best job I can do (and then days later realizing I could’ve done something even better). But I know things won’t always click, and that is why my creative process is something I would like to add some kind of structure to. So that I always have some mechanism guiding me back to the path, helping me to be successful in future creative pursuits.


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