Innovation vs Ideation – Getting Out Of A Creative Rut
“Innovation is defined as the ‘action or process of innovating’.
Innovations are: a new method, idea, product or process.”
Quite often we think of creature design and innovative, where we create new and completely original creations from nothing.
But sadly this is not the case. More often than not, we are building on what has come before, building on the limitations of real physiology; that mother nature has provided. We are taking what has gone before and augmenting it, or morphing it into something that is ‘at least in some part’ new to our eyes.
This is ideation, it is the evolution of an initial concept or idea, and the process of evolving both the subject and the story that surrounds it. Quite often when we are sketching away, we get lost in the moment. Our brains disengage from the world around us and seems to take on, well, a mind of its own. Ideation Is ‘the formation of ideas or concepts’.
You might be wondering, OK, so coming up with new ideas that you can add to or incorporate into your creature designs is all well and good, but HOW do I actually do it? I mean, do I just sit there and wait for an idea to happen? Or, is there a way to nurture the process? A way to coax out something new?
Well, I’m glad you asked! Sure you can sit quietly and wait for that spark of lighting, that strike of inspiration, or, you can take the matter into your own hands and take a proactive approach to keeping things moving, keeping ideas flowing and above all, keeping it fresh…
The technique I am about to share with you have been developed over literally hundreds of drawing sessions and many-many creature designs. (For example of some of my creations, you can check out my YouTube channel )
Your mileage may vary, depending on both your current skill level and your motivation to create. What does that mean? Well, it means I could, tell you every little trick and technique that I use, but unless you put it in to practice, you will never improve. I know, it’s a hard life, but if you don’t fight to shine, you will fade!
Step 1: Set Aside Some Time
Finding the time and space to create is always hard. It takes effort to get all of your materials out and organized. It takes time to tidy-up a space to work in. Avoid this by having a designated space, even just a corner of a room, or a small desk. A place that you can call your own. A space that no-one in the house is allowed to touch or move. A space where you work.
Just as important as a dedicated space is a Designated time. We all live in a busy world, with many distractions and ‘other tasks’ that are going on right? By allocating yourself a time period, perhaps an hour or two every day, you can get into a routine and devote time to improving your craft. After all, it is only with practice that you will become better.
And the key to this techniques success is practice. Spend the time to get used to the process, try it out, see what works, see what doesn’t, adapt it as needed. Find the time, NO!, make the time to try this out a dozen times…
Step 2: Feeding Your Fears
Find out what makes you feel scared, what is it that really gets to you? Now embrace it. Whether your fear is spiders or maggots, rabbits or rabies! Take some time to look into the subject. It’s important to understand why this reaction in you happens. The goal of any artist is to invoke an emotion or a feeling in the viewer. It’s about making a connection through your creations, and to achieve this, you need to become familiar with how you personally connect with an image. Find out what it is that the image says to you, how was it presented? Is it disgusting, unnerving, frightening, happy, sad, exciting, sedentary?
As you analyze this reaction more, you will begin to see that there is an unspoken language between you and the artist, a way that they have communicated something to you, without words, without prejudice, but in a visual way. Now. Importantly! Hold onto this idea, this concept, try to think about it the next time you create a drawing, or design a creature, think back to that moment when you ‘understood’ how the artist was connecting, the techniques they used and apply it to your own work.
Was it the colours they used? Was it the medium itself? Was it the subject matter? Use the answers to these questions to feed into your fears, and let them grow into existence, then let them fade away. What will be left is a new appreciation and an understanding in one way to communicate visually.
Step 3: Feeling uncomfortable
Every image goes through that phase when it looks neither amazing, nor terrible. It’s sort of a transition stage, an ‘ugly nice’ if you will. Now, don’t worry, every artist ever born has gone through this same process, every time they create an image. It is very unlikely, Leonardo never started the Mona-Lisa with the final result, completely, firmly in his mind, no he started out knowing what direction he wanted to end in, he was confident in his abilities to take him so far along that path, and he also started out with the knowledge that there would come a stage in the painting process, when it just looked a mess.
Now the moral here is that, you need to learn to be uncomfortable, just for a short time, you need to be confident that this feeling will pass as you continue to work on your image. It will get better, it will start to look like what you intended, it will evolve into something more, something better, something greater than the original concept.
There is a transition stage, that, sadly mostly people stop at, with the idea they can never draw. But, it is just that. It is a transition, and you need to see it through. Get to the other side and I promise, you will feel better for it. Creating art and especially creature design, is like a new journey every time you sit down and sketch. If you know your destination, you will be more prepared to handle the bumps in the road.
Step 4: Explore Ideas
Now, here is the meat of this technique. Exploration. Wait is that it? Yes! Bear with me while I explain…
When sketching an idea, we have already established that it will be built in some way on the things that have come before it, previous images, previous concepts, the work from other artists, the creations of mother nature herself, right? OK, now, every time that you want to move the image forwards. Stop. Ask yourself, what is it about this image that I can push forwards? What can I add that invokes that feeling we talked about earlier, in the viewer? What do you want your audience to ‘read’ from this image?
Now embellish. Add a random feature to your design. See if you can insert another eyeball or horn, or spiky tooth into your image and make it look like it belongs. See if you can build the back story, to support the reasons for it begin there. After all it is going to look pretty strange if you have an image of a frog man, and he has a tooth stuck out of his forehead, right? But what if you could evolve your original story, change your mind-set!
What if your frog dude, wears a bandanna, and hanging from it are an array of little trinkets that this poor old guys has gathered from his many lonely days in the swamp, hanging among them is a spiky tooth. Immediately, you have added interest to your image. Why does he collect these things? Where did that tooth come from? Who is this guy?
Exploring ideas in this manner, by injecting a new element and resolving the story behind it being there is a great skill to have in a creative world. It’s a fun mental exercise that will keep you on your toes, keep your mind exploring new connections and relationships. Above all, it is a comforting thing to know, that you have a technique, a mechanism, a way to potentially, help you out when you are feeling stagnated and uninspired.
For a fun little program I wrote to help generate a new creature idea, check out this page (Creature Idea Generator - new link coming soon!) Simply press the button and have a unique creature design brief, immediately generated for you. Treat it as a starting point, and idea or seed of a concept, then run with it. Take it apart, change it up, add to it, use it as you wish. My goal with this little tool, was to kick start your neurons, the end result is up to you
Step 5: Retire Your Sketches
At some point you have to move forwards leave the sketches behind and nominate one idea and give it ALL of your attention. There is a phrase called ‘murdering your darlings‘ it originates in the writing world, but it also applies here. Say you are drawing an image, and you have just drawn the best line you have ever drawn in your life before, it looks amazing! You take a look at your image, and something looks off, something just isn’t quite right. Now you need to murder your darlings, you need to be confident enough to erase what you have done and do it better, no matter what. You need to avoid being held back because you love your image so much, that you are afraid to ‘ruin’ it.
Once you have selected your design, you need to narrow in and devote your full attention to this one image. Forget the 1043 thumbnails you have just created and start to realize the potential of the image you just selected. Don’t let your mind wander into other great ideas for that little sketch you just drew. Stick with your concept, after all there was something that made you choose it, something that called out to you and spoke or connected with you as a good idea. Your job now, is to understand what that was and to bring it forth in to your process.
This stage is called ‘retiring your sketches’. It does not mean that you throw them away, never to be looked at again. NO! simply put them aside and focus on one thing at a time. If your attention and efforts are split between two or more activities, you can only ever hope to perform each one to 50% of your potential right. SO, retire those sketches for this session, put them away, until you have another time, when you are looking for inspiration. Then, open that drawer or folder and look at them with fresh eyes, after time has passed. What you will notice is perhaps different to what you remember being there. Perhaps, it now looks cooler, or perhaps not! Either way, keep the sketches as thoughts or moments of ideas, and refer back to them at a later date, but don’t let them distract you from the here and now. Now is the time to focus on your current image.
Well, there we have it. A complete breakdown to a technique that you can use the next time you need to come up with new ideas, or while you are working on an image and feeling uninspired. I hope that you take-away a few things from this post. Firstly, I hope that you now have a clearer understanding to how to break out of that creative rut. Secondly, I hope that you now feel more reassured that there can be light at the end of the tunnel, and when you feel like your work is going nowhere, how you can move in another direction with confidence and without regret for abandoning your fist idea!