Inspiration: How to Stay Creative, Even on Demand

(Please note this article was originally published at, here.)

Every professional creative feels uninspired from time to time. Inspiration is something we can’t control, it comes and goes, and we don’t really know why. It can be nerve-wracking to feel that you are at the mercy of an elusive wave of inspiration. Is it just a matter of time before you’re totally uninspired, left high and dry, with a deadline fast approaching?

Here are a few habits I’ve cultivated that allow me to capitalize on times of high inspiration, and minimize times I’m not inspired.
Keep a sketchbook
Because they will not find water frequently, camels drink up to 20 gallons of water at a time and store it inside their bodies. When they are crossing deserts, they draw on these reserves to keep going. Keeping a sketchbook is like storing up water for the dry spells. There are times when I feel incredibly inspired, or even mildly inspired, or just have a random good idea. If I can capture those ideas in a sketchbook, I have created a reserve that will help me stay creative, even during dry spells when I otherwise would not be inspired.
In order to create good design, you have to look at good design
There are 30 or so blogs I check daily. I compile them into Google Reader, and it becomes the equivalent of browsing a daily newspaper created just for me. I read blogs that post visual inspiration, but not necessarily just graphic design. When I see something I like, I pull the image into a folder called “inspiration” and label it with a category (in addition to the original name). For example, if I see a really unique storefront display I will pull the images and label them “interior_design.” I have a catalogue of almost 2000 images now.
Sometimes I begin a project and don’t have a clue where to start. So, I look in my inspiration folder. I search for a category like “design,” “illustration,” “packaging” or “posters” and browse through the images. Now to be perfectly clear, the point is NOT to copy those designs, but rather to jumpstart my own creative process — and it almost always works. Looking at other creative solutions helps me think about my own jobs in new and creative ways.
Here are some blogs that I check regularly:
Change your scenery
While working on our own logo at CSK, we had reached a point that felt like a dead end. We had explored every possible option (so we thought) and hated them all.
Frustrated, I decided to take a walk and get some fresh air. Walking downtown I began to notice the local historic signage, little metal plaques on all the downtown buildings with vintage typefaces. Fortunately, I had my trusty sketchbook and some drawing utensils and I made rubbings of every C, S and K I found.
When I returned to the office I laid out all the rubbings I had created. The team gathered around. We suddenly saw new possibilities in classic typefaces.  The beautiful juxtaposition of hand-touched and machine-crafted letterforms revitalized our creative process. And while we didn’t end up directly using these sketches, they helped jumpstart our stalled creative process.
It’s inevitable that you’ll feel less creative at some moments in your career than at others, and sometimes the highest pressure moments can freeze our creativity a bit. Tricks like taking a walk, keeping sketch books and reading blogs every day help me work through those high pressure, low-inspiration moments. What do you do when you need extra inspiration?

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