The number one thing I hear from people is that they want to make art, but “can’t”. They deeply admire creativity, and want to be creative but have blocked themselves from believing it possible. They lock it away in a little box that only other people seem to magically access.
Some go so far as to make a hobby out of collecting art supplies. It’s that pile of new sketchbooks gone untouched for years. The touch of the cover uplifts their spirits, but they feel shame at not living up to that perfect potential held within those pages.
But paper is just paper. It’s a renewable resource. And so is that internal flame of creativity. Like all fire, you must feed it to make it grow. And in this case- we feed it fresh paper. That potential. We must let go of perfection in order to improve and to see our skills and creativity grow.
There’s an exercise I like to do with sketchbook collectors.
Open your favorite sketchbook. The one that brings you the most joy when you touch the cover. The one you truly covet.
Grab a pen.
On that very first page- Scribble. Scribble until you’ve released that fear of messing it up. Scribble, because now this is the worst page in the sketchbook. Because anything and everything that comes after is an improvement. Allow yourself room to grow.
Turn the page.
On this fresh, new page, I want you to scribble again. Something smaller this time- a thoughtless jumble, but not enough to cover the page. Now, take a moment to look at it. Really look at it. Start finding shapes inside the scribble – an eye, a hat, a mountain. Darken those lines- begin to find the shape. Add features, and try to use what’s already there to frame your decisions. Let your mind wander, and tell yourself a story about these lines. What are they? Where it is? What emotion does it elicit in you?
Sometimes, people will look at their own scribble and start judging it’s worthiness. If you’re struggling to overcome this, try scribbling with your eyes closed, or ask a friend to scribble for you. Happy scribbling!
You see: creativity thrives on boundaries. It means having a framework to explore within rather than creating from nothing. That framework can be self-made – like your scribble. Begin by asking a single question. Who is this person I’m drawing? If it’s a landscape, you could start with- Is it day time? Build your own framework, and the picture in your mind will become clearer. If creativity is a process of connecting the dots, and the more you explore the framework, the more dots you see. While it may feel like magic, the end result is the product of the creative process.
Outside of the sketchbook, we can use this same process. Whether you’re tasked with developing a product or want to understand your customers better, the questions are the same: Who are your customers? What problem do they need solved? How are they currently solving it? We can use real life research to answer these questions and build the framework. Real data allows us to test our assumptions, and build creative solutions for real, verifiable needs.
The next time someone tells you to think outside the box, just remember the box is a starting point. Build off what is already known, and continue to make new connections.