You may have noticed that the more time you spend being creative, the more creative ideas you have and the more you actually want to do something creative. Unfortunately, the opposite can also be true, and I know from my own experience that the longer I go without drawing something, making something, or painting something, the harder it will be for me to get going and actually do one of those things.
This is regardless of the fact that I love my creative time and really enjoy all of those activities. Somehow it seems easier to just pick up a book or have a nose around Netflix for the next series to binge on. As much as it’s about building a habit, it’s also about finding inspiration and sparking new ideas from existing ones.
I recently read The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry, and he devotes an entire chapter to creative stimuli. He points out that “It goes without saying that what we put into our heads will necessarily influence what and how well we create.”
As much as I already knew this on some level, it really made something click in my head. If this is the case, then those guilty pleasure trashy shows that we watch every so often (ahem…) could well be doing our creativity a little more harm than we realise!
How are creative thought processes affected by surroundings?
Todd Henry goes on to outline a study by Derren Brown in which he demonstrates the influence a person’s direct environment can have on their creative thought processes. Derren Brown is an illusionist and mentalist who’s well known (especially in Britain where he’s from) for making TV programmes that highlight the intricacies and inner workings of the human brain.
In the particular experiment, two guys who worked in advertising were taken to meet Derren Brown. He asked them to come up with an advertising campaign, including a name and slogan, for a new chain of taxidermists. You can watch what happened here, or read on for my own brief explanation.
The advertising executives were told they would have 30 minutes to work on their ideas, so they really only had the time to go with the initial gut reactions. And just before he left the room to let the guys get to work, Brown placed an envelope containing some ideas he’d already sketched out on the desk (under a stuffed cat, but that’s beside the point…).
When the 30 minutes was up, the ad execs showed their concept for “Animal Heaven”, which included an image of a bear playing a lyre (a kind of mini harp…do a Google image search!) and the slogan “the best place for dead animals”.
When they had finished explaining their ideas, Brown told one of the guys to open the envelope he had placed on the desk. He did so, and revealed a very similar concept to “Animal Heaven”.
Brown was able to accurately predict the general concept that the two ad execs would come up with because he had arranged for some very specific items and images to have been placed along the route taken by the taxi driver who was dropping the guys off to meet with Derren.
They were taken past London Zoo, and various images and shop windows contained items such as angel wings, a lyre, gates with the word “Zoo” written above them, and the phrases “where the best dead animals go” and “creature heaven”.
The two men may not have been aware of the images and phrases that were entering their brains, but these things apparently stuck in their subconscious and then came back out again in the form of their advertising concept. I’m guessing that the short time limit also helped to prompt those particular images too.
Of course there are some people who believe that this was faked, or that the ad execs were just doing their jobs and deliberately using the things they had seen rather than the images manifesting themselves subconsciously. But whether you believe in this particular example or not, there’s no denying that if you see something enough times, it will stick in your head, whether you are aware of it or not.
Inspiring the subconscious
This is absolutely FASCINATING to me. We all know that the human brain is an amazing thing, with capabilities beyond our imaginations, but we clearly absorb more information subconsciously than we could ever realise. Even something that we glance over rather than giving our full attention could have more of an influence than we realise on anything we later create, and we may not even be fully aware of this.
This is another reason why we must be careful when using the work of others as inspiration for our own creativity. For the majority of projects that are completed in the home and are for our own personal enjoyment, this doesn’t matter quite so much. But for people that may be intending to sell their work, or at the very least to post images of it on social media, it’s important to be careful that using something as inspiration doesn’t cross the line into outright copying – even unintentionally.
I’ve done this myself, completely unintentionally, when using a birthday card design I saw on Pinterest as inspiration for one that I was making for a relative. I’d seen it one day, and hadn’t looked at it again before making my own card a completely different day. When I referred back to the pin where I saw the original image, I realised just how similar the greetings cards were.
I hadn’t intended to copy the design but to make my own version, but what I created was very similar. As it was for a relative, it didn’t matter, but if I had been intending to sell it or to post images of “my” design on Instagram, I would have had to have been much more careful. Clearly I had retained more information in my memory about that original design than I realised.
How to fuel your own creativity
So to fuel our own creativity, I think it’s important to get out and about, to see new things and try new experiences. Whilst we have little control over what we see when we’re out an about – the conversations we hear, the billboards we see, the books people are reading on the train, the adverts that pop up at the start of a YouTube video – we need to think about everything we CHOOSE to consume, whether it’s food, books, TV programmes, films, radio, blogs, podcasts or anything else that you can experience with any one of your senses and feel affected by in some way.
Try reading a book in a different genre than you might usually read (or just try reading a book if you’re not much of a reader!). Try a different craft. Watch a documentary on TV rather than a drama, or a rom-com rather than a horror movie. Get outside in the fresh air, and notice what’s around you. This is something I’m making more of an effort to do just recently – rather than walking from A to B, I’m trying to go for a walk just to walk and notice what’s around me. The chances are you will uncover some amazing places and sights when you do this.
And for even more suggestions of ways to get creative, try my free 30-day Get Creative Challenge. You’ll receive ten emails over thirty days, as well as a printable workbook and checklist to really help you think about your creativity and ways you can try something different or take what you already do further.
Now I’m interested to know how YOU like to fuel your creativity. What do you do when you’re feeling low on inspiration? Do you have any go-to books or blogs?