Building Creativity

Written on 2018-03-26 by John Meschke

When we think of someone who is creative, we may often assume that they were blessed with an innate gift that happens to the lucky few. They seem to pull an idea out of thin air and present it to an adoring public. Yet we may fail to see that behind this person's creativity is inspiration from multiple sources and a willingness to continually work at their craft. What makes these people unique is the way they approach the notion of being creative, which for the rest of us means that we are capable of enhancing our own creativity by thinking similarly.

Perhaps we need to take a different perspective when thinking about what it means to be creative. Using a simple definition of the word, it means to have an ability to create. We're all capable of creation, but we need inspiration and materials to make it happen. An entrepreneur will see a problem or demand for service and provide a solution. A painter will view a cityscape as a perfect opportunity for his next piece, adding his own flair to set the mood of the scene. A mother will quickly prepare a meal for her family with very few ingredients, revealing a new favorite dish. As you may have noticed, being creative is more about taking existing things and arranging them into something new rather than building something from nothing.

One of the more interesting books on creativity I've had the joy of reading is Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist. In this book, Kleon explains how artists throughout history have used ideas, designs, art, and more to influence their own work. This is far from uncommon. Look at how automobile styles, website layouts, commercial advertising, and product packaging have changed over time. All of the contributors in the equation are influencing each other whether they're aware of it or not. As a whole, we keep what works from previous efforts and add our own spice into the mix to stand out. Even when a creator is willing to travel the path that strays far from the status quo, they will have had some inspiration to do so. If this creator's idea is successful, you can surely bet that others will follow, do it better, and add their own variations to make it unique.

Novice artists can easily be discouraged, thinking they don't have the creative gift to become great. They may have seen a demonstration from a professional who sketches up a realistic figure almost effortlessly. So they try to emulate the process hours on end, but struggling to get any desirable outcome. The most obvious solution offered is more practice. While true, without practicing the right things using the right tools, it can make the journey nearly impossible. The most valuable tools here are references. Some may feel like this is cheating, using existing materials instead of drawing directly from memory, but by learning how to represent our physical world by replicating it in artistic media, it only magnifies our ability to create and understand how it all fits together. The ability to recall details and techniques to apply to your works is a skill developed over time, but it starts with understanding the fundamentals. Even then, the most skilled of us rely on references during the creative process. Top of the line game developers and 3D animators are continually pushing the bounds of graphical realism, and for that they rely on existing architecture, nature, and current trends for inspiration. You'll find similar behavior with experts in every profession.

Creativity doesn't have to be a lonely journey. We don't have to sit in a vacuum and hope new ideas come to us out of the blue. Use tools, references, mentors, questions, and anything else to hone your skills. Add something unique to your creations to give them a more personal feel. Using the right approach, you will improve and find yourself among those you admire.