Monday, December 8, 2008

Visual Creativity. Honest.

I don't know of a single writer who hasn't glared at that blinking cursor. It just sits there like an insensitive insect waiting for you to come up with the words while it does nothing except sit there blinking stupidly. It's a tyrant, really.

Visual artists have the same issues. We sit there with our hands in our laps looking at the computer screen. Sometimes we have a germ of an idea that can be developed. Sometimes (okay rarely) we know exactly what to do. But most of the time there's this tickle of a concept at the back of our brains that runs away like an arm-flapping idiot each time we try to trap it.

Peter J, from New York, wrote in to ask if I had any ideas on how to be creative. Later this morning I was on the NAPP board and the same topic came up again.

"How do you learn how to be creative?" asks the Photoshop newbie. "There must be a course somewhere."

Nope. There are courses about creative techniques. Oodles of them. And there are books about getting in touch with your imagination. I mean you could dance naked in the woods and pound on drums for a few days -- but I seriously doubt that you will find yourself with a perfectly formed notion for how to break that creative block. All you may wind up with is a nasty rash.

There are even courses on how you can take an idea and develop it into a striking visual. (Check out "Photoshop for the Creative Soul" at for our course on this. Hint. Hint.)

But if someone tells you they can teach you how to BE creative, they're lying.

You can be taught how to copy someone else's method. There are tons of Photoshop books that teach this stuff. You can look at an artist like Ben Willmore ( and see what he's been up to. I really respect the guy -- and the quality of his work is unreal.

But, personally, I don't want to be Ben Willmore. Why would I want to copy his work? I'm happy to sit and listen as he teaches me stuff -- but only so I can apply said "stuff" to my work.

Why's that?

Because true creativity isn't the result of inspired copying of someone else. You can learn stunning technique this way...but you only learn how to be creative by pouring all that knowledge through the filter of YOU.

True creativity is the direct application of 24 carat, 100% YOU to an idea. Think of it as a one of a kind Photoshop filter: There's only one you. That means there's only one person who can apply imagination and execution to an image that is the direct outgrowth of who you are.

The only way I can suggest for getting creative isn't to take a course. It's to roll up your sleeves, stick your hands into the muck and start pushing stuff around. It's going to be messy. And you are going to have disasters. You will have moments when you want to throw the computer through the window and then follow it (given that you're far enough away from the ground) because NOTHING is turning out right.

I 100% guarantee there will be dismal awful images if you do it this way. You'll delete them, you'll flush with embarassment whenever you think of them. You'll pray that no one you ever showed them to kept a copy...and you'll start putting a little money aside each week in case they DID keep a copy and want to blackmail you with it later.

Being creative and turning that "creative switch" on inside your brain and spirit would be pretty easy if you knew where it was. I often can't find mine...particularly when deadlines are looming. So I have to thrust my hand into a lot of dark holes and smelly caverns as I look for it.

And the real pain in the butt? That damn "creative switch" often disappears minutes later and you have to start looking for it all over again. That's when you think to yourself "Gee...I thought I had a great idea. Where was I going with this again?" Now you have a name for it: Switch Slip.

See the image above? I spent four hours on this one day many moons ago. I'd just discovered Photoshop and had a hankering to do..."something." I entered it in a contest and it placed in the bottom third. How come? It's not creative. It's a mess, really. What it lacks in creativity it makes up for in pseudo-artsyness. It has vague ideas about money and fighting on top of it and women.

Yup. It's one of those "I can't believe I posted it ANYWHERE" images. It's pretentious crap. There. I admit I can stop paying off that guy in Germany who keeps getting those installments in small unmarked bills.

What's the upside of this whole creativity thing?

Once in a while...sometimes for a really long feel your spirit soar and your heart beat faster. You feel the blending of mind, spirit and body pouring itself into the project. Your hands blur over the keys or the controls and the sensation is better than a triple fudge sundae.

And less fattening.

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