Creative Practices

by Chris Ammons

A few tips for receiving ideas and staying sharp

Everyone is innately capable of creativity. However, in order to capitalize on it, creativity must be actively practiced and exercised. It’s essentially like a gym membership. Having the membership is great, but I won’t see the benefits if I don’t go. It’s by showing up and putting in the work that I grow and get stronger and better. Our creativity works the same way.

“Tankfilling” is something that we often emphasize here at redpepper. It is essentially research; filling your tank with new information. It is an extremely important part of the creative process, but as creatives and makers, we need to take tankfilling a step forward. We should constantly have an open tank as we go through life—receiving, absorbing and learning. 

With all this input coming at us, we need to have a way to process everything. Here are a few ways to stay creatively sharp:

Change how you think about ideas.

There is a quote from Nick Cave that perfectly describes the way we should relate to our ideas: 

“My advice to you is to change your basic relationship with songwriting. You are not the ‘Great Creator’ of your songs, you are simply their servant, and the songs will come to you when you have adequately prepared yourself to receive them. They are not inside you unable to get out, rather, they are outside of you, unable to get in. Songs, in my experience, are attracted to an open, playful and motivated mind. The song will find its way to you.”

In other words, be ready to receive the inspiration when it comes and be able to let it go when it vanishes. 

You’ve got to be prepared to catch these ideas. Which brings me to my next tip…

Have a set-up. 

A set-up can look like a lot of different things: a desk with all your supplies, a computer with the internet turned off, an art studio, a camera and some good walking shoes. It just needs to be something that positions you to receive ideas well. 

One of my recommendations is to have a “mobile edition” of the set-up—something small enough to take with you or fit in your bag. It should not be digital. Your iPad or iPhone will switch you into execution mode, and this isn’t about execution. Instead, it’s supposed to keep you focused on the idea and expression.

My “mobile edition” is a notebook and a pouch with some markers, pencils, exacto, a glue-stick and tape. The sketchbook can become your playground. It is a completely unstructured place for the seeds of your ideas to live. It opens you up and gives you an exercise to look forward to. 

Find Personal Practices.

As you work at this regularly, ideas will grab hold of you and you’ll want to explore them further. This is where you can implement something I call a “Personal Practice”. Take a process or idea and execute it over and over again to evaluate it and see what you get out of it. It should be something easy and fun to do, something that you don’t really judge as work. After you do this, you’ll usually look back and find that it helped you solve problems in unrelated or future projects.

I found this paper hand laying around, so I picked it up and started goofing around with it. It was all just for fun, but also opened up new ways of communicating topics in a dry and funny way. 

Harness experiences.

One creative practice I found came out of my experience working with retouching as well as my experience designing newspaper circulars. I started taking junk mail, cutting it up and creating new things out of it. It was something easy that I could do with my mobile setup when I had downtime. What started just as a fun practice ended up inspiring a bunch of other paintings I did.

There was a period of time when I became frustrated with advertising, so I just started creating a bunch of crazy advertisements. Sure it was goofy, but when I look back I find that I was working through a lot of feelings I was dealing with at work. I was breaking down communication and getting to the very essence of it, figuring out how basic you can say things before they dissolve into nothing.

Creative practice frees you up to receive ideas. Find practices that are fun to do, make you laugh, and hold your attention. Do them over and over again and by the end, you’ll find that you learned a lot of the things that you needed to learn.

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