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How to Inspire Creativity

Authored By: 
The Beekman School

I am teaching Digital Illustration again at Beekman.  Surprisingly, it is one of my more challenging courses.  Too many students are taken aback by the amount of effort Adobe Illustrator is to use when weighed against their desire to create. It’s ironic that my 3D students have no problem learning and using Autodesk Maya, a far more complex program (by an order of magnitude or two), to create objects and construct scenes (that final render or 3D printed object makes the work worth it). I stumbled upon one device that helps to improve that effort-reward ratio: flippancy.


One student swore he could not design: he could come up with nothing and the final assignment was just too hard. (Mind you, this student also complained about my teaching method--that in his home country everything is rote: tasks practiced over and and over.) How many times did he need to practice taking the cursor and selecting an object (which was the problem at hand)? When he said he couldn’t come up with an idea, I asked him what, anything, he would like to do. He flippantly answered, “A hamburger! Yes, a hamburger!”  I flippantly said, “Sure. Go ahead.”  And he was shocked. “I can’t do that.  That’s not appropriate for illustration.” I replied that it does not matter and to just do it.

He spent two weeks nonstop working on it. What started out as a joke became a serious endeavor. What was an act of defiance became a dare that had to be done. And hundreds of creative decisions and edits went into working and reworking the illustration until he was satisfied with what he had made. It went from a simple hamburger to an image with the point of view from inside a mouth with a hand holding the burger in front of it. The result ended up being a good illustration whose reward outweighed the effort.


In truth, there is nothing flippant in being “flippant” when trying to create. It is well-documented that, to get your creative gears turning, one can simply start to draw or doodle anything. Doodling has been shown to help ease and focus the mind. In artistic endeavors, it often helps to unlock the ideas lurking underneath or helps to guide the mind to an acceptable and complete work. My student’s hamburger effectively was a doodle that became an illustration.


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