Becoming a Creative
Honestly, I squirm a little bit when someone compliments me with, “You’re so creative!” I used to respond with, “I just follow instructions really well.”
This was not false modesty. The things I knit, paint, play music with, there are instructions. A knitting pattern, a reference picture, music notes on a page– I followed instructions with technical skills I’ve developed.
I’m the type that marvels in art museums because I couldn’t fathom my brain coming up with those things — even if I had the technical skill.
Now — many will say that it’s because I’ve lost my creativity; after all, children are very creative! While that’s true to a certain extent, when I’ve looked over old notebooks…I doodled the alphabet a lot. Not pictures. The alphabet. (I was, and still am, such a nerd.)
So for a long time, I wouldn’t call myself a creative.
But aren’t you a designer?
In a twist of events also surprising to me, I became a designer. It occurred to me that though perhaps it’s not quite as natural to me, I have learned to be creative. I may not create art that will go on a gallery wall but the other day I designed a sticker and it’s not terrible.
So how have I learned to be a creative? How could you learn to be one too?
I learned the basics
Just like you need to know the alphabet to write, there are foundational blocks that other creatives may have picked up intuitively.
Learning about hierarchy, grouping, spacing, perspective, consistency, — all are very learnable concepts — and when you have terminology for it, you start to see it everywhere and can learn why it worked and why it doesn’t in different cases.
- RefactoringUI has been the most concise teacher of design concepts I’ve found yet.
- The Non-Designer’s Design Book is also helpful and goes beyond digital.
I studied creativity
I read a lot of books that have helped me expand my creative thinking and gave me structure for creative thinking:
I started behaving like a creative
It turns out there are habits that are common among creatives that can be picked up by anyone!
- Be curious about everything — I read a lot of articles about tons of different fields. I recently picked up a National Geographic subscription. I have apps on my phone I don’t need, but I’m curious to see what others are up to.
- Give your brain space to be creative — Set a timer for time to get up and go walk, or be bored. Your brain loves to noodle when its given space to.
- Start a collection of things that inspire you — designers will call them “moodboards” — but essentially I have collections in pinterest, bookmarks, of things that I’ve seen and found. (You only start to build this when you get curious!)
I put myself in and create creative environments
I have a whiteboard in my office that people draw pictures on. I have some printed posters of creative principles. I keep a sketch pad around. I have some little magnet balls to fidget with.
From the books, I have learned exercises and structures for making more of my working sessions creative and I use them! My reluctant coworkers have begun to embrace their own creativity as well.
You gotta make things. For just about any medium out there there are challenges and prompts to help you out — go find one! I’ve done 100 day challenges, 30 day challenges, I volunteer to make things, I have side projects. At the end of the day — you have to practice.
Lastly — don’t compare yourself to others.
And this is something I’m really bad at. I saw some of the things our graphic design interns have made and think I will never catch up. But, I look at screens I made a few years ago compared to now, and there’s a definite improvement. The only person you need to get better than is yourself.