The creativity and productivity podcast helping you be your most creative self.

Listen in iTunes
Listen in Stitcher
Follow the Podcast Feed
Show notes / summaries

FOLLOW
Android App

TriviaToy is a new trivia ecosystem for Android. Designed and developed by Brian E. Young, the goal is to have a great user interface and fun user generated content. Maybe learn something in the process! Try it out and let me know what your think!

The Uncanny Creativity Blog

Ideas, resources and tips to help you unlock your imagination.

Monday
Jan192015

5 Steps to Having More Creative Ideas

How can I come up with better ideas more often? Other people seem to be really creative and always have good ideas. Is there a way I can jump start my imagination when a blank page is staring me in the face? 

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wondered how creative geniuses do so much. They seem to have a never ending stream of good ideas. We’ve all have our shining moments, where we came up with a great joke, strung together the perfect sentence, or even painted something that was greatly admired. Since I work as a designer, there’s often a pull to have great ideas all day everyday. Creativity is the job. Here are some observations that have helped me in the past when I’ve been trying to stumbling:

Step 1: DEFINE Your Goal

Why are you trying to be more creative? What’s your objective? There are a lot of ways to answer this question. If you can ask and answer “why” at every step, the next step often becomes pretty clear. Your goal may just be to have fun or just to wander through your imagination or memories. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway. Expanding your view of what a goal can be can help you set and keep new goals.

Tweet: "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/8udP3+

Step 2: QUESTION Assumptions

Write out all of your assumptions about your goal. Then question them. Is it true that this can't be done? Challenge your notions about what the "best" way is, what you "shouldn't" do to get there, and what you're willing to do. Assumptions include ideas like "it's too hard." Is it really that hard? How do you know? And if anything is really that difficult, what are the steps that you can make it easier?

Another common assumptions are the the thoughts of others. We can't read minds, can't assume others think like us, don't know others interests, future actions, or intentions. When others do share their opinions, handling criticism with a positive attitude is key for growth. Learning to actively seek criticism helps us to be open to new ideas.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in,” Isaac Asimov.  These preconceived notions are often the blocks that prevent us from thinking in more directions.

Tweet this: "Your assumptions are your windows on the world," Isaac Asimov via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/s01ye+

Step 3: THINK of Stories

There are a lot of great ideas in stories. “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten,” Rudyard Kipling. Think about the best stories in your life, the ones that you keep coming back to. What makes it interesting to you? What’s the best part? Is there a visual twist that you can come up with?

If you’re tackling a particular project, explore your memories or even the internet and see what stories there are about the subject. These are the kinds of questions that interject your point of view, your values of importance, and your personality into your work. Tell your story. That’s part of the essence of creativity. The process of thinking doesn't have to live in your head, of course. Write it down or draw it out. Don't be afraid of what you're writing. That brings us to the next step to good ideas: bad ideas.

Tweet this: "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten," Rudyard Kipling via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/cT9ls+

Step 4: IMAGINE the Bad Ideas

Part of the key may be that those who are seemingly “genius” just let themselves have a lot of ideas.  They create without judging the value of their creations too soon. As the romance novelist Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” Get something down in some form and then edit it. Quantity can win over quality as part of the process.

If I’m working on a magazine design or a painting, the biggest trick to coming up with something that I like is to just make things. For a magazine, I like to just have a seperate InDesign document called "ideas" so I know it's not the final draft and just make tons of bad pages that might have one idea that I can use. The point is to do it at a place so rough that it's fun. Make shapes, place things, play with the composition. While breaks are necessary, waiting for inspiration is not.

Tweet this: As Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” via @sketchee

Step 5: MAKE Fun

Too often, this process is presented as something to add to our never ending to do list. That we “must” create more thumbnails, list all of our thoughts, and keep a sketchbook. What we really need to remember is that scribbling down a sketch and brainstorming is fun! “Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl. Make a game out of how many ideas you can scribble, even if they are terrible.

Scribbling and making ugly marks until a page is full is a lot of fun and far less pressure. Then take those scribbles into a thumbnail shape to work out the composition. And blow up the thumbnail into a drawing. Translate the drawing into a painting. Each "next step" is less intimidating because the work is done in a safe fun messy no pressure place. If concentrate on just taking just one step further, executing an idea becomes far less intimidating

Tweet this: "Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl via @sketchee

Sunday
Jan112015

"What's a day in the life for an art director like?"

What’s a typical day like for an art director? How does that compare to your days as an entry level graphic designer?

Each organization is a little different with its own structure and culture. I work with a project manager and editor on most projects. We meet the understand the needs of each client, the audience for the publication, and the specifics. For example, a photographer will be hired to shoot a cover and story.

Every project varies for us too. Different clients have their own levels of involvement. Usually with enough notes, so I'm often left to develop my ideas on my own. I use this information to decide basic ad and editorial placements, the order of the overall book. Ad designers and usually seek advice from our more experienced creative director. The creative director balance all of the projects within our company. If the schedule dictates, I'll seek assistance from other art directors on our team. I may even be balances several projects at various stages at once.

In contrast to my days as an entry level ad designer, I now get to have a lot more creative control. At this point in my career, I decide what works for me with less oversight. While I'm still provided with a lot of information, as a newer designer the content had more direction on how it had to be presented. Now I makes more of the directions. This means less time actually designing pages, yet when in making mode I am implementing more of own solution and vision.

Tweet this post: "What’s a typical day like for an art director?" @sketchee answers #design questions http://ctt.ec/5FcWa+

Wednesday
Jan072015

"What are the most common graphic design mistakes?"

Commercial design, as creative as the field is at its best, is about business as much as any other job. We have a reputation to uphold with clients, coworkers, and employees. While design itself is often subjective, addressing the most universal business concerns will get more people on board with your visuals. What are some of the most common mistakes made by working graphic designers?

The biggest error we make is to choose style over substance. Yes, we’re artists and ultimately really want to be able to make clean and cool designs. That is at the heart of our goal and we are trusted to make that happen in any circumstance.

When the client doesn’t like our initial idea, we ask respectful questions to understand their point of view and do our best to make it work. We kindly explain some of the basic thought behind our design decisions: white space helped this page look less cramped, the muted colors were chosen as not to distract from the quality photography, etc. Present yourself as a problem solver and at the same time acknowledge that these aren’t the only solutions to these problems. The visual communication tools we rely on may not be the biggest concerns of your client or their audience.

We can take the role to inform others about how design can be a useful tool for their business and bottom line. To be able to do this, we have to listen more than we speak. How can we propose solutions if we don’t listen to the other person’s problems? If we hear that this person is very concerned about their event deadline and respond with color and negative space, how are they going to feel taken care of? In that example, we might mention how discussing the basic design goals is the next step to move forward. Frame your goals in sincere terms of how it helps them.

Other practical mistakes that you can look out for are the basic specs of each job. These are the types of things that can save you and your associates money and build a better reputation. Check for low resolution images, exacting consistency (spacing, type size, typefaces), bleeds. If any of these issues require intervention from the client or colleagues be a neutral messenger explaining why this is an issue, the consequences of not addressing it, and clear next steps for them or you to follow.

Learn when and how to say no when you firmly believe anything doesn't work and kindly provide a proposed solution. On the other side of the spectrum, practice accepting the word no from others when other solutions than yours are possible even if they are less desirable. If you're not sure how to handle a situation, seek out advice. Build time in your schedule from the beginning for everyone involved to be able to review and resolve any issues. You don’t know what will go wrong, however something will and you’ll want to create time to fix it from the very beginning.

Any sane professional will want to support a colleague who prizes manners and etiquette. Even the less sane professionals will appreciate being treated as if they are sane.

Tweet this post: "Any sane professional will support a colleague who prizes manners and etiquette." @sketchee on #designer errors http://ctt.ec/bZQ7y+

Readers, what designer mistakes have you encountered?

Tuesday
Dec022014

Acrylic Painting Tutorial: How to Paint a Composite Image

You’ve seen modern artists use tools like Photoshop to composite images. The tools may have changed, and at the same time creating compositing isn’t an entirely new thing. For centuries, artists including DaVinci, Michelangelo, Escher, Norman Rockwell, and Leyendecker have taken objects and changed the setting, lighting, backgrounds and composition. In more recent years, comic book artists are known to create huge narratives every month filled with detailed objects and scenes. For books on how comic artists create their visuals, along with information on anatomy and drawing basics, I’d suggest How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and Drawing Dynamic Comics. I refer to these for a lot of my painting designs and poses.

Mona Lisa probably wasn’t sitting out in nature the way DaVinci depicted her. In painting the Sistine Chapel, standing on a scaffold with the speed limitations of fresco painting’s drying plaster, Michelangelo wouldn’t have the time to observe angels in the heavens even if such a thing did exist. Escher’s impossible perspectives were inspired by the architecture and landscapes of Italy, although he was unable to live there during most of his life. Rockwell relied on live models and created his scenes as close as possible in real life, though like most illustrators, there was a lot of liberties taken right on the page. All of these artists relied heavily on their own sketches and studies.

Leyendecker detailed his process which is similar to many artists especially before the advent of photography: “First make a number of pencil or charcoal studies. Select the most promising and on a sketch canvas do these in full color, oil or water with plenty of detail. Keep an open mind and be alert to capture any movement or pose that may improve your original idea." Personally, as you will see below, I may tend to skip this level of detail and just work things out on my final painting just because of my own lack of patience.

"You may now dismiss your model, but be sure you have all the material needed with separate studies of parts to choose from, for you are now on your own and must work entirely from your studies,” Leyendecker continues. "This canvas will somewhat resemble a picture puzzle, and it is up to you to assemble it and fit it into your design at the same time simplify wherever possible by eliminating all unessentials. All this is done on tracing paper and retraced on the final canvas." Sometimes I will use the grid method or most often freehand rather than use tracing paper.

Tutorial

For the painting in this demo, I used a mirror with my own reflection, several reference photos some of which I had taken myself (of myself), and some real life objects for the still life elements. This was done on bristol paper which was coated with gesso. First I start with a very rough underpainting to lay out the elements of the composition. I wish I had photographed the initial strokes in a thin wash of purple acrylic.

Step 1:

First, I covered the entire surface with a thin wash of color. A more neutral surface is created and covering the white surface at a later time while trying to avoid your strokes can feel tedious. You can use pencil and sometimes I do, though it takes more work to cover it up later. Dilute your paint with water and you can draw with enough detail. You can also wipe off the paint with water before it’s fully dry if you need to.

Step 2:

Continuing with detail and mapping out values. This is pretty much just drawing and sketching. If you were following Leyendecker’s method, you may have already mapped this out in a study or sketch. I didn’t do this and worked out the details here. For this underpainting (or grisaille), I decided on dioxazine purple and titanium white. Purple under paintings are popular in watercolor to create depth when painted over. The color you choose for the underpainting will likely interact with your finished colors.

Step 3:

I chose this purple because it’s a color I often mix into my shadows as it’s can be very dark and near black. The idea being that it’s such a dominant color in my scheme that it makes sense to start there. Other popular options for value studies include mixing titanium white (or white gesso) with burnt umber, raw sienna, or mars black. You can also choose two complimentary colors to work with against white. Yellow and purple for instance. This seems a bit complicated for me when I’m just trying to draw.  Experiment in your sketchbook or on scrap to see how these create different effects. Browns are my other favorite method.

Step 4: 

The more finished the underpainting, the less thought you’ll have to do when it’s time for color. It’s never too late to make huge corrections or changes, however. It’s just paint and can be painted over. After I’m satisfied with the basics of the composition, I look closer at anatomy and work out some of the more important details. Fashion photos helped me pick out the shirt. Google Images and Pinterest are ideal for this stuff. If you have it in life, that’s ideal.

 

Step 5:

 

Most importantly at this point are the values of light and dark. I like to place light areas “behind” my dark areas. Dark areas are also “behind” my light areas. This can be subtle or obvious. The contrast in value between two areas is what creates the illusion of a line without literally creating an outline stroke.

Step 6:

In starting with color, I decided on a yellow shirt since it’s the compliment of purple. Using the compliment of a color in it’s shadows makes for more interesting shadows and creates more contrast than a pure neutral. For the skin tones, I did a simple wash of greens first as skin tones are heavily loaded with reds. (Point being that green and red are compliments.) For the brown hair, I decided to use blue with highlights of orange to create a varied brown. The theme of the foreground colors is warm tones. When applying color, thin washes are often useful so you can still use your underpainting as a guide. This isn’t always possible and that’s when having a photo of your underpainting or a nearly complete sketch is helpful. Thin washes also help to hide brushstrokes and create smoother DaVinci-like “sfumato” style painting. A wash of paint along the hard edges will create soft edges.

 

Step 7:

The blue translucent plate is just a matter of painting two images on top of each other, the wood of the table and the definition of the plate. With the right balance, you’ll have what appears to be a blue plate.

Step 8: 

Since the foreground is heavily doused in warm tones, it only follows that the background is cool. Cool tones recede into the background naturally, which is an effect called atmospheric perspective. Note that I made a number of corrections as I worked and didn’t rely solely on the underpainting. Taking photos at various stages and comparing tones to the final colors also helped as I work out the colors at appropriate values and contrast. Each local color is worked with it’s compliment. Colors also reflect nearby objects so they feel like they are in the same space. Note the yellow of the table near the yellow shirt.

Finally the finished painting. Is this what you imagined it would look like based on the underpainting?

Tuesday
Aug262014

Review: Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens

After a month or two of trying out these Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens, I'm fairly impressed. With caveats. What are they? They're a set of marker-like brushes filled with thin paint. Squeeze the handles and paint comes into the brushes. 

Sure, they look like brushes and you can do some watercolor effect type things. However, they are not watercolors and have to be used as their own medium. I think that's part of the fun of the product! They're somewhere in between markers and paints. Perfect for travelling with my sketchbook and adding touches of color.

A few tips for using them:

  • Work from light colors to dark. They're fairly permanent and you can cover up your earlier drafting if you keep it light.
  • Give up on the idea of emulating local color. A green object is going to need white and yellow highlights and some red and brown shadows. I even just use the colors for their values often and forget about local color altogether.
  • Read the instructions. The instructions have a few tips for blending and smoothing things out. Using wet paper, the blending brush provided and lots more.