So You Want to Be Inspired?

March 9, 2023

If you are a creative, you have undoubtedly, at one time or another, experienced the crippling anxiety that comes at the start of a creative task. A phenomenon I fondly refer to as "Blank Canvas Syndrome," alternatively known as "Where the Fuck do I Start – Disorder.” You are in the phase of the process where you have nothing but endless opportunities ahead of you. Logically, as a proud creative – you’re excited, inspired, buzzing with ideas and overflowing with concepts… right? For me, no. Usually at this point in the process I am panicked, my portfolio flashing before my eyes, doubting all of my abilities, wondering how this new endeavor could possibly stack up to my past work. I’m overwhelmed by possibility, daunted by opportunity and haunted by that damn blank page.


It always starts that way, but sure enough – with every project, I find a way to trust the process and push through the anxiety. Inevitably, I find myself in a flow where I'm feeling inspired and the ideas start to manifest. And that's when it gets good.


How do I find inspiration? Before I spill the secret sauce, I want to clarify one thing: this is not "that" article. The one that tells you just to go on Pinterest, Behance and Dribble – to scroll for inspiration and to pin your "creator's block" away. One big problem with that piece of advice, all of our creative is starting to look the same. Why? In a primarily online world, with an endless availability of visual references, we have somehow counterintuitively trained ourselves to lean on the same shallow pool of visual ideas. We are continuously being served up the same images as every other inspiration-seeking creative, and we're all using them as a reference for our next great creative execution. AKA "The Moodboard Effect." AKA derivative.


So where does that leave you? Where do you find inspiration?  Well, here are a few places to start.


1. Get a life.

Shut the browser, close the laptop, roll away from the desk, take a breath, brush your hair, pet your dog, leave-the-house. Think of it like restarting your computer, but like – without the computer. So much inspiration can come from experiences IRL. Go try a new restaurant, look at the menu, the napkins, the wallpaper, the art on the walls – forget the case study – try the food. Travel to a new place, get lost, look at the street signs, the store-fronts, the architecture, the coffee shop with the really poorly kerned sign. With all of these experiences you are collecting and curating your own visual library – something unique to you, with references tied to experiences only you can pull from. Tip – actually create a visual library – snap some shots on your phone and file them away in an inspiration folder, ready for you the next time you face the dreaded "BCS".


2. Become a stalker.

Sure, Pinterest is fine, it's easy – type your prompt and you're served up some pretty pictures. But it's random, it's chaotic, it's kind of a mess, and like I said before it's giving “derivative.” As an alternative, I suggest – stalking. Hear me out, talent attracts talent: talented people work together and create great work. Find those individual creatives whose work knocks your socks off. Learn everything you can about their craft AND more importantly who they create with – who was the photographer, the set designer, the stylist, the designer, the prop stylist, on and on, and… follow them (on social not literally). Over time, continue to compile an expansive list of great creatives from all different disciplines, whose work really speaks to YOU and your taste. Next time you're in need of some inspo, forgo Pinterest, and dive into the portfolios of your meticulously crafted list of great creatives – curated uniquely by you. Creep for the good of your craft.


3. Time travel.

Journey back to the land of the giants. The giants in the world of creative and advertising that is – George Lois, Paul Rand, Milton Glaser…need I name drop more? Learn from the greats, from the work that made history. You've got to know the rules before you can break them. The ideas were brilliant, and the executions were simple – because they had to be. Simple = Smart. You never know what tactic could translate seamlessly to your current creative need or which reference will ignite a stand up idea – that stands the test of time. Similarly you can find treasure troves of inspiration when you delve into the archives of great directors – Kubrick, Tarantino, Hitchcock, Anderson – timeless. The composition, the sound, the editing, the colour or lack thereof – all endless resources of creative gems waiting to be rediscovered.


Will you continue to suffer from "Blank Canvas Syndrome?” Hate to break it to you… probably, yeah. But maybe, for creatives, that's how it should be. Nothing great ever came out of being comfortable. We need to experience, in order to have experiences to pull from. We need to know and respect our craft inside and out – to know the great’s that came before us, and the ones to follow now. Are the aforementioned formulas foolproof? Sadly, no. Sometimes inspiration is just about dumb luck, striking when you least expect it.