Process makes Perfect: How sticking to my creative process helps me get sh*t done

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So much is made of “finding your voice,” but what if figuring out your creative process is just as (or even more) important? It’s tough sitting down at your desk and thinking “ok- time to create something brilliant.” Yeah, that’s probably not going to turn out so great. Resistance is going to rear it’s ugly head in about 2 seconds flat and have you creating a big fat nothing, or a small pile of stuff you hate.

The most prolific artists/designers/writers have habits and processes that help them navigate self sabotaging waters. I personally have quite a bit of resistance around sitting down and starting new designs. I feel it’s a myth that artists and designers just fluidly create day in and day out- a never ending stream of inspiration just flowing out of them.  Some do, I’m sure. But most that I know, don’t. It’s called life people, and the reality is, sometimes you only have  a few minutes here and there to create in order to keep the process moving. And unless you have a plan for making that happen, generally nothing new gets made.

Today, I’m going to show you my 6 step process for how I overcome resistance so I can go from blank notebook to finished design over and over again. Enjoy!

1. Pick Subject Matter

Seems kind of self explanatory doesn’t it? Well, sometimes this is actually the hardest step. I mean, in an over pinned world overflowing with inspiration how do you settle on just one thing? If I have client work, obviously this step is taken care of, but choosing subject matter for self generated work can become a process unto itself. I almost never have a fully fledged idea for a design pop into my head- it’s more like a nugget that evolves and grows throughout the process. Sometimes the nugget comes from necessity, like: I really need some more new holiday designs in my portfolio. Otherwise it can come from anywhere- a movie, a book, a photograph, a certain color of a flower, a trip. The important thing is not to overthink this step. JUST PICK SOMETHING AND START! I try not to get  tripped up here thinking I need to come up with the most perfect idea/inspiration. Even if it’s not the most perfect inspiration, once getting started, it will often times lead to other ideas or inspiration.

2. Moodboard Time

My next step always, is to start a private pinterest board gathering inspiration around my subject matter. This is a collection of various things- from reference images, to color ideas, to things that inspire texture. I also almost always take it one step further and create an actual mood board. The process of editing everything I’ve collected really helps me start to synthesize my ideas and gives me a clearer direction for how I want to continue. I don’t delete the pinboard though, as I usually go back and use images there as reference material.

3. Let’s Draw!

It’s imperative for me to get out from behind the computer when I ready to start drawing. I know for myself (and most likely you too) that I spend WAY too much time in front of one type of screen or another, so making a point of creating away from my computer screen has helped me (and my work) immensely. I have a table by the window just a few steps from my desk, and when I sit down there to work, I just let the creative juices flow.

I start with loose pencil drawings, and then turn them into pen and ink  drawings using micron pens (my favorite, although the sharpie pen is quickly taking up the rear.)

4. Digitizing

Once I have several pages filled with different icons and doodles, I scan in everything, clean it up and vectorize. Then I start playing with laying out the designs. I start with black and white first to make sure everything is working in the design. I used to jump right into color, but I’ve found starting in black and white to be a much more efficient + it’s easier to then play with different color combinations later on.

Most times there is some back and forth between drawing and digitizing. I may print out what I have designed in illustrator and then use a light table to draw more elements for the design (especially in pattern work.) Or I may decide to add in texture, so again I print things out and use the light table to create different textures over top of my designs that can then be scanned and added to the design. At this point the studio is littered with papers containing my designs in various stages of the project along with lots of other doodles, dots and blobs.

5. Adding Color!

I love picking out color palettes! Color is super important to me, and admittedly, I probably get a little too excited about finding unique combinations. (That person who has the job of creating new new nail polish lines. Yeah, how did they get THAT gig and how do I sign up?)  Usually,  the colors fall out of my moodboards, but not always. I also create physical color moodboards with images, fabric and bits of ephemera  and I keep them together in a book. I go back to this inspiration over and over to come up with new color combinations. These books have also  helped me develop a strong POV around color across my whole portfolio.  

6. Celebrate the New Work

I say this with all sincerity- every time I finish new work I’m in awe. Maybe because like I previously mentioned, I don’t start out with fully fledged ideas. It’s trusting the process and the hundreds (probably thousands) of little decisions I make along the way that leads me to the final result. So I find no shame in taking some time to soak it in and give myself a little pat on the back. Celebrating with homemade popsicles is also grande.

I share with others  too. I make Mr. Gooder look at everything, especially when I’m excited about it. (He’s usually not nearly as excited as me. Sometimes though.)  And I’m also lucky to have an amazing community of online artists and designers I can share work with. They give great constructive criticism when I’m stuck and they’re the first to shout from the rooftops when I’m really onto something. Generally speaking, they tend to put on a much more excited display of admiration than Mr. Gooder, so there’s that too.  Making art is a solitary process, but that doesn’t mean you can do it alone. I cannot stress how important it is to celebrate your work with your tribe!

I love breaking down the process this way- it gives me the flexibility to tackle a lot or a little at any given time, and it also makes it easier to work on several things at once. If I’m stuck on a design after I’ve digitized, I can jump to creating a moodboard for a different idea and keep things moving.

Now it’s your turn. Have you created a process for your work? Do you find that it’s helpful when you’re feeling stuck or struggling with resistance? Let me know in the comments below.