Discovering Your Artistic Creative Process

Jeez, Harry! How do you come up with this stuff?”

After a long hard day of busting my brain over our site design overhaul , Charlie’s question made me grin.

I often admire the creativity of others, whether I see it in design or the written word. I enjoy the creativity people express and the process behind the creation.

Charlie’s question got me thinking, though. How do I come up with the stuff?

Going Back to Basics

In college, I majored in scientific illustration, a specialized form of illustration that focuses on wildlife, archaeology and medicine.

A scientific illustrator might land a job drawing the finds of an archaeological dig or creating displays and graphics for a zoo or natural history museum. Scientific illustrators also create the technical drawings for biology and medical textbooks.

While I studied, our projects often involved researching the elements of a culture or habitat and then working those elements into a final design. A poster for the art of ancient Egypt, for example, offered inspiration from a culture rich in symbolism.

There were the usual pyramids and lotus blossoms, but there was also the warmth of gold, the richness of lapis lazuli and all the colors of the desert at sunset as well as the patterns in the sand and the scales on crocodiles.

Designing blog themes and websites involves the same type of research. A client has a basic image in mind (or sometimes no image at all), and it’s up to the designer to find as many elements to arrange, incorporate and play with as possible.

Find The Unusual and Dig Deeper

Once you feel inspired by basic elements, don’t stop. Release your imagination and figure out how to make the elements you’ve discovered unique.

This was the case with the element I’d created that held Charlie in awe. I’d been toying with elements of our new and upcoming design that could be incorporated into the RSS button, wondering which would be just right.

When I found the object that had potential, I started to stretch, bend and distort the shape. I played with the color and shading to eventually create a unique element for our design.

Finding Inspiration Within Creation

So many posts discuss finding inspiration. We know how to get inspired and stimulate our minds. We read, we watch movies, we go for walks or spend time watching people from a table in the local café. Sometimes we do nothing at all and just daydream our inspiration into being.

Creation comes after inspiration. When we create, we attempt to take the inspiration we’ve seized and transfer these ideas into the physical world. During the act of creation, we discover more inspiration.

When I design, I perform visual brainstorming. I’ll begin the process with a few images I think might go well together, and then I often try to move, bend, stretch, colorize, distort and shuffle the elements until the look fits. Very often the result is nothing at all like my original idea.

Creation doesn’t stop there for me. James and Charlie take a look, and then changes ensue. The creative process becomes a group effort, evolving further as three people collaborate to the point where we each sit back and say, “That’ll do.”

(100 points goes to the person who names the movie source of that quote.)

How Do You Create?

Everyone has a different method of creation.

Some might say, “Oh, I don’t know. It just happens.” I admit I was one of those people, but when I sat down to think about it further, I discovered that my creative process doesn’t just happen. It wasn’t random. I did indeed have a process.

So what’s yours? How do you create?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. My first comment here after several several visits. You got my wheels turning this morning.

    Briefly, I’ve just recently started writing (mostly blogging) and enjoying it tremendously. I may take the NaNoWriMo challenge myself. I’ve always wanted to write something, just never the nerve. I digress.

    I’ve found that generally most of my ideas come from the past, yet I’m looking for a way to get it out and usually it’s a personal experience that day that causes the thought process to start. I’m still having a bit of a hard time getting it on paper and out of my head quickly enough, so some get’s lost in translation. But usually I’ll get an idea early in the day and will have thought about it until I’m ready to sit down. Then “Oh, I don’t know. The words just make it on the screen somehow.”

    I hope that was the direction you were looking for, it’s what crossed my mind. Thanks for making me think. This will most likely be what I think about a majority of the day.

    Oh..the phrase…”That’ll do”..was it babe?


    Scotts last blog post..My Road To Recovery

  2. “That’ll do, pig”

    BABE.. uttered by James Cromwell.

  3. Harry,

    Last line in Babe. Everybody’s beating me to it.

    How do I create? About the same way, I guess. Sometimes I get inspiration from something literal (the design of a napkin got me started on colors last week), sometimes from a feeling, sometimes I literally look to the heavens and open myself up until the idea I need comes to me, very arTEESTically. It works.

    Then, I play. I use a pencil and a piece of paper (horrors!) and I draw until I’ve gone far enough from where I started and brought in more of the client’s requirements and messed with them, too….

    I go until it speaks to me and says, “I’m done.” I have to listen to the work because often I want to stop too soon. I can get my analytical side in the way, if I’m not careful. But the work always knows.

    I think some artists are born that way, but I also think anyone can open themselves up to inspiration, to freeing themselves to create, and to hearing what the work has to say. I do think you can train yourself to be more creative, whether it’s in design or in writing.

    Great post as always, Harry!



    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Einstein’s Formula for Success? Y Is Play

  4. Hmm… this comment section is going to turn into an arTEESTe-fest, isn’t it… Alright, alright, I’ll grant permission for a day. 😉

    Come to think of it, I’ll have to sit down and contemplate my own artistic process. (*shudders at the term*). I do one of those, “WOW! GREAT BURST OF IDEA!” and then sit down to hammer out machine-gun sounds.

    That’s not really a process. But there must be one in there somewhere.

  5. 1969 Capricorn = hippie arTEESTe who also laughs about arTEESTes who take themselves too seriously.

    It’s a rough life. 🙂

  6. BABE.

    I used to know someone who was a scientific illustrator. Cool job. I really like what Stephen King said about finding your creativity in “On Writing.” Something about how the ideas are already there in the dirt, we just have to pick them up and dust them off, then put them together when we have the time.

  7. Urban Panther says:

    Hmmm…depends on what I am doing, I think. No, maybe not…thinking out loud here..bare (or is that bear, can never remember) with me. Okay, posts…can be a single line or a general topic, then sentences start appearing in my head which lead to more sentences…which may or may not end up on paper. I actually SEE the sentences written in my head.

    Photojournals..I am not a scrapbooker..I start with the photographs, then start opening drawers in my desk hauling out coloured papers, drawing pens, stamps, stickers, stencils, paints…and then just placing things on the page.

    Paintings…a photograph of something…then a pencil outline…then paints….

    Okay, I’ve got it. I start with a bunch of seemingly random items, be they sentences or colours, or physical objects, then I assemble them into something unique.

    Yay! I am an arTEEST!

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Theme Fiction Friday – Awake

  8. *groans*… Harry’s started an uprising…

  9. Urban Panther says:

    @James – you did give permission. Of course, if you hadn’t given permission, I highly doubt that would stop any of us.

    arTEESTs of the world, pick up your pens, your brushes, your paints, your…whatevers…and MARCH!

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Theme Fiction Friday – Awake

  10. HA! The Lord of the Underworld strikes again! James didn’t even see it coming. 😉

    First, 100 Internet Points to everyone. The movie was Babe. Good job.

    @Scott: You kind of got it. What I’m looking for is what happens after the idea hits, how do you make that idea a reality? As you and everyone else sees, the lines between inspiration and creation are blurred. Sometimes the idea is so strong the creation process is easy.

    @Rhodester: 50 extra points to you for naming the Farmer!

    @Kelly: Good point, the work does always know and we have to train ourselves to listen to it. Playing is a key factor as well. The more you play during the creative process, the more ideas you come up with.

    @James: I’ll say it again…HA!

    @WriterDad: I read that too. Maybe I got my Indy Jones fix after all?

    @Panther: That’s it exactly, taking all those random bits and organizing them into something spectacular

  11. Harry,

    I’m saving up my Internet points to have enough to get a glow-in-the-dark MWP decoder ring and an autographed photo.


    Until later,


    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Einstein’s Formula for Success? Y Is Play

  12. Ooooo, wanted detail. Why didn’t ya just ask? 🙂 Looks as though I’m going to have to get back to you on that.


    Scotts last blog post..My Road To Recovery

  13. My creative process follows the Nike approach, “Just do it.” I immerse myself in the material by reading anything that’s relevant, and then I force myself to start writing. I’ll write any part of the project that I can, not necessarily the beginning. Once I get something up on my screen, anything, it usually starts to flow.

  14. The creative process. What a fun topic.

    It is so interesting to find out how it works for the visual artist (which I REALLY wanted to be!).

    I do several things as a writer. In the morning I free-write in my journal‚top of the head, stream-of-consciousness stuff. Surprising what emerges. Once I start my workday, for warm-ups and breaks, a little juggling, my paddle ball and, weird as it sounds, walking backwards. Supposed to spark the cells in the right brain or something. All I know is it woks for me.

    Because I like to keep that uninhibited, off-the-wall part of me primed at all times, I like to play strange games. Bob and I watch old movies with the sound off and make up the dialogue as we go along. At garage sales, I like to pick up an object I can’t identify (a car part, a piece of plumbing equipment, a tool) and think of what else it could be or be used for.

    All of this to come up with as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time. I love hearing everyone’s ideas!

    Judy Dunns last blog post..Conversational Marketing on the Web: You Talkin’ to Me?

  15. My creative process is a little of everything, I suppose. I get my ideas from all over the place; random conversations with my friends a lot of the time, sometimes my favorite writing-blog, sometimes oddities that pop up during game, sometimes music. Usually I’ll settle down with it and start asking questions. And more questions. And yet more questions. And still more questions. And those questions are what give me my best ideas.

    In drawing, as in writing, it often comes down to starting with an outline and then adding details for me. I have trouble with the outline–it’s all hazy–but when I get into details, it’s basically just “Here there’s room for something, and this feels like it’ll fit.” And something else. And something else. And then something else. Sometimes it gets a little overkill; I have one picture in my files somewhere where I went crazy on the string-pattern on a creature’s back.

    Ravyns last blog post..The Generic Villain on When Not to Kill Your Lieutenant

  16. So here’s my thoughts.

    I sit down and think, “Okay. One post for Copyblogger. Hm. There was an idea about inspiring creative thoughts…”

    *tries to write an intro. Gets a great one-liner to start. Then jams.*

    *struggles for about 20 minutes, feeling performance anxiety get the better of him*

    *does something else for half an ho-*


    *writes madly like a fiend… then goes and does something else for a while*

    *comes back, reads… edits, reads, edits more, reads, adds some headlines, edits, reads, wash rinse repeat DONE!*

    Yeah. So basically really easy. 5 minutes flat. No problem. 😉

  17. I’m with Susan. Once I get something down, that always prompts more, and then that more prompts lots more until I have enough. Once it’s all out there staring me in the face, I examine and flip and turn and edit. Then I reexamine and tweak, and voila! Something! Same process whether it’s writing or some other visual medium.

    @Kelly How many points are “not enough” so far? 😉

  18. James,
    I like your thoughts on the whole process – start, hopelessly jammed, go do something else (in the meantime the whole process is still percolating inside you), ideas start to flow and you write them down, go back to what you were doing and finish that task, and now you’re refreshed and ready to tackle the original job with INSPIRATION. What doesn’t work for me is a sequential, connect the dots scenario from intro to body to conclusion. I’m bouncing around in the body while thinking about the conclusion but yet still open to new ideas while still engaged in the process.

    Also I enjoyed reading thoughts from everyone else here.

    Thanks for writing this post to get us all thinking and engaged on this subject.

  19. DeBorah Beatty says:

    I have just begun following your blog at the referral of a friend of mine. How delightful to actually find words with weight that reach the heart! I ask myself the same question every time I get off a call with a client or a friend who has asked me for advice.

    So many times it feels as if I just step out of the way and let whatever there is to be said roll on out. I’m not sure whether it’s Inspiration or years of experience talking. I just know that when I just “let ‘er rip” without trying to control the flow and instead just relax and release, the result is always perfect for the project at hand.

    As an exhibiting artist this same aspect comes into place in my artwork as well. If I try to make something turn out a certain way, it usually finds its way to the trash heap. If I let go and let it flow, beauty results.

    Thanks for putting the creative process in terms so sweetly succinct!

  20. @ Mark – This is one of the reasons I never promise people next-day delivery. Percolating the idea, topic or subject is something crucial to writing good, creative content.

    Don’t want creativity? Sure, I can rip out a report on Hockey Tips from Canucks, but it won’t be Wayne Gretzky great. It’ll just be good.

    However, I find that when someone says, “Here’s your title and cover these three points,” my brain heaves a sigh because suddenly, it doesn’t have to think up IDEAS. It can focus on thinking how to best say the message. Bit of a catch-22.

  21. LOl- so busy in creative process…I missed this. Smiling. I’ll just leave a little cobalt blue here where you’ll barely notice it. 😉

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Oops, Don’t Panic

  22. *looks up at Harry*

    Whaddya think? I must have thousands of MWP box-tops I’ve sent in, bonus points all over the place, charter-this and platinum-that…

    Still no photos.

    Nicole, I just couldn’t tell ya what it takes. Save for the glow-in-the-dark decoder ring, it’s a lot easier target.




  23. Harry getting from inspiration to execution is the job isn’t it?

    Notebooks and sketchbooks and files full of photos aren’t that hard to come by. But getting them into the form that is so like what we’ve imagined can be daunting depending on the project, or at times it is like sipping a fine single malt…very smooth.

    It seems so funny to talk about creative process. It’s my life. I looked at the responses above. It’s different I think depending on what kind of project it is. Oh, the process from trigger to execution is the same in theory, but we all have signatures, like the marks we make or the words we choose. Being fluent with process, at ease with lateral actions, I think can keep us from just being an echo chamber.
    So those little “eccentricities” can also be our strengths. Walking a dog on the levee used to be part of mine. Watching the tugs push the ships up river and down can be meditation on a troublesome piece. Just as spending the night out at Tippitina’s listening to the Nevilles can give your paint a real good rhythm for weeks on end. So part of any creative process worth having, is one that keeps the soul alive.

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Oops, Don’t Panic

  24. *gleefully admires his own glow-in-the-dark decoder ring*

    Hey. Who put that blue paint here?

  25. panchitah says:

    A scientific illustrator… Aw, nuts… Why didn’t I think of that!

    Oh, well. ::grumbles to self:: So jealous.

    As far as how I create… I’m still figuring that one out. Its a work in progress that right now is in the ‘give it a shot’ stage. 😉

    And the first thing I thought with “That’ll do” is Shrek (at Donkey). Ha, talk about generation gap.

  26. When I’m writing my creative process looks like this…

    Yes, first the inspiration. I get an idea to explore something or another and then I hook up to wherever this stuff actually comes from and begin the process of downloading words and phrases and sometimes whole pages, courtesy of my muse.

    When that is flowing it’s pure bliss. Invariably, however, there are the stops and starts and expectations and what feels like dead ends and then, of course, panic. Gotta have the panic.

    Once I get enough of these words and paragraphs and pages I have to do something with them. Unfortunately, my muse is not much of an editor and she doesn’t know how to organize things very well. It’s kind of like she took a box of puzzle pieces and dumped them on the floor and now I now have to arrange them into some coherent form.

    AAAARGH!! Frustration, paralysis and more panic. I start the process of picking up those pieces and trying to figure out how they fit together.

    It seems impossible. I don’t know why I ever started this stupid project anyway. I keep at it because I am stubborn and compulsive and more than a little crazy. It takes way longer than I want it to.

    But then….. the miracle happens. The puzzle pieces come together and make a whole. It’s complete. And it’s not half bad

    And then I can’t wait to start the whole damn cycle all over again!



  1. […] “Occasionally, one is lucky enough to get “an expert” to write a Guest Post.  This Post, written by Artur Urbanski of, is so much more than luck:  it is Artur’s story of living what we consider “history” behind The Iron Curtain as a boy and young man.  For decades, Western Society has been trying to trade on truths and fictions of what REALLY happened in countries under Soviet Rule.  Artur’s story is NOT a “Guest Post.”  It is an HONOR – one for which I cannot possibly thank him enough.  I am certain that readers will agree.” Rita’s Digest (NOTE: This is Rita’s note about an AMAZING series of posts by Mr. Urbanski. These are must-reads!) “Once you feel inspired by basic elements, don’t stop. Release your imagination and figure out how to make the elements you’ve discovered unique.” Harrison McLeod […]

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