There was a drawing professor I had in college who had mason jar after mason jar and boxes upon boxes filled with buttons. Buttons were something that she found inspiration in and she continuously drew ideas for her own work from her collection. That professor always encouraged us to be collectors of creativity. While everyone else I had known called me a pack rat and my collections junk this was the first person that saw what I was doing as having a purpose. I wasn’t a pack rat, I was a collector of creativity and I wasn’t stockpiling junk I was creating a library of inspiration.
photo provided by Zsuzsanna Kilian
One of the characteristics of a lot of creatives I’ve known throughout my life and one that I’ve had since I was a child is collecting things. I have many collections that I frequently go to for inspiration. I have a bookmark folder for interesting sites that I’ve found, one for tutorials, one for images and a separate folder on my hard drive filled with code snippets and those are just the digital collections. I also have stacks of old magazines, pieces of packages, ropes, interesting looking rocks, wood scraps and other various objects. These collections have proved invaluable to me and my creative process as I go to them whenever I need an idea for a texture, a layout, a font, a color scheme or any other aspect of a design I may be working on.
Don’t get me wrong, there are pack rats who hoard and do nothing with what they keep but, as designers and as creative people in general, our pack rat characteristic becomes something more. Our collections become our own personal wellspring of ideas where we take parts and piece them together to make a whole. We have an ability to make connections. We can take a little bit of this, some of that and an aspect of those and create an entirely new thing. Part of being creative and having a creative thought process is being able to look at pieces of the ordinary and ask the question, “what if an alarm clock had wheels?”. This is where our piles of stuff, our clippings, old sketches and “junk drawers” become an important tool for who we are and what we do.
This obsession with collecting and saving has another effect on us. Having the title of Creative can be a scary, stressful thing that creates some unrealistic expectations. Sometimes working as a creative can make us think that everything we do, everything we make and everything we invent must come from nothing and be something utterly unique to this world. Buying into that thought process, that ideal, constrains us in our creative endeavors, stops us from questioning the fundamental and slows down innovation. Our collections and our ability to combine parts and pieces to create something new eases the burden of that myth opening our minds and the possibilities of what we can create.
If you don’t collect bits of inspiration I would suggest that you start. Start by just spending a day or two keeping and storing away random things that catch your eye. Keep this small collection for a month or two periodically going to it and looking through the things you’ve saved when you get stuck on a project or are starting a new one. At the end of that month take some time and examine how collecting and reviewing those things has impacted your creative process and your stress level. I think you’ll find a new way to inspire yourself and really start to enjoy being a collector of creativity.