My three tips to develop my creativity

The original French article was part of a “blog carnival”.

Here, no masks or streamers but full of colors: those of volunteer bloggers who share their creative tips. This carnival of articles was organized by Barbara from the blog Le patron de mes rêves — which would mean in French either the boss or the sewing pattern of my dreams. But there, no ideal boss – the ideal boss is you – who will make your dream garment come true. And if you want it to be colorful, do not miss Challenge #13 on this blog, If you understand French, find all bloggers’ contributions here.

The art of combining colors is not just a matter of taste. Deciding on a range of colors from scratch or from a few colors, whether for a brand, a poster, an interior, clothing or any other project also requires creativity.

Personally, I have more than three tricks to develop it; some of them are certainly familiar to you, such as transposing a technique from one field to another. The principle of appropriation in color in Challenges #5, #11 and #12 (coming soon) is based on this process.

Those presented below are perhaps more unexpected. In this article, they are applied to artistic practice (drawing, painting, engraving, photography), but nothing prevents you from applying them to other fields. But before tackling them, as usual on this blog, here is a little scientific diversion dedicated to some astonishing studies on the subject.

Vinciane Lacroix, marbled paper (result of two tips recommended here).

Some amazing studies on creativity

The following is a summary of a series of studies demonstrating the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of processes that encourage the production of creative ideas. Professor Richard Wiseman relates them in the “Creativity” chapter of his book “59 seconds, Think a little Change a lot”.

The role of the unconscious

Faced with a task, both the conscious and unconscious are called upon. Wiseman sees them as two individuals: the conscious one, intelligent and with a strong personality, dominates the shy and creative unconscious one. The conscious mind speaks ever louder and prevents the unconscious mind from expressing itself. Unless it is occupied with another task…

In this study volunteers had to find an original name for a pasta dish. To inspire them, the organizers gave them Italian-sounding examples, all ending with an “i”. One group had three minutes to think about the question, while another group had to concentrate on following dots on a computer screen. Both groups were then asked to make proposals. The first group was left with names ending with “i” unlike the second, which sounds a proof of creativity to the test designers. Since then, other studies have looked at the creative role of the unconscious.

The advice then? After hearing the problem to be solved, occupy your mind with a task that requires concentration, then get back to the problem. You will hopefully come up with innovative solutions.

The color green stimulates creativity

Studies show that greenery not only reduces anti-social behavior but also makes people more creative. And by extension, the color green would stimulate creativity. The underlying assumption is that creativity can only develop if one is calm and relaxed. Green, associated with vegetation and the abundance of food in our primitive brains, puts us in this state, as opposed to red, which has an exciting power.

The inefficiency of “brainstorming”

Another study denies the effectiveness of “brainstorming” – the method of bringing several people together to develop creative ideas. According to this study, it does not produce more interesting or creative results than those achieved by individuals. One of the reasons for this is the spread of responsibility: only when faced with a challenge, one must take responsibility for failure and hope for the glory of success. In a group one can always blame others for failure and take collective glory; one will therefore invest less in oneself.

Now here are the tips that work for me.

1 Add constraints

Curiously, adding constraints helps me to find original solutions.

The color challenge proposed in this blog is a good example: a color problem, how artists have solved it and what solution I propose provides a framework stimulating my creativity. Constraints relating to frequency, article format, content, lead me to write personal articles and explore color in a different way.

In drawing

In the practice of drawing, several constraining exercises have stimulated my creativity: making sketches in a very short time, or without looking at the sheet of paper, or with my left hand… The constraints can concern tools such as drawing with three pencils at the same time, or painting figures with a very large brush.

For the sketch, I had difficulty placing the shadows correctly. They were hesitant and soft. I thought that linocutting, which  consists of hollowing out a linoleum plate, would help me to make more frank decisions. It’s a technique that requires a good distribution of light and dark masses, a difficulty that stimulates creativity. As you can see below, my shadows have become very graphic. You can see other linocuts I have made.

Vinciane Lacroix, “In Niger”, linocut

In painting

In painting, after many attempts, I developed a technique that only requires black velvet paper — usually used for pastel—, white paint and a soft plastic tool (bank card or painting knife). Taking a medium dedicated to one field and using it in another is also a source of surprise. See a result below and others on my portfolio.

Vinciane Lacroix, “Landscape”, white paint on velvet paper (CC-BY-SA)

To master color, limiting yourself to a restricted palette as suggested in Challenge #3 or choosing it in a given register (see Challenge #7) or even selecting it at random (see the following tip) will take you off the beaten track. Put your creations aside and come back later with fresh eyes. What surprises have these constraints brought? Which paths are to be explored?

Picasso said: “When I run out of blue, I put on red”. What if you also replace a color that everyone expects in a given context with another one? For example, blue in a face, or red on a lawn?

In photography

In silver photography, for both practical and economic reasons, the number of shots was limited. In the digital era, this constraint has almost disappeared. Are the photos better for all that? Not necessarily: we think less when we start and postpone the decision to choose a photograph until after the editing process. Photographer Klavdij Sluban recommends a limited number of photographs when working digitally. I also improve the quality of my photographs by imposing this rule on myself.

2. Invite chance

Chance in discoveries

Several discoveries were made by chance. This is the case of certain synthetic pigments such as Prussian blue and more recently, the deepest black in the world, even blacker than Vantablack.

The invention of Prussian blue is purely fortuitous. A color merchant was trying to produce a carmine red, which required potash for its manufacture. As he ran out of it, he borrowed some from a colleague, unaware that it was contaminated by animal blood. To his great surprise the precipitate produced a deep blue.

On the other hand, the extremely deep black pigment owes its existence to a search for improved thermal properties using carbon nanotubes. By aligning them vertically on an aluminum sheet, the researchers were surprised by the exceptional blackness of the material obtained.

Chance in artistic practice

In photography

The LOMOGRAPHY movement advocates the use of the LOMO, a cheap silver camera often call “Toy camera”, by following a dozen rules, some of which, listed below, explicitly favor chance and the unconscious.

  • Try shooting without aiming
  • Don’t think
  • Be quick
  • You don’t have to know in advance what you’re taking a picture of.
  • Neither afterwards
  • Don’t worry about the rules!

If following these rules systematically can generate a lot of waste, applying them occasionally allows for surprises and beautiful discoveries. For example, when a place seems photogenic to me but I have to wait too long to get the light I dream of or the field perfectly clear, I turn around and often I am surprised by an even more interesting situation.

The technique of superimposing photographs in silver photography often gave unexpected results at the time of development. The idea was to take a first photograph by underexposing it and then take a second one without advancing the film. An alternative was to use a whole film by underexposing the photographs, rewind it, and expose it again, still underexposed. The results reveal some surprises. There is nothing to prevent this technique from being used digitally. Accidents” caused by scratches, camera faults, blurred camera shake can also be digitally exploited.

Vinciane Lacroix digital and random photography; left: motion blur; right: overlay (CC-BY-SA)
In painting

While working with Indian ink I observed by chance the drawings of the ink on the surface of the water in the rinsing jar. I wanted to reproduce these drawings on paper so I rediscovered the paper marbling technique by myself. I explored it in several directions: by taking a photo of a tray loaded with ink, by transferring the water surface by putting a sheet of paper on it, by running water on the paper and adding ink and, on the advice of a friend, white glue. Finally I proceeded in the same way with colored inks. Below is an overview of this research and here in a better definition.

Vinciane Lacroix, photographs, Indian ink and glue in suspension (CC-BY-SA)
Vinciane Lacroix, Ink and Hazard. On the left, “Birches” (ink and glue); on the right, “Montain” (CC-BY-SA)
Vinciane Lacroix, marbled paper (CC-BY-SA)

The “cadavre exquis” game — which literally means “exquisite corpse”, invented by the surrealists, is based on the combination of both tricks. The aim of the game is to have several people compose a sentence or a drawing, without any of them being able to take into account the previous interventions.

To compose a sentence, the constraint is as follows: each participant takes turns writing part of a sentence, in subject-verb-complete order, without knowing what the previous participant has written. For the drawing, it can be done by drawing a head, then a body, then legs, following the same principle. The randomness of the composition thus produces surprises: “The corpse – exquisite – will drink – the wine – new. ” was the first outcome of the game.

The paint presented in the first paragraph is also the result of the application of these two tricks: a restricted color range and the random mixing caused by inks suspended in water.

3. Take a break: let your mind wander

The painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989) used to sit in an armchair, his elbow resting on the armrest, his hand dangling holding a spoon placed above a metal container. He let himself go to sleep, and, in doing so, inevitably dropped the spoon, which would woke him up. He would then note down the strange images that had come to his mind.

Personally I can’t produce such micro-sleep episodes, but short (or less short) naps and every night is beneficial to me. Several solutions to a problem that was unsolvable the day before are available to me in the morning, especially in the shower. Richard Wiseman mentioned above, sees it as the work of the unconscious mind which has full power in our sleep.

For me, taking a break is above all letting my mind go in another direction. In my career as a researcher, creative sessions in art workshops in the evenings relaxed me and probably made new connections in my brain. On the other hand, spending all my time in such activities would be unbearable for me: I need variety.

Sport, a photographic walk, the one that allows me to marvel at a ray of light or a perfume revealed by the rain, a beautiful book or an exhibition, allows my mind to make new connections; it will not be long before I exploit them for creative purposes.

Go ahead!

Apply the amazing methods proposed by Richard Wiseman, and judge for yourself their creative potential.
Have you already tried the ones I suggest? Have you ever combined them? Apply them to start new tracks in your personal creations, whether they are colored or not. Let me know how it turns out.

And what are yours? Share them as comments as well.

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