My Second Column For Cartoonists Northwest – Where Do You Get Your Ideas

Cartoonists Northwest logoOne of the most frequent questions any creator, whether writer, artist, or cartoonist, is where do you get your ideas. Many creators, unsurprisingly, give many different answers.

Some creators respond philosophically or with profound insight, or maybe even with something about tapping into the creative flow. The rest of us tend to be a bit more snarky when we answer this question. We might say the ideas come from someplace (Albuquerque), or respond with a pithy statement that we hope is witty (my favorite is “a bottle of Jack Daniels and a very cruel god”)

But ultimately the come to the biggest secret among creatives: we really don’t know.

We do what we can to contact the muse (sometimes literally; hoping for a placebo effect I’ve considered making a small shrine more then once). Sometimes these techniques even work, but this leads to a secret we might acknowledge to nearly everyone.

We really don’t have the time.

Seeking inspiration is great, but we have deadlines and we need to come up with ideas as fast as possible – if the idea doesn’t come to you have to find a way to go get one (or, in this modern age, find it on the internet).

Ultimately getting ideas is a discipline, and just like any other discipline it gets easier with repetition…just like doing pushups, or jogging. Maintaining the analogy, there are a lot of exercises you can do to get your creativity working for you. One approach for a cartoonist is a sketch challenge (such as “Inktober”). The format is to do one drawing a day, usually based on a theme, for a week or a month (though I have benefited from a two month focus on Mother Goose). One trick for making this work for you is to make them as random as possible, perhaps literally picking an idea from a hat (dice can be used too). This way you don’t know in advance what you have to draw and “communing with the muse” or waiting for inspiration isn’t going to help you. It may feel like an uphill climb, but it works.

There are lots of other exercises and games that you can try to help with ‘creativity when you need it’, and I’m happy to announce we’re going to be trying out a lot of them at our February meeting.

Can’t wait to see you all there!

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