How to get ideas
for an illustration
I’m writing this one for myself. (but maybe there’s something in it for you)
I’m done with my day job for the day, designing UX for a photo app. And I’ve spent some quality time with my wife and baby, we walked, watched the latest Ted Lesso episode. And so I’m back in my ‘studio’; A small spare room. I think of it as my first-class seat on an airplane.
I need to turn in an illustration to my agent over the next 3 days to send out to art directors and editors, but I don’t have a good idea for it. So I’m going to look for one; here are my options:
Circle the topic.
This is the Tom Gauld and Lina Finck approach. Both of them have a similar approach. “I draw around the topic, if an idea doesn’t come, I walk to a cafe and draw some more. Normally if I don’t get an idea on the way there, I’ll get one on the way back.
The Lina Finck approach is similar. The’s a lot of walking involved and a cafe. “I draw bad drawings for two hours that don’t mean anything and then my brain comes into focus and starts to get ideas. ( https://www.thecut.com/2020/01/how-new-yorker-illustrator-liana-finck-gets-it-done.html )
I’ve used this method and it works, the walks and the random drawings. During the pandemic, I walked from my desk to the dining table. It works just the same. Another hack I have is to play a video of walks around new york or cafe windows.
This is the most common way I do. I put 3 sheets of paper into my clipboard and I fill them up with words. I try not to look at my phone. It’s very hard. Just like the circling process, you’ll find that there is no direct way to ideas. Most of the time I’ll get an idea over the course of 3 pages. If I don’t at least I would have offloaded distractions and I can try another tactic.
This process started off for me as “Morning Pages”, but they work just as well in the afternoon. And I’ll try them this evening. Maybe.
A variation is instead of counting the pages set a timer and just write until the timer rings then stop. I’ll explain why this works in a future note.
If you’re always collecting ideas. You can pull them out when you need them, bonus. points if you keep them organized. If you haven’t done this you can start now, you’re starting yesterday for a future version of yourself. Here’s where I collect my ideas:
in my bullet journals
in my sketchbooks
on index cards
When I need an idea I can always draw from this well. Though I tend to do this as a last resort.
Make a list.
Here’s how you do it. Write the numbers 1-10 each on a new line. Write a question or problem or title above them. Write 10 ‘answers’. The last ones tend to be the best ideas, you can do more than 10. This method goes best with strong coffee. If you want to develop this technique further, this book could help.
Last but not least;
Research the topic
You could with Wikipedia, and follow that rabbit hole wherever it takes you. Or you could do an image search and collect 5-15 images around the theme, and start drawing those. The trick with this is to inject your personality into your search query. And to use these images or information as jumping-off points. My own quirky method of researching is to imagine I’m interviewing one person for the answers I’m seeking. I’ll write a list of questions for the person. Then try to find the exact answers to those questions from the exact person on the internet. What’s your quirky research method?
Okay, I’m off, to do one or all of the above. If you like this thing, let me know by leaving a heart or comment. If you share it with someone I’ll try my best to do you proud. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you tomorrow!
Good stuff. Many times, with an article, I just have to start writing... even if it's just "I have no idea where this article is going." It may end up being an article about what to do if you have no idea where an article is going.