Colouring-in Team

The power of raw materials

Things are looking quite busy over the coming weeks at work, which is great, given how variable the demand for creative design can be from our client base. I find it can be quite helpful, creatively, to have a stack of jobs lined up into the foreseeable future - for some reason it seems to help my mind stay in the mode it needs to be in to draw things worth seeing. Trying to be creative can feel like trying to be lucky, or trying to be well after catching a cold, so anything that helps you remain in that special place is good, as far as I'm concerned.

Thinking about this, and also the fragment I wrote about creative inspiration in an earlier post, got me wondering why inspiration can be so elusive. Douglas Adams once wrote that 'writing is easy: you just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead'. I often feel similarly about staring at a blank Photoshop file.

A week ago, I finished preparing a piece of oak for some interior woodwork (a mantlepiece, in fact). It was an oak sleeper from a garden centre, and looked fairly grubby and battered when we got it home. However, a day spent planing the sides revealed the most beautiful, golden-brown woodgrain, and the smoothed and cleaned piece of wood was, if I say so myself, pretty close to perfection. What I noticed was that contemplating this vast, perfectly straight and solid piece of wood was tremendously inspiring. Not in a life-affirming way, I should add. But inspiring in the sense that looking at it made me want to makethings. I don't recall what things exactly, but I definitely wanted to make them, and as soon as possible, and using that lovely bit of wood.

What I'm getting at is that the presence of some tangible raw material is an incredible encouragement tocreate, in the broadest sense of the word. And this in turn causes me to wonder if that may be why getting the ball rolling where virtual creativity is concerned can sometimes be a struggle - no raw materials. Or, at least, no raw materials in the same sense.

Faced with creative choices that are largely limited only by what can be drawn in Photoshop, perhaps one should think of the specific solutions to the requirements of the client, or the end-user, or a usability issue, as the basis for our raw materials. Of course in the end these are still as intangible as the start point (that blank Photoshop file), but they help the designer to visualise the set of solutions that may do the job, and these then become our raw materials, waiting to become something useful, or beautiful, or ideally both. In my head that sounded a lot less pretentious than it came out when I typed it.

Mantlepiece oak beamCreating a smooth end after cutting the beam to length. It took about an hour's work after this point to get it perfectly flat.

Categories: Design

Tags: creativity, inspiration, photoshop, web design, wood