Every creative person is familiar with this experience: the spark of an idea arrives out of nowhere and simply must be recorded in some way or it can just disappear in an instant, as fast as it arrived. Once an idea is physically recorded, the inspiration to keep working with it is often hard to ignore.
Libraries of books and articles attempt to map out a successful creative process. While the process can be instantaneous much of the time, other times it needs to be consciously fostered and nurtured. Chuck Close, the brilliant artist that I aspired to emulate in my younger days, said: "Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work." Boy, does that statement pack a lot of truth! Showing up every day with joyful effort (and let's be honest—occasionally it's not so joyful) can be an artist and designer's biggest challenge. Sometimes inspiration just doesn't come easily. At these times, we must look outside ourselves for inspiration.
I approach my creative process proactively these days. I fostered my inspiration last month by attending two events: Creative South, a graphic design and illustration conference in the incredibly cute town of Columbus, Georgia; and the 4 Bridges Arts Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Both events provided loads of inspiration. In a few short days, sparks were flying in my little artist’s heart simply from being around fellow designers, illustrators and artists. I felt a kinship with other self-proclaimed geeks everywhere I turned.
So the biggest draw to Creative South for me was the workshop led by Mattox Shuler of Fort Foundry on how to create fonts using the software Glyphs. Yes, that's what I said: create fonts. Every letter. Upper and lower case. Plus punctuation. All characters, created one by one. (Did I mention designers are self-proclaimed geeks?)
Letters are such an important part of a designer's process. Type design isn't generally noticeable by the average viewer unless it's bad design: when you can't read copy because it's too small, for example; the font expresses the wrong personality of its message; or the primary message is lost because the secondary message overpowers it when you read it. These are the times when a good eye for design comes to save the day—in the world of marketing anyway.
Lately there's been an explosion of type and lettering designers. It's a beautiful thing. Type becomes the art, and makes the message more likely to be read. Check out the work of Molly Jacques, one of the presenters at Creative South, to see what I mean.
Years ago, I designed some type for a logo I was working on for a client and, while the lettering ultimately wasn't selected out of the options I presented, those letters haunted me long enough that I developed the entire alphabet so that someday I would have a font. It wasn't a fast process, but it was one I really enjoyed.
At the time, I had designed each character in Adobe Illustrator, which is not font creation software. I didn't have the software to actually make a font, nor did I have the time or inspiration to learn new software. Mattox's workshop changed all that. The 2-hour lesson gave enough of an impetus for me to keep developing my font. Now I'm well on my way to having it completed and have another one in the works. Who knows where these sparks of inspiration will ultimately land, but I'm excited about the possibilities so stay tuned!
From viewing the presentations by up-and-coming designers and illustrators, to being one of the hundreds of onlookers at the Ink Wars challenge (which this year was one hour to create a work of art on the theme "moonshine" — see video below), my experience at Creative South provided the inspirational fuel to thoroughly renew my own approach to design, all the way down to the font.
The 4 Bridges Arts Festival took the inspiration to a whole other place. 4 Bridges is one of my favorite arts festivals around—unbridled creativity by amazing artists of many mediums feeds the heart of any visual creative. Typically in graphic design, visuals are employed to draw a reader in to a message. At 4 Bridges, however, literal messaging isn’t a factor, so the visuals are a pure exercise in creativity all their own. (Side note: I'm so proud of my friend, Lesley Patterson Marx for winning the 4 Bridges Jurors' Award! It’s not only her art that is beautiful, but also her spirit.)
Staying on the trail of other emerging fine artists is an important part of the design process. Fine art has sparked new expression in my own design work: this book cover design, inspired by Fran Pelzman Liscio's artwork, is a perfect example.
I’ve been fortunate to know that the creative sparks are going to fly no matter what, and when they do, it's a gift to my soul to be able to harness them and take them to a place where the world can see the results. I'm lucky to have known all along that I wanted to be a graphic designer/artist, and to have actually made a career out of that calling. Every day I show up is a creative adventure that I embrace fully. It's what I love to do!