Variations on a Theme

When you have a good idea, get more mileage out of it by creating variations on the same theme. That is the foundation for ad campaigns, houses in a subdivision, a series of paintings, and a symphony. The theme itself must be strong for the variations to be successful. Some elements remain constant throughout the group, but each variant stands on its own even without the others.READ MORE

Patterns and Anomalies

Patterns are formed by repeating elements. Repetition can become tiresome, so patterns are often used in the background rather than as the main focus. However, patterns can be exciting and interesting unto themselves.

Once you have established a pattern, you can create an anomaly. An anomaly is something unexpected and will draw attention to itself. It can be subtle or pronounced. There can be more than one. You can intentionally lull your audience into accepting a pattern, and just as they start to tire of it, hit them with a bold anomaly.


Shape communicates on flat surfaces and in three dimensional spaces. Shapes do not exist by themselves; they have color, texture, transparency, scale, and perhaps patterns and motion. Beyond the basic shapes described here is a lot of room for complexity and interaction. This is to get you started thinking about shape.READ MORE


When you have more than one thing grouped together, keep them parallel. A simple example: in a list of actions, use the same verb tense for each. In a more complicated work such as a movie or novel, parallelism helps the audience know how diverse characters and timelines relate to each other. In the visual arts, parallel elements have the same weight or color. Parallelism is a unifying concept that tells the audience what elements are congruent.


Using one thing to represent something else is metaphor. Sometimes a metaphor helps your audience understand a concept better, or see it in a new way. Once you have found a metaphor for your message, take the opportunity to explore it fully. Go beyond clichés for real creativity. Don’t mix metaphors!


Mythology and Folklore

A rich source of symbolism and imagery is found in mythology and folklore. To find out why these stories resonate so strongly across cultures and ages, read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Studying mythology can put you in touch with a dreamlike world at the deepest level of human consciousness. Many great works of art were inspired by myth.

Tell a Story

A story has an arc—a beginning, a middle, and an end. A good story builds tension and anticipation, and has a climax followed by a resolution. An engaging story has a wealth of interesting detail, but themes that are universal. You can tell a story in a 30-second TV commercial, a building, or a symphony. Whatever you are creating, think about how your audience will experience it as it unfolds.

Limitation and Parameters

What is more intimidating than a blank page? The best spark for creativity is a limitation. Do not strain against parameters, use them to transcend the obvious. Deadlines and budgets are motivators. Materials and locations offer you their strengths (and weaknesses). How many of the things you love were created with unlimited time and money? Having no restraints can be paralyzing, or lead to worthless excess. Embrace your limitations and parameters.

Creativity by Quantity

One way to accomplish a creative breakthrough is by sheer quantity of solutions. Set a goal of coming up with 100 ways to solve the problem. You will quickly go though all the obvious answers and clichés, and soon enter the realm of the ridiculous. In order to reach 100, you will be forced to think creatively. Because few people will push themselves as far, you will very likely have some ideas that no one has thought of before. Furthermore, all the unique experiences and thoughts that only you can bring to the exercise will make your list of 100 uniquely different from anyone else’s.READ MORE

The Sketchbook

Inspiration can be fleeting. Your sketchbook is the net to capture elusive ideas as they flutter by.

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