Me and you, we have probably shared the same feeling, if you happen to work with your creativity.
Being torn about whether to look for inspiration inside or outside our head.
In 20 years earning my daily pizza with creative work, almost every project inception felt like a visit to the dentist — painful but necessary.
Until 5 years ago.
I lived times when I wouldn’t open a new browser tab or leaf through a book because I thought I would end up stealing someone else’s work.
I would try to find ideas in my head while fighting my desire to have a peek at other creatives’ opera.
To ignite our brain to deliver something new is a struggle for most of us, if not for anybody.
One day I had to design a website for a client, and I was 100% stuck.
Empty head, arms frozen in front of my bookshelf.
Cmd+T was forbidden.
I thought I had to understand why — I wanted to know if, after all, creativity was just too painful to be my job.
Then I started looking at the big picture.
I zoomed out my perspective and had a look at what I did before.
I tried to rewind the tape, and see where I took inspiration for works I had done before.
I took a couple of projects, one was a company’s brand design, the other one was a website for a research organization. For both I had notes and mood boards that helped me reconstruct the inspiration path I followed.
Soon I started to feel better.
I hadn’t stolen or copied anything.
A closer look revealed that, yes, there were similarities, but they were in patterns rather than in visual features.
No mood board had anything even close to my final product.
Start copying. Really.
Throw Pinterest images in your Illustrator artboard and start drawing over them and picking colors.
Code HTML and CSS to replicate that cool website.
Play the chords to that song you love.
Do it without judging yourself.
And soon the magic will happen.
You’ll start decoding the things you love, you’ll learn a process and you’ll probably take a different path before even getting close to copying the whole piece.
As you start working, your brain will absorb the patterns and connect with your knowledge — your own, unique knowledge.
And you’ll soon shift your direction to the problem you have to solve.
You’ll have used other people’s work as the yeast for your creative bread, but yours are all the other ingredients.
Bake it, fry it, steam it, it’s yours.
And it will help you practice gratitude towards the other creatives that helped you kickstart your brain.
You’ll feel a connection, that is not limited to the two of you.
It’s a chain that originates back in the early days of human creativity, passing through school books, Pinterest, museums, Behance, graffiti and your own work, that will be of inspiration for someone else, eventually.