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Escape the Comfort Zone: Uncanny Creativity 41

Making art often means getting out of the comfort zone.

Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains the science of breaking out of your comfort zone:

Routine and patterns minimize risk. Making something scares us. Creating something inherently feels risky. Who knows if it’ll be good?

The comfort zone feels happy with low anxiety and low stress. This is why most people never make anything.

Optimal Anxiety

Slight anxiety helps us. “Optimal Anxiety” increases performance. Too much stress and we do poorly. Comfort is the opposite of productivity. Volunteering as a designer helps me escape my routine. It can feel stressful, yet also I’m helping people.

Regularly facing fear in controlled ways prepares you better for out of control problems according to researcher Brene Brown:

Try this: Venture a new medium, performance art, visual arts, practice new tips. Small tweaks to normal ways of producing art involve exploring your curiosity.

Productive Discomfort

It gets easier to push boundaries the more you do it. Alina Tugend describes this effect of “Productive Discomfort” for the New York Times.

It’s easier to brainstorm if you’re seeking new experiences, new skills. You get used to looking at the world in new ways and question confirmation bias. Old problems will seem new.

Try this: Do old things differently. New restaurants, drive a new route, switch out apps you normally use.

Take small steps

Avoid putting things off. Keep a list of “someday maybes”. Review it regularly to see if they match with your schedule. Always wanted to paint dogs or nudes? What’s the next small step to make that happen.

Take small steps. Set small actions. Weekly daily. Think big in the long-term and small in the short-term. If you want to have a huge gallery show, first you need to slowly make painting
Try this: find clarity through action.

Remember to return to your comfort zone. Have rituals that you return to for comfort.

Try this: Slow down or speed up on decisions that you have to make. Be more spontaneous in areas where you’re usually very planned. Try being more calculated in the parts where you usually are carefree

The Sweet Spot Between Overconfidence and Anxiety

Optimal levels of anxiety tested as middle range by scientist, Business Insider explains. If we’re overconfident, there may not exist enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, we’ll have trouble performing even basics of tasks. Self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes”. The test became difficult compared to those with less anxiety.

Try this: Actively Practice worrying less. Actively practice worrying less. Working out. Meditate. Question and answer the facts behind your worry. Practice optimism. Seek help – friends, family, therapy.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.

I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)

Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.

Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.

Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.

So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.

If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.

If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.

Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together

Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.

The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.

Think through actions and through making.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

5 Steps to Having More Creative Ideas

How can I come up with better ideas more often? Other people seem to be really creative and always have good ideas. Is there a way I can jump start my imagination when a blank page is staring me in the face?

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wondered how creative geniuses do so much. They seem to have a never ending stream of good ideas. We’ve all have our shining moments, where we came up with a great joke, strung together the perfect sentence, or even painted something that was greatly admired. Since I work as a designer, there’s often a pull to have great ideas all day everyday. Creativity is the job. Here are some observations that have helped me in the past when I’ve been trying to stumbling:

Step 1: DEFINE Your Goal

Why are you trying to be more creative? What’s your objective? There are a lot of ways to answer this question. If you can ask and answer “why” at every step, the next step often becomes pretty clear. Your goal may just be to have fun or just to wander through your imagination or memories. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway. Expanding your view of what a goal can be can help you set and keep new goals.

Tweet: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/8udP3+

Step 2: QUESTION Assumptions

Write out all of your assumptions about your goal. Then question them. Is it true that this can’t be done? Challenge your notions about what the “best” way is, what you “shouldn’t” do to get there, and what you’re willing to do. Assumptions include ideas like “it’s too hard.” Is it really that hard? How do you know? And if anything is really that difficult, what are the steps that you can make it easier?

Another common assumptions are the the thoughts of others. We can’t read minds, can’t assume others think like us, don’t know others interests, future actions, or intentions. When others do share their opinions, handling criticism with a positive attitude is key for growth. Learning to actively seek criticism helps us to be open to new ideas.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in,” Isaac Asimov.  These preconceived notions are often the blocks that prevent us from thinking in more directions.

Tweet this: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world,” Isaac Asimov via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/s01ye+

Step 3: THINK of Stories

There are a lot of great ideas in stories. “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten,” Rudyard Kipling. Think about the best stories in your life, the ones that you keep coming back to. What makes it interesting to you? What’s the best part? Is there a visual twist that you can come up with?

If you’re tackling a particular project, explore your memories or even the internet and see what stories there are about the subject. These are the kinds of questions that interject your point of view, your values of importance, and your personality into your work. Tell your story. That’s part of the essence of creativity. The process of thinking doesn’t have to live in your head, of course. Write it down or draw it out. Don’t be afraid of what you’re writing. That brings us to the next step to good ideas: bad ideas.

Tweet this: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten,” Rudyard Kipling via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/cT9ls+

Step 4: IMAGINE the Bad Ideas

Part of the key may be that those who are seemingly “genius” just let themselves have a lot of ideas.  They create without judging the value of their creations too soon. As the romance novelist Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” Get something down in some form and then edit it. Quantity can win over quality as part of the process.

If I’m working on a magazine design or a painting, the biggest trick to coming up with something that I like is to just make things. For a magazine, I like to just have a seperate InDesign document called “ideas” so I know it’s not the final draft and just make tons of bad pages that might have one idea that I can use. The point is to do it at a place so rough that it’s fun. Make shapes, place things, play with the composition. While breaks are necessary, waiting for inspiration is not.

Tweet this: As Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” via @sketchee

Step 5: MAKE Fun

Too often, this process is presented as something to add to our never ending to do list. That we “must” create more thumbnails, list all of our thoughts, and keep a sketchbook. What we really need to remember is that scribbling down a sketch and brainstorming is fun! “Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl. Make a game out of how many ideas you can scribble, even if they are terrible.

Scribbling and making ugly marks until a page is full is a lot of fun and far less pressure. Then take those scribbles into a thumbnail shape to work out the composition. And blow up the thumbnail into a drawing. Translate the drawing into a painting. Each “next step” is less intimidating because the work is done in a safe fun messy no pressure place. If concentrate on just taking just one step further, executing an idea becomes far less intimidating

Tweet this: “Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl via @sketchee

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

7 Creative Values: Define Yours With An Action Manifesto

I created my defined list of creative values for myself and for this site and podcast. I was heavily inspired by the manifestos of Gretchen Rubin – author of The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies. Gretchen writes more about how she developed her own Twelve Commandments.

What does the phrase “Uncanny Creativity” mean? Since I believe in productivity and action, I chose to make each of my values a key active verb. Gretchen suggests short phrases that you can check and remember: “I’ve found that my commandments help me most when I review them at least daily, to keep them fresh in my mind, and to do this, it helps to keep the list short and snappy.”

When I was a kid and even still at times as an adult, I would freeze with an anxiety response called “Selective Mutism”. I’d just become silent and mute for long periods. And then suddenly – situationally – free. One incident that comes to mind: visiting my cousin’s neighborhood pool. At the entrance, the person at the front desk took each of our names for their records. When asked my name I said nothing. My mind was blank. I couldn’t remember my name. So I couldn’t say it out loud as much as I wanted to. That any of us have any ability to communicate with each other at all feels like a miraculous concept. I attempt not to take communication for granted. Uncanny Creativity for me means making attempts at shameless self-expression.

Of the manifestos I’ve wanted to write to simplify and solidify my core values, Creativity became the biggest challenge. I’ve shared many books, experiments, and studies on creativity on this blog and podcast, Uncanny Creativity. Writing helped me find these core themes:

Seven Creative Core Values: Defining Uncanny Creativity

Go. Take action.*

Be bold and decisive about trying actions that might work.

Listen for your voice.

Looking is more worthwhile than finding.

Collect thoughts and ideas.

Save freely your own thoughts and those of others.

Know Like a Kid.

Kids know they don’t know it all. They play courageously anyway. Find a child-like sense of modest participation.

Think Big, Medium, Small.

Chase the big picture, the little details, and the levels in-between.

Find Fun.

Enjoy the weird. Humor yourself in the present moment.

Use Your Powers For Good.

Take your turn to help. Everything will be okay. No one has it all figured out.

Productivity Manifesto: Go. Take Action.

  1. Make any choice. Find the action in now
  2. Challenge yourself. Be inspired, not compared.
  3. Begin a little. Take steps. Find out. Start very small.
  4. Make it a game. Reframe.
  5. Spill milk. Clean up, learn, move on.
  6. Good enough is enough. Be average.
  7. Put eggs in many baskets. Something will work.

Happiness Manifesto: Find Fun.

  1. If all else fails, let go a little. Or a lot. Don’t sweat small stuff (It’s all small stuff)
  2. Different people like different things.
  3. Effort over outcomes. Show up.
  4. Events involve pieces beyond us.
  5. Win-win or it’s okay to walk away! 
  6. Notice what right. Say good things out loud.
  7. Mistakes are neutral at worst, helpful at best. Decisions go forward, not backward.

Kindness Manifesto: Use Your Powers For Good

  1. Act generously in spirit. No one has it all figured out.
  2. “Nice” is different from good. We’re born good. (Babies act very rude tho!)
  3. Soft heart + Hard Limits. Kindness isn’t a weakness. Know its strength.
  4. Act thoughtfully. Consider others and yourself.
  5. Respect the human experience. Value all beings and yourself for what they are.
  6. Embrace benevolent honesty. Neither insincerity or cruel truth help as often than you might think.
  7. Decide with courage. Character inspires confidence in each other.
  8. Connect. We learn more from each other when we feel safe.
  9. Display your values. Especially when it’s inconvenient.
  10. Make mistakes. Feelings and situations can’t be perfect. Fail with admiration of your abilities
  11. Show appreciation. Show that you notice and care.
  12. Find playfulness in internal integrity. External reputation is less fun without it.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What’s a day in the life for an art director like?

What’s a typical day like for an art director? How does that compare to your days as an entry level graphic designer?

Anonymous (via Quora)

Each organization is a little different with its own structure and culture. I work with a project manager and editor on most projects. We meet the understand the needs of each client, the audience for the publication, and the specifics. For example, a photographer will be hired to shoot a cover and story.

Every project varies for us too. Different clients have their own levels of involvement. Usually with enough notes, so I’m often left to develop my ideas on my own. I use this information to decide basic ad and editorial placements, the order of the overall book. Ad designers and usually seek advice from our more experienced creative director. The creative director balance all of the projects within our company. If the schedule dictates, I’ll seek assistance from other art directors on our team. I may even be balances several projects at various stages at once.

In contrast to my days as an entry level ad designer, I now get to have a lot more creative control. At this point in my career, I decide what works for me with less oversight. While I’m still provided with a lot of information, as a newer designer the content had more direction on how it had to be presented. Now I makes more of the directions. This means less time actually designing pages, yet when in making mode I am implementing more of own solution and vision.

Tweet this post: “What’s a typical day like for an art director?” @sketchee answers #design questions http://ctt.ec/5FcWa+

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

52 Podcasts That Inspire My Creativity & Productivity

Podcasts I listen to:

  1. Feeling Good – Psychiatrist and Author David Burns discusses mood improvement tips and exercises.
  2. Happier with Gretchen Rubin – Gretchen (author of The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies) and her sister Elizabeth Craft (TV writer) discuss habits
  3. Happier in Hollywood – Liz Craft and Sarah Fain discuss the struggles as TV writers in the male-dominated entertainment industry.
  4. Awesome Etiquette – The great-grandchildren of etiquette author Emily Post discuss modern manners in the digital age based on the tenants of consideration, respect, and honest.
  5. Getting Things Done – Productivity tips from author and consultant David Allen.
  6. TED Radio Hour – TED Talks adapted for audio
  7. The James Altucher Show
  8. The Upgrade by Lifehacker
  9. Slate’s Dear Prudence – Life advice from columnist Mallory Ortberg
  10. Windows Weekly – I’m both a Mac and Windows user. Power tips for power users of Microsoft’s operating syste
  11. Pop Culture Happy Hour
  12. InDesign Secrets
  13. By The Book – Jolenta Greenberg and her  friend Kristen Meinzer live by the practices of a self-help book each episode to find out which ones might work
  14. Hidden Brain
  15. HBR IdeaCast – Business and management ideas from Harvard Business Review.
  16. PBS NewsHour – Rated as one of the more objective sources of news coverage.
  17. Hello From the Magic Tavern – A man falls through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King into a magic land filled with wizards, magical monsters, and adventurers. Starring Chicago Improvisers.
  18. That’s How I Remember It – Actors flawlessly recreate perfectly exactly movies they’ve seen and haven’t seen from memory on the spot.
  19. A Way with Words – A call-in show about the English language linguistics, slang, new words, jokes, word games, grammar, regional dialects and word history.
  20. The Marie Forleo Podcast
  21. Radical Candor – Workplace advice
  22. I Hate My Boss – Workplace advice
  23. The Dinner Party Download
  24. If I Were You
  25. Dear Sugars
  26. Get-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More
  27. The Savvy Psychologist’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Mental Health
  28. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  29. The Nutrition Diva’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Eating Well and Feeling Fabulous
  30. Money Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life
  31. Planet Money
  32. Freakonomics
  33. Recode Decode with Kara Swisher
  34. Recode Media with Peter Kafka
  35. Katie Couric
  36. Judge John Hodgman
  37. Anna Faris Is Unqualified
  38. The Backline – An Improv Podcast
  39. This Week in Google
  40. All About Android
  41. The Accidental Creative
  42. Side Hustle School
  43. The Mortified Podcast
  44. Schmanners
  45. Myths and Legends
  46. Hannah and Matt Know It All
  47. Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane
  48. improv4humans with Matt Besser
  49. The American Life
  50. Design Matters with Debbie Millman
  51. Marvel Cinematic Universe – Covering Marvel Comics films.
  52. FiveThirtyEight – Politics through the eyes of statistics and probability

Also check out my podcast Uncanny Creativity. What are your favorite podcasts? Any I missed that need to be included?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.