Tuesday, April 9, 2013

this just in

i have permission from Robert Genn to re-post his columns for teaching purposes. readers of my blog often ask me how i come up with so many ideas. besides stealing them off pinterest, i think this column highlights exactly what is happening in my brain.

When do ideas happen?

April 9, 2013

Recent research, aimed at finding specific triggers that result in good ideas, better solutions and bouts of creativity, has confirmed my own favourite times when stuff happens. Here are a few:

When we step away: Focusing at your workstation doesn't always work, particularly if you do too much of it. Leave your cubicle or studio and step into a new environment. Great stuff is ready to grab out there, floating in the ether.

When we're in transition: Waking up, falling asleep, showering, tubbing or going to the bathroom are hot times for new ideas. We need to trust the possibilities of fleeting brain waves at these times and take the trouble to knock them down for further study.

When we're drinking: Moderate drinking gives confidence and gusto. A 2012 study at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that students who drank enough to raise their blood-alcohol level to 0.075 performed better on tests of insight than sober students.

When we're doing chores: This may be one of the reasons why so many artists prefer to have their studios at home. I absolutely don't want this sort of information passed around, but I personally find stimulation in washing cars, taking out the garbage, and helping our gardener move bags of manure.

When we're satisfied: A relatively fulfilled life calms the mind and enriches the ground for idea growth. I've tried frustration, anger, disappointment, tiredness and misery, and they all work to a degree, but joyous satisfaction and a sense of élan work best.

When we're daydreaming: It turns out that daydreaming is one of the most valuable things that creative people do. Even the fantasizing of chicks that bedevils a lot of men apparently hastens bubble-up ideas from the subconscious that have nothing to do with women. What women need to fantasize, I'm not sure.

When we see green: Green surroundings, whether green-painted walls or the green outdoors, suggest new growth, rebirth, fertility and renewal--just one of the reasons why a walk in the park can be so fruitful. Feeling non-creative in the studio? Squeeze out some green.

Best regards,


PS: "When students were given creativity tests, those whose test-cover pages had a green background gave more creative answers than those whose pages were white, blue, red or grey." (Sue Shellenbarger, reporting in the Wall Street Journal)

jean's comments:
 - an additional place, in the transition category, is while driving. i can't tell you how many times i get a good idea in the car.
 - i don't drink alcohol, but i am sure that research has shown that coffee provides a lot of inspiration. i'll research this and post my findings later.
 - i would change the word satisfaction to acceptance. even if you can't make yourself be joyously satisfied with how your life is going, if you just make it to acceptance that frees up your mind to be creative.
 - he doesn't know what women daydream about....silly man....food.
 - the thing about green is what made me re-post this column. i was just thinking about green yesterday and how i have always been drawn to green. i could bore you with many anecdotes about green, but i will refrain, because this is way too much to be writing for one day. now get out there and daydream and be creative.


  1. And earth....working in my garden, working my hands into the dirt can be a creative wellspring. With the hands occupied, the mind can soar.

  2. how interesting.... i remember how much i loved playing in dirt and mud as a kid and i have heard other artists describe how much they enjoyed playing in dirt. maybe it was cleaning up after the kids that saturated my interest in *dirt.* ;-)

    thank you for the comment

  3. Do most people get an entire finished visual from their inspiration idea? Inspiration comes to me in bits and pieces. Extremely rare that I can visualize a finished product from inspiration.

  4. for me, it can be either way. sometimes i get the whole idea. other times there are different parts that fit together. or sometimes there is one part of a project that needs a good idea to resolve the problem.
    thanks for adding to the thread.