How to get ideas

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In this episode Still Life Artist Sandra Busby and Tara Roskell, The Idea Medic offer twelve suggestions on how to get ideas and inspiration

TARA Idea 1: get ideas using randomness

In the past when I have been having problems coming up with design concepts (for example for an advert) I have used random techniques. There are random word sites online. You just request a word and then see how you can relate that back to the problem you are trying to solve or ideas you are trying to generate.

You can also use random images. Go to an image site like Pixabay and use the first image you find.

A musician who wrote music for commercial use told me he would go to Youtube and play a random video with the sounds turned off to help with the phrasing of his music.


When I was having a creative block Sandra and a US artist friend Suzanne Berry used to paint a picture each month based on a random word. One of us would suggest 5 words and the other would choose one. One of the paintings you can see on my website called Evidence came from those random word exercises.

SANDRA Idea 2. Learn to embrace silence!

Our world these days is so fast and loud. Constant noise wherever we go… mainly down to the portability of our entertainment these days. I mean, a mobile phone is with us all the time and if we’re not looking at it, we’re listening to it!

This doesn’t allow our minds to be still and I really think that only when our minds are quiet, can we really absorb our surroundings.

• Try switching off your phone for a change. When ever I walk the dog, I always used to call someone or listen to a podcast or some music… but one day I just switched it off and I realised how much of the present I’d been missing. I saw and heard things I would never have done otherwise and my mind just began to wander. Eventually, ideas started filtering in. Ideas for a blog post… inspiration for a painting… for a series… random melodies… all sorts!

• Try switching off the TV for a while instead of having it on just for background noise while we are doing other things. Having the TV on in the background is just distracting enough to keep out minds on something rather than nothing, so by switching it off altogether… again, it allows our minds to wander.

• Try meditating. I have to admit that I don’t meditate. But it’s the same principal. It’s allowing the mind to settle, giving it the chance to think of things… other than what you are going to cook for dinner today!

TARA’S Input to above

I have tried meditation but also used it as cartoon inspiration, which perhaps defeated the object a little.

TARA Idea 3. Get ideas by freewriting

• Set a timer for 5 or ten minutes and just start writing about a topic. Don’t stop writing. Even if you have nothing to say, repeat yourself or write the first thing that pops into your head.

The idea behind freewriting is to let out the subconscious thoughts that the conscious part of our brain censors without us knowing it. I used freewriting to come up with the illustration style for my sticky note cartoons.

SANDRA’S Input to above

The way I blog is very much like freewriting.

SANDRA Idea 4. Look at things from a completely different viewpoint than you would normally.

You can take this quite literally in day to day life!

• Lay in the bath the opposite way around to the way you usually would! Try doing the same with all of those little things you do simply out of habit, like walking the dog the opposite way than usual… waking up on a different side of the bed… swapping seats at the dining table…

• If you are an urban landscape artist, try looking up instead of directly ahead. Or think about painting the reflection of the landscape on water or reflected in a window, or through a bottle, instead of just painting the landscape itself.

• Or if you paint still-life, how about looking at your objects from a completely different viewpoint than you normally would…

• If you write music, try listening to some music backwards to find new ideas for melodies


You can find inspiration all around you as soon as you start looking.

Turn things upside down and think how you can use them differently. Eg. I once noticed how an upside down wine bottle image in a magazine looked like a wine glass. I drew a mini wine bottle that could be converted to a single glass of wine for events.

Also more recently I have been photographing everyday objects and converting them into little doodle characters

TARA Idea 5. Write down every idea you have

If you write down every idea you have, however unimportant at the time you may find that it fits perfectly with another partial idea you have later.


Carry a notebook everywhere, even while you are watching TV!

Make a note each time you overhear something that makes your ears prick up. Earwig!! And when something makes you laugh, or you see or hear something that inspires you, or you think of an idea. You can use the book to refer to the next time you experience a creative block.

SANDRA Idea 6. Have a whiteboard hanging on the wall

As you think of ideas, write them on the board before you forget. Over time you will collect lots of ideas for projects, for when you are next experiencing a creative block.


Create moodboards, similarly to a whiteboard these are very visible. Create either physical or digital mood boards of things to inspire you. These can be as simple as things ripped out of magazines to Pinterest boards

TARA: Idea 7. Try experimenting with another medium or learn something new

On another podcast Jennifer Syme, The Cramped Creative talks about using another medium to take the pressure off yourself feeling like you have to be good.

Also I started learning animation software recently, which opened up new possibilities for things I could do with my work.

SANDRA: Idea 8. Think like a child – see like an artist

• Keep a pad and pen next to the phone and always doodle when you are chatting
• Spilled some salt or something similar? Instead of wiping it up right away, create a face out of it! Make it a happy accident, rather than an annoying one.
• Make a sandcastle next time you’re at the beach


Remember how we used to look at the clouds when we were young and make shapes? Try it with anything… even bird poo!

TARA Idea 9. Creative cards

Mash up creative cards
Create a few sets of cards for different categories. So for instance, if you are an artist wanting to experiment a bit – have a few categories such as – medium, style, colour, subject. Then create cards to go in each category. Next pick a card from each category randomly.

Creative prompts cards
• You could use creative prompts or questions. When you are in an inspired mood, make yourself creative prompts that you can use when you are lacking inspiration. These could be single words, photos or questions which start of with words like What if….?

• You could make these as physical cards, a list of words or digital designs. Eg I have some logo design prompt cards (as a pdf) which have suggestions for things I could try. Such as what if you used a continuous line.

• If you do a google search you can also find ready-made creative prompts for art, writing etc

SANDRA Idea 10. Look back on some of your best work

There’s nothing like looking back on something you have created and being really proud of it. Look back on some of those projects (avoiding the less successful ones!). Ask yourself what drew you to that subject? Asking that question might help you to get new ideas.

TARA Idea 11. Taking inspiration from other creatives

Sandra paints reflective things, I could create reflective characters or look at my face in funny shaped reflective items to create weird faces (weirder than usual)


Check out the book ‘Steal Like an Artist‘, by Austin Kleon

TARA: Idea 12. The Daytective (my corny name) Technique

Use elements of your day to get ideas by purposefully noticing things. Pick a time, probably early evening and then start questioning what you have done that day.

What did I do today? – write a list and then think

• What did I notice about the things I did?
• What were the annoying bits and the problems and what were the interesting or fun things?
• What ideas could this inspire (how could I overcome the problems or make something of the interesting things)?

You can connect with Sandra Busby at