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As deviants, we are serious about our craft, hobbyist or professional.  We study hard to become better at what we do. There are many great tutorials here and elsewhere on these kinds of craft based skills and techniques.  However, sometimes all that serious study and hard work gets in the way of our imagination.  Therefore, it is important to remember to establish a wonder filled mindset, actively seek out inspiration, and curate a library of inspiring content to reference in the future. This article explores some ways to do these three things, and I encourage you to comment and share even more tips on this for other deviants!

Inviting the Mind of a Child

“The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play.”-Albert Einstein

The biggest part of imagination is playing the part of Peter Pan.  You might be 99 or you might be 12, but it is often important to imagination to be in the head space of a 5-7 year old. I’ve spent some time with 5-7 year olds and there are some great things we can learn from them about imagining.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but not people.

First of all, always be curious. Children are always asking “why?” and to the point of annoyance for a lot of teachers and parents.  Their minds are actively seeking out why and how things work, soaking in knowledge like a sponge.  This kind of curiosity feeds imagination as we fill in gaps between what we know, what we’re learning, and the completely unknown.


Did you ever get in trouble for pointing as a child? How about staring? I know that I did.  Children are always looking at things, observing and pointing out details or experiences that we as adults have simply learned to tune out. Observation is important to art and writing as a study, and it is also important to imagination.  Remembering to not only look but to see simple details like the gem-like qualities of raindrops on bare trees, give your imagination a lot of fodder.

Play and pretend.

Play is enough important aspect of the childhood mind that allows for imaginative creation.  A big trick of that is having no fear of what others think of you.  In other words, don’t be afraid to look silly. To be fair, this is easier to get away with as a child. I could talk to my imaginary friends all day when I was 5 and it had an air of normalcy.  As an adult talking to imaginary friends all day arouses suspicion.  That is hardly fair, because in the world of comics we indeed spend a great deal of time with our imaginary characters.

Find wonder in everything.

Above all else, maintain that sense of wonder and delight at little things: birds chirping, the night sky, the smell of rain, your morning coffee. The details you notice, celebrate, and enjoy creep into your work and add dimension to your imaginary exploits.

Adventures in Inspiration

Now that you are in the right mindset, it is time to take to the road and get your hands on that juicy inspiration that let’s you imagination take flight. Where do you start, though? Well, there are a lot of different ways for you to expose yourself to new ideas, sensations, and experiences that lead to a vibrant imagination.

Get out and explore.

“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”-Marie Curie

We love our digital tools, our students, and our routines.  However, the best experiences come from actually going out and experiencing the world with all 5 senses.  What’s even better, there is a way to “get out and explore” for every type of creative.


I have often had to walk to and from the office or class as part of my daily routine.  I often find my mind and eyes wandering on these walks.  The very act of physically moving around seems to stimulate my imagination in ways I don’t expect. If I really need to shake things up, I add a soundtrack, go on a photo excursion somewhere completely new, or pretend I’m one of my characters and try to see the world through a whole new lens.  Mind, I recognize the last might make me seem a little off balance-but trust me, it is worth the ideas it brings to mind. 

But what if there is nothing interesting where you walk?  That is mindset again.  Be a child, have wonder! You can even do this one in the country.  I used to live in an area surrounded by farms and it is amazing the ideas that come simply from getting outdoors and wandering through cornfields.  Why yes, that did indeed inspire the opening to Infinite Spiral.


Driving is like walking and simply being exposed to new territories and focusing on the road always seems to get ideas coming.  The main downside to driving is you have to retain those ideas without committing traffic violations.  If you are inspired by driving I recommend a dictation device (recorder or mobile) to get down your ideas so you can focus on the road.  Otherwise, do your fellow drivers a favor and pull over.

Visit a museum.

There is no better way to get inspired than to learn something new.  Museums have better and better experiences as time goes on, and if there’s a particular kind of object or costume in your comic, they provide an opportunity for you to get up close and personal with physical artifacts (zooming in on pixels only goes so far). Do you not have a museum around you? A library is a nice place to go too, even if it is more likely to be full of secondary sources.

Sit in your backyard or on your balcony.

That seems simple, but your imagination really can go for the outdoors.  I was stumped on my Master’s project ideas in 2011, after long secondary research and a lot of listing.  Frustrated, I moved to my balcony, where the spring trees were beginning to fade.  Following the patterns of branches and fading flowers in the trees I came up with the initial concept for what became, Star Crossed and allowed me to graduate.

The basic rule here is to break your routine!

Be a dreamer.

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

Whether dreaming while asleep or daydreaming while awake, dreams are powerful sources of inspiration.  

Dreams are a huge source of inspiration for me, and I can name more than once scene in Infinite Spiral  that was borrowed from my subconscious wanderings.  However, dealing with your subconscious though can be a bit slippery, so here are a couple quick tips: 1) Keep a notebook by your bed. 2) After you wake up, don’t try to think about the rogue dream directly, let the details drift in bit by bit. 3) The more often you write down and actively remember your dreams, the more likely you will be to remember them in the future.

In additional, daydreams are also a brilliant source of inspiration.  I am a huge proponent of the value of letting one’s mind wander.  Often, the best ideas come when you aren’t paying attention.  The truth is that our imaginations need to relax too and flights of fancy are good for soul.

Consume media.

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle

Music, movies, television, books, comics, videogames-all of these media are powerful vehicles for storytelling, and as writers and artists the are incredible resources for new ideas. I’m sure this isn’t news around here, but I didn’t want to leave it off.  If I listed all the media that influence my comic then you’d just up and stop reading the list out of boredom.

In addition, don’t forget simply browsing deviations of all kinds is a way of consuming media and gaining new ideas.  Just remember, there’s a difference between plagiarizing and being inspired by the work of others. But I didn’t have to tell you that.

Wander the world wide web.

"When John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry developed the first digital computing machine at Iowa State University in 1937, little did they know that their invention would become an integral part of a sophisticated worldwide cat picture distribution system." - David Burge

Oh, you're still here.  Sorry. The internet is full of everything, especially cats, but that's neither here nor there. It has never been so easy to access information on virtually any subject.  If you don’t have somewhere to go and explore physically, then there are plenty of virtual experiences you can partake in to get inspired. 

If you aren’t there already, Tumblr is great source of inspiration and so is Pinterest.  The two are different browsing experiences, but full of great images to spark ideas.  I’d also suggest hitting up photo libraries on Flickr and Picasa and searching tags, or simply browsing. Of course, there is also the obvious Google Image Search.

If text and reading is what you crave, gather your news sources and blogs in an app like Readability or Flipboard and bring in articles that inspire you.  Wander around the vast pages of Wikipedia-you’d be surprised what new ideas are hiding in stub pages.

In other words, indulge that curiosity. You are seeking inspiration, not credible sources.


The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. --Carl Jung

Of course, getting inspired would not be complete without the idea of play!  Play is such a rich source

Doodle or free write.

Never forget to take time to "play" with your craft.  When we get busy with artistic studies and serious writing, our craft runs the risk of becoming work as we try to perfect it (and aren't we all perfectionists on some level?).  Doodling and free writing free you to stop worrying about your internal critic and just sketch out whatever words and images pop into your mind.  You never know, one of those sketches might lead to your next great story, protagonist, or world convention.

Create inspiration games.

You can make cards of ideas and fish them out of a hat, box, or bag when you need something an idea to kick around.  There are also plenty of story starter cards available for purchase.

You can also make it a bit more complicated by trying this technique I've used both at home and with my middle school students back in 2007: Get index cards of 4 or more different colors.  Make one color character roles (or occupations), one color settings, one color what the character wants most in the world, and a final color events or people that get in the way.  Keep adding items to the cards until you have a few good stacks.  Then the next time you have writer's or artist's block you can pick 4 different cards at random, or sort the cards and put them together until you have a story that appeals to you.

I still have these cards, and do sort through them now and then when I'm stuck! It is definitely worth a try.

Roleplay your characters.

I really have fun with this, and I think it goes back to why many schools teach "Acting for Animators".  Roleplaying my characters, whether in my head or yabbering about my own apartment helps me to really empathize with my imaginary family. The more you roleplay characters, the more you can predict exactly how they will act in any situation.  Now, I admit, I am a character lover and will get sucked into a story because of the people.  If you are a plot-driven writer or artist, this technique might be a bit "meh" as far as a technique for playing to get inspired.  However, let's face it, many OCs on dA have their roots in roleplaying, and with good reason!

This is all coming back to that “Childlike Mindset!” There are hundreds of ways to play and inspire your imagination.

Combine Methods.

Though each of these can stand alone, you can also combine and recombine sets of them for all kinds of new experiences that fuel your imagination.  Don't be afraid to make up your own rules!

Curating Your Inspiration Library

"First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination." -Napoleon Hill
Finally, we have all of this inspiration flooding into our brains.  That is fantastic! Unfortunately, memory is a fickle thing, so we have to find ways to bookmark, save, organize, and store all of those marvelous musings.

Offline Tools

  1. Journal: The classic tool for writing words. Pen may be required.
  2. Sketchbook: The classic tool for drawing pictures. Pencil may be required.
  3. Moodboards: Boards, like a storyboard, used more for the purpose of capturing feel.  Images that invoke certain emotions, colors, textures, and more are organized on the board as guidance for visual work.  They can easily be modified for other purposes.
  4. Walls: This is like moodboards, only requires wall space.  Alas, my current apartment has little available wall space, but during my Serious Game Design program at Michigan State, I covered my walls in sketches, photos, inspirations, concept art, and more to fuel my projects.
  5. Scrap Paper: Make sure your pen is handy.  I use scrap paper and sticky notes a lot, but usually have to move the "inspiration" to a more secure location, like a notebook or digital archive.  These are just way to easy to misplace when I actually need to reference them.
  6. Audio Tapes: These are great for people who get inspired while moving around! Other devices for dictation, such as those available on mobile devices and your computer, are similar solutions.  I don't use them yet, but know others who value them as a way to make sure ideas are not lost. Just stay out of Watergate.
  7. Photography: I think I annoy my friends with this method.  I am constantly stopping for potential reference photos when even the most minute of details catches my attention. You don't want to see my iPhoto Library.  Or do you?


Web Tools

  1. Evernote: A popular browser based tool for collecting content and taking notes. I can't provide much more information than that, as it is not a service I use.  However, there are many who prefer it over Pinterest and Springpad. There are also mobile versions, which is helpful.
  2. Pinterest: Pinterest allows you to pin images to boards and repin socially. It is a nice tool for quick curation.  It is also mobile. As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration.
  3. Springpad: This is like Pinterest, only uses notebooks instead of pin.  It has a "Spring it" button you can add (like Pin It).  However, where it differs from Pinterest is that you can display content in your notebooks in three ways, one of which is a "mood board" like organization.  As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. Like Pinterest, there is a mobile version.
  4. A digital mood board space that allows you to embed and write notes on a variety of media, as well as use arrows and other effects to map and connect them. This is currently in beta and may eventually be a paid service, but I am a bit fond of it. This web app doesn't currently have a mobile version.
  5. Popplet: Not to be confused with delicious Popplers, Popplet is similar to but focuses more on a kind of mind-mapping of different content. This web app has a long load time and is not available mobile.
  6. Tumblr: Tumblr is great for artists and writers that don't need a lot of organization, provided they have a stream of content to go back to.  As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. A plus, Tumblr is easy to access on mobile devices.
Of course there are many more.  Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments!


Next Steps

So you have a childlike mindset, know how to go on a variety of inspiration adventures, and plan to curate those ideas so you don't lose them.  What's next?  Well, that is where the adventure of comicking continues.  From here you can brainstorm, draft, sketch, refine ideas, thumbnail, sketch, revise, and of course, add new inspiration at any time.

Have a grand journey into your imagination. And remember what Carl Sagan wrote:

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."

Kristy Cunningham is a UX Designer by day, artist and writer of Infinite Spiral, a comic inspired by her childhood paracosm, by nights and weekends.  She believes that play is important to people, and seeks to create characters, worlds, stories, and experiences that inspire wonder and spark the imagination. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or follow Infinite Spiral on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, deviantArt and the main site.

Add a Comment:
devious-snake Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Added a link to this here --> [link] , thank you for this it's just what I needed to get back on track
novemberkris Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Aw, well I am so glad that you found it helpful to get your creative juices going again! I know I have been through more than a few dry spells. Thanks for sharing!
Trudos Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2013  Student General Artist
AHAHAHA tumblr is a very double edged sword is all I'm going to say :P
Tumblr isn't just anything, it's like a condensed form of the internet. Be very careful or you may go in and never come out. Not only that, but instead of looking up art for inspiration, your life will be consumed by social justice bloggers, cat memes, the outpourings of teenage souls, and probably porn unless you turn on safe mode (a very wise idea btw). :XD:
And that is all I'm going to say on the matter
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
It is, however no fair for me to dismiss it. It would be like if I dismissed Twitter for UX resources because some people post nonsense, eh. :D

Social media has the down sides. But if you are careful about who you follow, you can really find some solid inspiration and reference. Plus, if you are running a Tumblr for your comic, Asks are a great tool for you and your audience. ;)
krazykez Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013   General Artist
Thank you mi'lady for writing this article - a number of the methods you have written here I have pointed out for years only to be rediculed by others for it! Thank you for finally proving that I am not alone in thinking these are viable methods for inspiration and productivity...:clap:

This is an invaluable piece of written work for anyone in the field of art or writing. :nod:

Once again I thank you, Kirsty Cunningham. :bow:
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I'm glad the article gave you affirmation that your techniques are good for your craft. There's really almost no wrong way to get inspiration (barring legal concerns). There's so much world out there!
PizzaPotatoNBacon Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Student General Artist
A very, very valuable article! :clap:
I struggle in fleshing out ideas, and this... This I'll definitely keep to heart. While some ideas aren't new to me, I do find the games interesting. :giggle: I also like that you gave links :)
And great quotes too!

Overall, comprehensive, easy to understand, and inspiring. Perfect! :clap:
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Glad you enjoyed, and I agree, a lot of what I shared wasn't new to the experienced and/or balanced artist and writer (or even many novices). But then, I thought, when I was getting started, there was to one to tell me these things were okay either. That, and I've had to have reminders over the years. It is easy to get caught up in pure "study". I'm glad you enjoyed it even if some was like a "review". :D
faerismoka Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I find the part regarding inspiration games most interesting! :D
Thanks for the help!
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I'm glad you found that interesting. If I come up with more, I'll be sure to share out. I'm sure others have ideas for inspiration games-I suppose a lot of improv comedy ideas could be modified for that purpose.
Lyrak Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013   Traditional Artist
Of course since you threw me the link, I have to comment. ;)

Adult, nothing... remember the weird looks mom gave us if she caught us cavorting around our little universes as teenagers? LOL Have to wonder if it eased her mind when you started the comic, to finally know what the heck we were up to behind closed doors all those years. Have to wonder what it was our parents THOUGHT we were doing...

I am going to add to your advice: allow yourself to get BORED. My recent writings came out of boredom above all else. Too often we get stuck in this idea that we have to be DOING something ALL THE TIME, like every second has to be productive. It makes us less productive in the long run, however - especially for us creative types. It's way too easy to sap yourself dry. This is why I advocate leaving your social networks behind when you go on vacation.

Books are the best freaking thing in the world. Something else that I think has helped my writing - I've gone back to reading Harry Potter before bed. Silly, maybe, but I enjoy them, they create an immersive world, and it slips me into that dreamlike state. I've been sleeping better since I started that back up too. Don't stop to convince yourself you don't have time, or you have to get to sleep because you're too tired. Just one chapter. At least a whole chapter before you turn off the lamp on the night stand and try to sleep. You'll feel better for it. Even if you accidentally stayed up "too late". That one chapter will help the transition.

Of course Roleplaying is a plus, too. Though I will add that you want to find one that inspires you. If you feel like it's becoming a chore or holding you back, take a break, or look elsewhere - you want it to be FUN, not just one more obligation. But of course, roleplaying out loud is how the Spiral was born, so we could never leave that one out.

I need to go back to taking photos of everything. I've fallen back out of that habit.
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Books could have their own article, right? I agree about "getting bored." It is part of that mind wandering phenomenon. And of course, there's always that good old "Eureka" anecdote.
caminante0 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Student Interface Designer
Great article! I get a lot of ideas while walking too :dummy:
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
So glad you found it helpful. I think walking was where it all started. I used to traipse around the backyard a lot seeming to talk to the air. At least when :iconlyrak: wasn't around.
NicPi Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
Great article! Thank you so much for so much inspiration and motivation! The cards and the roleplay was new to me and I think it's a great and helpful idea!

Also I suggest to enjoy other kinds of arts, which are very different from the things you do yourself. Go see some improvisation theatre, dance-shows, listen carefully to song-lyrics! Sometimes it's really good to do and see something completely different.

novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I hadn't thought about improvisation. I did some workshops on those in high school, and I must say that is a huge way to fire up the imagination because it is so spontaneous and playful! These are great ideas.

Also, I think one could write a whole article on just music as inspiration. I've grown a very eclectic taste as a part of trying to find new things.
TOBproject Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013
This is probably the best article I've ever read at dA... and I've read quite a few! :clap: Mostly because it's very rich in ideas and possibilities.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, experiences and tips with us. There's so much here to think about... I'll have to get back to this article once in a while :)

I'm a character-driven kind of creator, too, and I share most (if not all) of your views here. I can identify pretty well with the role-playing/pretend idea, in particular; I've been playing with myself mentally for years, imagining I'm some character or another and coming up with new storylines, characters and character developments that way. I'm also a quite lucid dreamer, and I have a huge balcony in my house ;) I agree: those are very good ways to get inspired, or simply let your mind relax and wander a bit until you find the right straw to pull.

Thank you again and keep having fun creating!
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I'm glad you found the article affirming and got new ideas. Feel free to share your own! I think it is easy to get stuck in habits and then stuck on a blank page. I'm always looking to add to my "list of ways to get inspired". This one sure isn't exhaustive!
TheOwl68 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This ROCKS! :headbang: :love: And, in my opinion, it's not just for cartoons/comics ;) Thank you so much for writing this article!
novemberkris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I'm glad you found it helpful!
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April 17, 2013


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