Creativity is a weird phenomenon with an undefined description and several ways to hone it. This sentiment was shared between a group of creatives, many of them describing the feeling of not quite knowing where their process of idea generating begins. However, through daily life, consuming media, having conversations and creating spaces that feel both familiar and unfamiliar, these creatives are able to problem solve in ways that only a creative person can.
In this first installation of the series, we spoke to creatives who find themselves moving away from the indoor space that has consumed life since 2020 – taking their mind and body outdoors, where they find a calm space to think freely. Studies from mental health charity Mind show the power of the outdoors improves not only physical health and mood but also boosts confidence and self esteem. With these transformative results, it’s no surprise that creatives take themselves into an environment that proves conducive to their problem solving abilities.
In this feature, Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder’s designer Rachel Tse, Ourselves’ founder Steven Bennett-Day, M&C Saatchi’s CCO Ben Golik and Forsman & Bodenfors’ creative Gary Lim tell LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about how creativity strikes them in the outdoors.
Rachel Tse, designer / illustrator / artist / photographer, Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder
Some artists can ‘sit and ponder’, but I’m way too restless for that. I love going on long walks or hikes as a form of escapism. Immersing myself in nature recharges me and allows me to leave the chaos of the city for a moment.
As a graphic designer, illustrator, artist and photographer, I enjoy exploring different mediums, creating both contemporary digital art as well as more traditionalist paintings. Recently, I sold my first NFT artwork which has been quite exciting (although I am quietly still a little sceptical of the crypto-world). I have also been dabbling in 3D art, Chinese painting and embroidery.
I love having all those different styles, techniques and media to explore. When I’m passionate about what I’m creating, I always experience a surge of energy that takes over in a way that makes me feel almost manic. I can find it extremely difficult to stop and take a break when I’m ‘in the zone’ and often lose track of how much time has passed.
In terms of how I actually work, I’m not strict with creative planning. I very rarely sketch out an initial plan or draft. I visualise the final image in my head, and then I go through the process of creating and adapting. In terms of refinement, I execute decisions quickly and always go with my gut. I have to ‘feel it’ for the piece to work.
[Pictured above: Rachel Tse]
Steven Bennett-Day, founder, Ourselves
As someone who has lived and worked with ideas professionally for my whole career, the thing I don't really want anyone else to know is that there isn't a science to having an idea. And they rarely appear like magic either. I've never found the foolproof method, the systematic approach or the algorithm that'll spit out a winning idea every time you turn the handle. Instead, I've found over the years my personal creative process has formed itself around three stages.
The first is a very messy human process. It's a mix of reading, researching, asking, listening, thinking, watching, writing, doodling, and talking. What I get out depends largely on what I put in. I've always based it around this thought that if you feed your chickens rubbish, they are unlikely to lay you golden eggs. I believe it's the same for us, if you fill your brain with rubbish content, it's unlikely to deliver you a blinding idea when you need it.
Then there's the second stage... the bit in the middle. I've learned that my brain must do some unconscious working out. I'm no neuroscientist so I don't know how to define it, but I know I need to ignore all the initial work for a bit. At times this is scary, especially when your paycheck is tied to having an idea arrive in a timely fashion. You can feel a bit lost at sea. I always think of those old explorers' maps where they would write 'here be dragons and put sea monsters on the dangerous and uncharted areas. You must trust your brain is doing its stuff and sail on through.
It's probably no surprise then that the sea is where I turn when I need to find that space. The sensations of being close to, and in, the sea always allows the mysterious stuff to happen in the brain. The smell of the salt. The feeling of the cold water against your skin. The horizon. Watching waves that have rolled for thousands of miles. There's the quiet contemplation when it is calm and the energy and power of seeing a shoreline being battered.
Once there's an inkling of an idea that might work, that's when the third stage starts – the real graft. The perspiration behind the inspiration. You've got to tell the story behind it, build a case for why it's the right idea, not just any idea. Show your evidence, give it context, get your audience behind you and make them feel the right feels – often in six slides of a PowerPoint…
[Pictured above: Steven Bennett-Day swimming]
Ben Golik, chief creative officer, M&C Saatchi London
I’ve never bought into the cliche that ideas happen anywhere. I don’t have a notepad by my bed. Or in the shower. When working with my creative partner, Tom Kennedy, we find a quiet spot where we can properly focus on the question we are answering. Close enough to the agency to walk. Far enough that no one will walk to find us. Never a gallery. Too distracting. Somewhere down-to-earth, with a window to watch passersby.
For the most part, we’ll talk about those passersby. What makes them tick. What makes their world turn. What it might take to get their attention. Our best ideas come out of that. We’re comfortable enough to say dumb stuff to each other. It stops it from cluttering up our minds. And often it sparks something smarter. The rally begins. There’s a lot of staring out the window. It’s not a spectator sport.
I prefer a marker pad. Old school, but ultimately illegible. Tom taps away on his phone, then emails it later. Much more useful. We keep it very top-line, to begin with. Go broad and get as many thoughts down as possible. We don’t go down too many rabbit holes. We’ll revisit it the next day and see what sticks. Then make it stickier.
To distil this into some nifty tips, I’d say: leave your bubble, respect your audience, say the dumb stuff, pursue every possible angle, don’t fret about the execution (or mistake it for an idea). And finally, if you can’t remember it – or can’t read it – it probably isn’t any good.
[Pictured above: Tom Kennedy (L) and Ben Golik (R)]
Gary Lim, creative, Forsman & Bodenfors Singapore
For daily escapism, I go for walks with my dog at the park. This process allows me to put a halt to my hectic work pace and shift all my focus and energy to the pace of the dog. When your priority is not on yourself, the weight and pressure fade away naturally.
There’s little truth with the saying your first idea is always the best. In theory, every brief is limited to only one ‘first idea’. What I’d like to do is take as much of a mental break as possible to be able to come back fresh. Hopefully, it leads to a second or third ‘first ‘idea for the same brief.
When the covid restrictions are fully lifted, I want to travel, preferably to places I have not been to before. Gaining new experiences from things/ places/ food/ culture/ art/ language/ sound/ smell/ texture/ anything that is foreign helps me recover from my daily mundane routine at home.
I don’t think anyone can be calm when your mind is preoccupied with work. I still lose sleep over an idea (ranging from career-ending worthy to ‘this might actually be good’). Still happens to me despite being in the industry for this long. I can only be calm when the project is done and out the door.
For an art-based creative, I don’t sketch a lot unless it’s necessary. I prefer to write ideas down. It’s a natural process that my ideas come to life first in words.
[Pictured above: Gary Lim and his dog Luca]