1.0 Where do good ideas come from?

The purpose of this research task was to start to think about where good ideas come from so that any insights could be taken forward into my own creative practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Reflect on your own creative approach
  • Make some notes on a number of questions

Where do my good ideas come from?

The brief provided a number of quotes from OCA students that described where their good ideas come from. The task was to identify statements I agreed with and and reflect on what they mean to me and any implications for my own practice.

The statements consisted of two different processes that needed to be split out and analysed separately:

  1. Where do good ideas come from
  2. Where does good creative execution come from

1. Where do good ideas come from?

Understanding and exploring the conditions required to generate new ideas is one of the key questions I would like to investigate during the Visual exploration unit.

This has three parts:

  1. What are the conditions required to enable new ideas to happen?
  2. As an artist, how do I identify a new idea?
  3. After identifying a new idea, how do I capture it so that it’s not lost or ignored?

None of the student statements deal with question #1; these are subject of  Steven Johnson’s animated lecture.

The question of how do you notice or identify a new idea is described in the following quotes.

For me, the most insightful advice is a question of paying attention to your attention. Melanie Reim puts it in this way: “By paying attention to what you are attracted to, themes to your work emerge that beget personality” (Reim, 2019).

Question for investigation: How do I really pay attention to what I pay attention to?

The student statement that resonates with me is from Sibylle, OCA Drawing, Level 1: “Ideas pop up at unexpected times and I have started to jot them down”. She goes on to say, “When I am not able to develop them visually I use words. I think I should combine the two – visual and verbal” (Lloyd C., Monger S., Pyman J., Ritchie I., 2020:21). This describes the process of capturing an idea once it’s been recognised.

Using a combination of words and image is an excellent idea that I use when making visual mind maps (recent example 4.14 Contemporary ceramics), and is a powerful tool that aids recall.

2. Where does good execution come from?

I can relate to this part of the statement from Sibylle, OCA Drawing, Level 1: “I tend to start with realistic pencil drawings in order to get to know my subject. I then gradually leave that by changes in media and bolder interpretations. It is at this stage I feel creativity kicking in” (Lloyd C., Monger S., Pyman J., Ritchie I., 2020:21).

What I notice continually is that my most interesting work happens when I stop trying. At that point some part of me moves aside and creativity is able to flow freely and unhindered. The response is emotional and spontaneous.

This is a phenomenon I noticed other artists describe when researching for my critical review as part of Responding to a brief.

Jill Gibbon noticed that “The best drawings usually come when I’m exhausted and have stopped trying too hard”. (Embury and Minichiello, 2018:18)

For reportage drawing this is a paradox. The purpose of a reportage drawing is to create a record of an event. Whilst creating a likeness can be important, it’s more important to communicate narrative. On the one hand, the act of doing reportage is a spontaneous creative reaction to what’s in front of the artist. On the other, it’s a thinking activity that involves applying design principles (composition, visual style) and editorial judgement to create an image that most effectively tells a story.

A possible solution to this is the approach taken by reportage illustrator Lucinda Rogers: “I start by sketching the composition so that the focus of the scene together with everything in a wide area is roughly mapped out on the page” (Embury and Minichiello, 2018:85). Once the intention of the image is mapped out (the thinking part), creative spontaneity can take over as the image is created.

In other words, on the one hand there is a need to lose control, and on the other, a need to apply control. I find this perplexing and something I would like to investigate further – question for investigation

The following series of drawings demonstrates this losing control quite well. I carried out an experiment drawing the same portrait using different combinations of media. The pictures are displayed in the order they were made.

Analysis of Steven Johnson’s animated lecture

The research task was to watch a short animated lecture by Steven Johnson called Where do good ideas come from and answer a number of questions in response.

The 4-minute video can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU 


Do you agree with Johnson that ideas take time to develop?

Definitely. I always think of a metaphor that Doris Lessing used to explain how she felt when she was ‘between books’. She described it like ‘carding wool’; the process where woolen yarn is wound around a piece of card until is becomes a ball of wool that that then be knitted into a new garment/creation.

I really liked Johnson’s description of good ideas coming from the “collision of smaller hunches”. I find myself consciously looking for opportunities to collide with new and interesting ideas. Either through collaborations, workshops exhibitions or reading.

Are his ideas equally applicable to creative disciplines?

100%. This thinking has been used to develop new more effective ways-of-working within the technology industry.

In my paid job I work with teams that develop software. This activity has always been about collaboration and innovation. By its nature, software programmes take many man years of effort to create and so it takes large multi disciplinary teams working very closely and intensely together to deliver something innovative.

Do you think collaboration is important to creativity?

Yes. Going back to the software development example:

Over the past 10-years many collaborative tools have been created to help facilitate this activity, and it’s really exciting to see the emphasis on continuously improving these techniques and processes, particularly how cross discipline collaboration is core to this new way of working (creatives working alongside techies). This ties back to Johnson’s thinking around “spaces that are conducive to innovation and creativity”.

Additionally, having a broad range of skills within a team is an important factor.

The term used to describe this is having people that are ‘T-shaped’. This means it is optimal for a member of the team to have a broad range of skills but with expertise in only one or two areas.

Given the opportunity, who would you collaborate with from another field or discipline? A scientist, for example, or a writer, or painter?

During Responding to a brief I participated in a number of collaborative projects/activities. Body, space and narrative and Keeping up momentum.  I have previously worked with writers on short illustrated graphic strips such as An unknown intimacy and Science factsheet.

I am very keen to find opportunities to collaborate further with practitioners from other disciplines. I think collaborating with a writer would be really interesting.


There are three questions that came from this task that need further investigation:

  1. How do I pay attention to what I pay attention to?
  2. How do I ensure that lessons learned or new areas of research identified through reflection are acted upon?
  3. How do I balance the need to retain control over the desire to lose control?


Embury, G., Minichiello,M. (2018) Reportage Illustration: Visual Journalism London: Bloomsbury

Lloyd C., Monger S., Pyman J., Ritchie I. (2020) Visual Skills 2: Visual Exploration Barnsley: Open College of the Arts

Reim, M (2019) Reportage: ‘Drawing the Stories’ In: Male, Alan (ed.) A Companion to Illustration: Art and Theory London: John Wiley & Sons. pp85-101.

%d bloggers like this: