Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brainstorming For Illustrators: 1. Free Association

Brainstorming is the problem solving activity that helps build the skeleton for an idea. It is a thought process that can occur very quickly or rather slowly. It can happen deliberately and willfully, or instinctively and automatically. It can happen by itself, as a solo string of thought activities, or simultaneously with thoughts concerning other matters.

Brainstorming is a method of creative thinking for stimulating the recollection of thoughts and experiences, for accessing knowledge that is already within your memory. Your mind is a vast warehouse, and somewhere in that warehouse are thoughts of every image, person, object, memory, and place you have ever experienced. Experiences can be first hand ones like climbing a mountain, second hand ones like reading about climbing a mountain, or even third hand ones like a friend describing scenes from a movie about climbing a mountain. For the purpose of brainstorming any can be useful, although first hand experiences are easier to recall. Some memories are clear, distinct, and immediate, while others need some kind of stimulus to be remembered. Brainstorming provides a form of stimulus using your scope of experiences to provide food for thought.

Brainstorming Techniques

Free Association

Free association is the most obvious brainstorming technique. However, it is not used as often as it should be, in fact many people do not know how to think about a problem in an open unrestrained manner. The key is to think without judging your thoughts, to think freely while maintaining an association to the problem. An effective way to do this is to think quickly. One method is to make flash cards. Create a quick thumbnail sketch or write down a word on a card, next turn the card over so you can’t be distracted by it, then move on to the next one and repeat the process. This “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” approach to brainstorming will allow you to continuously wipe your slate of thoughts clean.

Word/Phrase Listing
A subcategory of free association, word or phrase listing is one of the quickest ways to generate a body of material that can then be used individually or in combination with materials generated by using other techniques to form a practical idea. The key here is to aim for quantity, forget about quality. The more quickly you can come up with words or phrases the more likely you will draw out strong personal links to whatever problem you are thinking about.

Divorced Word/Phrase Listing
Many artists and designers will use word or phrase listing as a technique for collecting material to draw upon to generate an idea, but very few will take it a step further and use divorced word or phrase listing. As the former results in personal links to a problem, which incidentally, may be biased in one form or another, the divorced approach results in the formation of much more impersonal and less biased associations. This technique relies on a word/phrase list and here is how it works. To produce some sketches for an illustrated icon based on brainstorming an idea, I first produced a word/phrase list; below are six words taken from it.

Clouds        Brain          Lightening        Rain        Thought Bubble         Skull

The next step is to further associate using the primary words as the subject basis.

Clouds >> Sunshine                   Brain >> Neurons                    Rain >> Umbrella
Lightening >> Fireworks           Thought Bubble >> Comic Words              
Skull >> Head

It is doubtful the associated secondary word references would have been thought of without applying the divorced word/phrase listing technique. Instead of only six references, there are now twelve that can be drawn upon to create an illustrated solution to the problem.

Here are a few sketches suggested by the words.

Neuron notion. © 2013 Don Arday.
The big bang. © 2013 Don Arday.

Stormy insight. © 2013 Don Arday.
Starlight & sun sight. © 2013 Don Arday.