Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Brainstorming For Illustrators: 2. Negative Thinking

Brainstorming is a problem solving activity that we all use when we are presented with a problem to solve. Even when the solution seems instantaneous, a bit of the brainstorming thinking process has occurred to limit the thought of too many possible solutions. Brainstorming can be a controlled exercise using a variety of techniques to stimulate creative solutions to a visual problem. It provides a method of forming random thoughts into thought patterns that provide a coherent interpretation of a subject. Brainstorming emphasizes the problem solving process and deemphasizes the solution. The result is a less predictable, less stereotypical set of ideas and sketches.

Brainstorming Techniques

Thought Juxtaposition

Thought juxtaposition is based on the concept of paring up two or more divergent thoughts and eventually evaluating their relationship. It’s a way of thinking about a problem, backwards and forwards. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a way of examining both sides of a coin. Unless we are able to look at both the front and the back of a coin, or a problem for that matter, we cannot truly understand its’ significance. This brainstorming method discards a single directional approach to thinking in favor of a bidirectional, or even a multidirectional approach.


Whether you are a glass half empty, or glass half full person, “opposites” is a dynamic way of applying thought juxtaposition to look at a problem both negatively and positively. In the illustration business, negative thinking is generally considered to be non-productive, but used to brainstorm with, it can be quite the opposite. Negative thinking works by channeling our uncertainty about a subject. In brainstorming, uncertainty provides the flexibility for us to keep pondering ideas, and avoid becoming stifled.

Stage One
Opposites is a two-stage process, the stages can be done in tandem or separately. The first activity involves brainstorming to record random thoughts about a problem or a subject. The thoughts can be negative or positive considerations of the problem. They can be recorded as words or as simple thumbnail sketches before they are combined to create compound ideas for presentation to the client. Below is a partial selection of stage one word thoughts that were generated to produce an illustrated icon on brainstorming.

Locked         Unearthed         Thoughtless       Hollow       Stuck        Trapped

Stage Two
Stage two is the search for opposites or antonyms of the original set of thoughts about the problem. Here are the opposite matches to the original inspirations. The six original terms led to six sets of juxtaposing words. The sets can then be used as pairs, or split up to become twelve individual words that can then be cross-combined to create unanticipated results. Below are a few sketches.

Locked >> Opened       Buried >> Unearthed        Thoughtless  >> Thought Full
Hollow >> Solid           Stagnation >> Growth       Trapped >> Freed

Unlocked vision. © 2013 Don Arday.
Though full input. © 2013 Don Arday.

Hold that thought. © 2013 Don Arday.
Germinated ideas. © 2013 Don Arday.

For negative brainstorming to become productive, it is important to complete the cycle of juxtaposing opposing pairs of relationships. Opposites lead to contrast, which in turn adds a certain amount of tension and narrative interest. This method of conceptualizing can yield extremely positive results.