Coming up with ideas for what to create can be pretty tricky, here are some methods I use.
The random generator approach is fun. Random generator websites exist for making generated phrases which might spark an idea or a whole picture in your mind. You can find lots of random idea generators on the Internet. Some websites to try are:
Spider diagrams and mind mapping are useful methods to generate ideas with. You come up with a main theme, write that down then write associated words off of it in a circular pattern. You can repeat this with the words you have written around the main theme. After this try combining the different words with other words. You can use a big sheet of paper to do this or use a digital program like Scapple or Freeplane. If you get stuck for what themes to do, write down your interests then make lists and mind maps based off of them.
Making lists of words is useful. You can pick different words from different lists and combine them for more ideas. You can write lists on paper or with a keyboard in an editor of your choice. I use an open source program called Keynote NF to organise different lists based on themes.
Something I started to do a few years ago was keep visual journals or scrapbooks. Everyday I wrote down or drew my random thoughts and crazy dreams. I challenged myself to fill a page of my idea journal every day. Now I have a bank of ideas I can go back to and develop into a project if I’m stuck for something to do. If you keep sketchbooks you will always have ideas to develop in the future.
Ideas can come from anywhere at anytime, it is good practice to always carry a notebook or a pocket sketchbook with you. If you have a tablet or smartphone you can do this as well. Any piece of paper will do though. If I’m watching the TV I keep a sketchbook nearby in case something sparks an idea for me.
Browsing the Internet can be time consuming but it is a good place for ideas. Sites like Pinterest, Flickr and Google Images are popular for finding new ideas.
Creating a reference image filing system is something I started doing years ago. I collect interesting reference photos and images then file them according to type so that when I need inspiration or reference for a project I can always get something. You have to be careful because plagiarism from over reliance on images from the Internet can be a problem. Always try to elaborate or develop the original idea into something unique.
You could go to a library or a second hand book store where you will find more original ideas than on the internet. Books are a valuable resource when it comes to ideas, if you can’t get to a library or book store there are online libraries like Issuu.com and Scribd.com. These are good sources for ideas you wouldn’t come across only using the internet search.
Take a break
Doing something unrelated to your work like going for a walk or visiting a museum can help clear your head and allow your ideas to grow. Over thinking can create stress so taking a step back from the problem can usually help. Think of Colombo when he’s stuck for the final clue. He usually finds the answer in something unrelated or from an angle he didn’t think of.
If you get stuck for what to paint you could do a technical art exercise to practice and keep the cobwebs off. The act of practising drawing and painting may spark an idea or two. You could do experiments with either traditional media or digital software.
You could try combining traditional and digital techniques. You could even try procedural art generation tools. Experimenting with different media or techniques may spark an idea or approach you might not have thought of.
Try watching videos or listen to podcasts while you do your art exercises. It may help you come up with ideas or a different approach to doing things.
Too many ideas?
There is an alternate problem to not generating ideas. You can have too many ideas and get paralysed by the uncertainty of which idea to go for. This is something I sometimes suffer from but I’m coming up with ways to overcome it.
One way to overcome this is by choosing one of your ideas and trying it without judging it first. I made myself a choice spinner a few years ago to challenge myself to go with the first option it landed on.
You could ask one of your friends or family to choose an idea for you instead. It is good practice to work on things you might not have picked yourself.
If the project you picked is not going anywhere and you decide to abandon it don’t worry. Abandoning personal projects is fine and can help lead you to better ideas.
Abandoned projects are not failure but a natural part of the creative process. You can come back to an abandoned project if you want to, or remix it with another project to create a different one. Working on another project may help you with one of your abandoned ones or make you think of a better solution.
Those are some of the ways I use for how to come up with ideas for Illustration projects.