Wednesday, December 9, 2009


My friend, Katherine Derbyshire, shared this as a note on Facebook. Her background, as you can see if you follow the link, is the sciences, but as with many of us her interests are wide and deep, and conversations with her lead...anywhere! I thought the exercise she describes here is just too cool to not share with other artists. Sez she:

Fun creativity tip: go to a reasonably well-supplied bookstore or newsstand and spend $30 or so on magazines that you don't normally read. You don't need to read them cover to cover, but read at least a sample from each major section. Look at the pictures, look at the ads, look at the layout. Clip them up and shuffle the pages around if you want. Think about how the material in the magazine might be relevant to your work, or how your work might be relevant to the magazine's typical readers. (Yes, I know it's a stretch. That's the point.)

I originally learned this one back in my editing days, and it's obviously a great way to find design and layout ideas, or ideas about the mix of content in a magazine. But it's surprising helpful for other kinds of creative projects, too. Exposure to different images, different ways of thinking? A look at the lives of people who aren't me? I haven't examined it too closely, I just know it helps top off the mental tanks.

For this exercise, I've found it helps to have a good mixture of the popular and the obscure. Go ahead and buy Vanity Fair if you must (who could resist this month's interview with Meryl Streep?), but be sure to balance it with some quirky small journals, too. Whatever you pick should be fairly light reading, though. If you can't bring yourself to actually read the 20-pager on cybersecurity in Foreign Affairs, you've defeated the purpose.

For me, a mix of photography (or other visuals), reportage, and maybe some essays or poetry works well. Fiction doesn't, and serious analytical writing doesn't, probably because both are so self-important, and perhaps also because large blocks of text aren't visually interesting. The idea is to replenish my own store of ideas, not to immerse myself in someone else's work.

I haven't figured out how to replicate this exercise with online resources, vast and varied as the internet is. I think it's because this is partly a tactile exercise, and pixels on a screen just don't replicate the experience of shuffling paper around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Katherine does also note that this was done as a group exercise: "send everyone on your team out with $20-$30 in expense money and tear up the results together. That version might be especially fun for visual artist types."