Can creativity be sparked externally?

A page of calligraphic lettering showing a variety of letter line widths. (Poetry by Mark Rutter.)

Often I am asked the following question: “I don’t consider myself a creative person but would like to be, is it something I can learn?”

It is the same question I received in a letter from a musician friend: “I have been thinking about asking someone at the visual artists’ guild here about whether they might consider offering some sort of general principles of design class. I really don’t know what I am talking about or what to ask for but I am interested in experimenting a bit more with collage and would feel much better about it with some sort of direction. Or perhaps it would be sort of like teaching improvisation, and if there were not a natural talent there it would be hard to develop. Is there a good starting place for someone who does not naturally show that spark of creativity? Can creativity be sparked externally?”

My answer is yes. Creativity is a habit that can be sparked externally. Working at any art and craft is like cooking. Simply put, cooking is made up of ingredients and recipes. Most of us are happy to explore cookbooks by perusing the pictures of food and following the recipe. Budding chefs develop a curiosity about different flavor combinations. Food critics who grade restaurant menus for a living do not have a stronger sense of taste or any extra skills than the rest of us, but rather a passion for food. People who are intuitive often jump in and learn by doing. Those of a more sensing nature like to have a bit more information before delving in.

In art, design elements are the ingredients and design principles are the recipes. An artist’s focus may vary, but design elements and principles are the same for every art form, from music to painting, from architecture to books. Elements are the vocabulary of work and principles are the grammar.  It is astounding the endless variations one can achieve through playful combinations. Here is a list of basic design elements and principles.



You may recognize and understand the words in this list as they apply to music or some other art form in your experience. Each of these elements and principles can be appreciated simply or be expanded to include more detailed applications.  For instance color includes light, hue (the name of a color), value (the lightness or darkness of a color), the color wheel, and color theory. We see colors, but we can hear them as well. For example think about how choral voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) lend color and timbre, to create a rich composition.

To spark your creativity, start with a 2-D design class. Creating collages is another good way to begin using design elements and principles.  I once taught a class entitled “The Language of Design through Collage.”  Beginning with black and white papers only, participants worked through numerous combinations of design elements and principles.  Gradually we added one color to the mix and only went to full color at the end of the two-day workshop.  Working in black and white allows one to focus on the design of a piece, forcing you to be creative with the choices at hand.  In a way, it mimics studying musical scales and chords – you learn to understand what it is you are manipulating.

From here on I will be updating my blog the first day of every month. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Nancy Leavitt

My bookseller’s website: Priscilla Juvelis

This entry was posted in Collage, Design. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Can creativity be sparked externally?

  1. Luce Zolna says:

    Yeah! It is good to hear from you again. I love your description of the collage class. This would always be a way of practicing design principles.
    Luce Zolna

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