Is Creativity a Formula?

The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Fuel:

Creativity is one of those subjects wrapped in shrouds of mystery. How does one “get creative.” How do you go from staring at a blank canvas, a black and empty composition, and then end up with a masterpiece. Everyone has a different take on it, and most people try to boil creativity down into repeatable steps. I’ve heard many variations of 3, 4, 5 or 6 step plans to getting creative:

1. Preparation 2. Incubation 3. Illumination 4. Implementation

1. Observe 2. Reflect 3. Make

1. Inspiration 2. Clarification 3. Evaluation 4. Distillation 5. Incubation 6. Perspiration

I think creativity is quite a bit more ambiguous and mystical than a clever sounding 5 step plan and I also think it will be different for every person. Let me share what works for me:


Finding inspiration before I start transforming a blank canvas is key. My process usually starts with cruising the internet, taking screen captures of design or photographs that spark something in me. It could be a color scheme, a font, a background texture etc. I compile all of these into a folder. All of these different inspirations start to focus my mind into a direction I want the piece to go.


In my opinion, setting boundaries is the key to getting started. The hardest part for me is the first object/element I put onto the blank canvas. Setting boundaries helps you narrow down the infinite possibilities into something that can focus your mind on. Deadlines are one boundary that will force you to get started and do the work. I watched a video recently by Jack White of The White Stripes talking about boundaries. He said this:

“Deadlines and things make you creative, but opportunity and telling yourself “you’ve got all the time in the world, all the money in the world, you’ve all the colors in the palate you want, anything you want” — that just kills creativity.”


I look at the client, their logo, a font they require, their color pattern, their vibe/mood. These things all set boundaries as well. If they have a certain color palate, then I have a boundary. If they require a font, then I have a boundary. These help me put something into my empty comp. They help me start the process. I find that once I get one element in place, then my mind clicks into the flow and everything else is simply getting lost in creating and filling in the pieces.

To read the rest of this article and see my specific workflow, go to:

5 Responses
  1. Lu

    “I find that once I get one element in place, then my mind clicks into the flow and everything else is simply getting lost in creating and filling in the pieces.”

    Even though I’m just learning, I’ve had the same thing happen – the click into flow. It does feel smooth and almost effortless.

  2. If you click into the flow, my friend, that is a very good sign! I’ve heard it said before that if you have trouble getting lost in the flow, that you are doing a job you don’t love and that should be a red flag…

  3. Chris Burke

    “Real artists ship,” as our friend Steve Jobs used to say. This is a *very* important piece of the puzzle that we all need to think about. It’s tough to stick to a system all the time, but if you can at least frame it in rough terms, as you do in this article, you’re well on your way. Thanks for an insightful read.

  4. My method is near to your second variation.

    1. enough time to think about context of subject
    2. to find applicable form and trait to express
    3. to start to make (the most important step :-))

Leave a Reply