Wrangling Ideas

A problem that I came across in my art practice is that I would have ideas come to me at the most inconvenient times of the day: while I was on a commute, on a run, or in the shower. I knew that these ideas were very important to note down, so I came up with a system for keeping track of them.

Why is it important to write ideas down? Similar to a slow day at work, artists experience dry spells when there isn't a lot of inspiration coming their way. In times like these, looking through a collection is a great way to ignite the creative juices and get inspired again!

 Collections on my inspiration wall (middle, and on right)

Collections on my inspiration wall (middle, and on right)

If you know me well, you’ll know that creating order is one of my favorite things! I love to organize everything in my life, because I believe that order is beautiful and empowers us to live better lives. I think the same applies to organizing our thoughts and ideas as creatives — it makes for a more efficient art practice, and more time in the week to enjoy making art and living.



My favorite way of organizing my ideas is into “collections”. A collection is a list of similar ideas. Each collection should be titled appropriately to what common theme ties all of the ideas together. For each collection, take a piece of blank paper and write the name of the collection at the top (Example: "Plant Collection"). As ideas spring up throughout your day-to-day, write them down on the paper underneath as a bullet point. Post this paper somewhere prominently in your studio (near your workspace is ideal), so that it’s easy to see, add ideas to, and refer to. If you have a sketchbook you use every day, you can add it to the front of the sketchbook — just remember when you buy a new sketchbook to transfer your collections into the new one!

For example, I currently have a collection called “Ceramics Collection”. In this collection, I gather ideas for all the things I want to make out of clay. Just this morning, I had a vision of creating a ceramic sculpture while I was running. When I came home, I added this idea to my ceramics collection with a vivid description: “Ceramic sculpture of a group of women sitting in a circle together with flowers and foliage covering their backs.”

Title your collections to fit you and your interests. Maybe you love to draw animals, or you have product ideas for a creative business. Collections can be whatever you want them to be. The more specific and unique your collection, the more unique your art will be.

Tracking Ideas

The way that ideas come to us is haphazard, and require different approaches depending on where you are and whats accessible to you. I’ve tried all kinds of ways of recording my ideas down: writing them on my hand, noting them in the margins of a sketchbook or notebook, or writing them down on scraps of paper. I found that the methods below worked best for me, and I try to keep it to only these three places so I know where to look. I recommend trying all the different ways, but only adopting one or two so that your idea wrangling is more streamlined.

Little Sketchbook

I carry a small travel-sized sketchbook and pen with me at all times. In my big bag, I have a pouch with essentials like headphones, chapstick, sunglasses, ect. This is where I keep my sketchbook and pen, ready to pull out anytime I’m out and about. Whether I’m on a train, on the street, in class, or at a show — the little sketchbook is in arms reach. I note down ideas in it, and then transfer them to my collections when I’m back in the studio.

Emailing Myself

This is my favorite way to track ideas, because email is something I always make a point of checking in the week. This method is especially handy when my purse isn’t nearby (but I keep my iPhones on me all the time!). In the subject line, I write a call to action (“Add to Collection”), and in the body I write out a more detailed description of the idea. This makes the act of recording an idea a task that needs to be done.

Dear Diary   

If you have a ritual of keeping a personal journal, this is a time when some of your best ideas flow out of you. After a journaling session (which usually takes place in my bed in the morning), if any good ideas come to me I’ll transfer them over to my collection in the comfort of my room.

And that’s it for today’s Creative Tip! I hope this helps you in your art practice. If you have other methods you use for tracking ideas, comment below!