10 Ways to Fill the Creative Well


In graphic design, branding, marketing, and really any creative outlet it is important to continually be “filling the well.” It’s a simple idea that goes a long way. The more resources, inspirations, and ideas you have stored away the more you’ll have to pull from later. A general misconception or maybe misunderstood aspect of filling the well is that A is A and B is B. If you’re designing a brochure you should look at well-designed brochures, if you’re doing fashion photography you should look at good examples of fashion photography. In general this isn’t a bad solution but it is very limiting. Even if you can recreate a set and lighting perfectly your end product will always just be a copy, lacking in originality and creativity. If you truly want to be creative, innovative, enduring and maybe most importantly, profitable and marketable to your clients, you need to draw inspiration from many sources, then you store those sources for future reference.

1. Explore different mediums.

Sometimes the best ideas come from the most obscure sources. A great idea for a website might come from watching an old film noir. A packaging concept for crackers might be inspired by an oil can from the 1930s. The idea is that the more information, ideas, and sources you store in your head or in notebooks, the more you’ll be able to pull from later.

Read books, look through magazines, look at paintings, explore photography, watch an old movie, check out leather wallets hand crafted in the early 1800s. There are so many sources of potential inspiration, search them, explore them and always think about how it might apply to a future project.

2. Mix up your routine.

Change the way you look at things by changing the way you do things. If you always drive to work, instead, try taking the bus or riding your bike. Wake up an hour early, drink orange juice instead of coffee, soap first then shampoo. If you normally wind down each day with an hour of TV, instead use that hour to check out youtube videos of people carving stumps into bears with chain saws. If you normally skip to the comics in the Sunday paper, instead find the most boring page and read it.

There is no limit to what routines you can shake up, and you don’t have to make these changes permanent. Try them once or twice. See what you learned then you can go back to the way you were doing it. The idea is that by shaking things up you will open yourself up to more inspiration and your well will grow deeper. Every experience can become a source of inspiration for a future project.

3. Always be studying.

Continually increasing your understating and knowledge will positively affect your creativity. It is so important in a creative communicative industry to know at least a little about everything. This knowledge influences the way you think about a logo design, a photography set, a Facebook post, plus anything and everything else. If you are designing a logo for a company that cleans septic tanks than you need to know everything there is to know about septic tanks.

If you are continually learning you’ll have a huge advantage going into a new project. You can speak to the client in an informed manner and these discussions will be so much more productive. Plus, you never know when your knowledge of Templar Knights iconography might come in handy.

4. Explore old books.

Old books are a wonderful source of inspiration and a great way to fill the creative well. Obviously there are millions of old books and not every one of them is a gold mine of great ideas so here are a couple things to look for: Great/interesting typography, inspiring illustrations, unique photography, different binding techniques, cool covers, textures, foils, embosses, etc. Basically anything that really grabs your attention. These are things that could influence future projects.

A few great places to look for old books are book fairs, which tour the country, thrift stores, second hand bookstores, amazon, ebay and more.

If you find a great book and it’s a reasonable price then purchase it and add it to your library. If your book budget is limited then take some pictures, write down what you like about it and make a sketch of it and what you like about it.

5. Find some good websites.

There are many great online resources for finding inspiration. Look for websites that offer fresh content from a wide variety of disciplines. This goes back to the idea of finding inspiration from a lot of different mediums. If you’re into photography find a website that posts beautiful woodwork, if you are a sculptor find websites that highlight fashion. Or better yet, find a website that allows you to curate what you see and choose content that is inspiring, interesting, exiting, new, fresh, different and unique.

Avoid getting trapped into going online as your only source of inspiration. If you are continually copying things you see then you’re taking ideas straight from the source and your well will dry up. Your ideas will become stagnant and your projects stale.

6. Go on a fieldtrip.

Getting away from the computer and out of the chair is a great way to explore new ideas and add volume to your creative well. It is interesting that some of the most creatively challenging occupations require copious hours spent staring at glowing pixels on a screen. Getting out of the office is a great way to gain new insights. Plan frequent fieldtrips to museums, expos, science centers, galleries, and gardens. Even trip to the zoo can be a great way to store away some ideas for future use.

7. Talk to people.

We’ve established that ideas can come from anywhere and they aren’t limited to visual stimulants either. Any and all conversations can be a source of future inspiration. Talk to people about their area of expertise. Find out what they do and why they do it.

You might find yourself in a riveting discussion about bee keeping only to pick up a client a week later that needs packaging designed for honey business. Everything you just learned about bees can be used to come up with a creative and unique concept.

8. Look for inspiration in the everyday.

As you begin taking extra measures to fill your creative well you will begin to think about things differently. Make conscious effort to look for inspiration in the everyday and you’ll begin to find it. Inspiration might come from birds sitting on a wire, or from chalk drawings your neighbors kids made on the sidewalk.

Filling the well is as much about seeing the world differently and as a giant source of inspiration. There are a million examples, if you see a stack of books look at how they are arranged, look at how the colors and textures interact. Would the stack look better if it was organized differently? Does its chaos add to its intrigue?

There is inspiration for future projects in everyday life you just have to keep your eyes open and start to think of things a little differently.

9. Look at past sketchbooks.

Past sketchbooks are a great source of inspiration for future projects. There are several variations of how an old sketch can inspire you. Maybe you had a great concept for a past project but a client got in the way. Try resurrecting the idea for a different project. Sometimes a past sketch in a different light for a new client can take on a whole new meaning.

10. Keep track of your ideas.

The key to applying past inspirations is to keep track of them. Carry a small notebook with you, or at the very least create a dedicated list on your cell phone to jot down ideas. These ideas may not all be directly relevant to your projects and your job but they all help to fill the well and be the inspiration for future projects.

So there you go, 10 ways to fill your creative well and keep it full. And remember, you’re only as good as your next idea, so make sure it’s great. If you have any questions or comments shoot us an email at marketing@catapultu.com.

Share your thoughts