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Where do you get your ideas from?

This is a classic question that often gets directed at creative people like you and me. And there really isn’t a satisfying answer for it. At least, not a definitive, simple explanation that the person asking will be happy with. For me, it’s about allowing space for little connections or sparks to happen in my brain. Often a good idea will come to me when I am thinking about nothing at all – sometimes when I’m on a walk, or in the shower, or simply staring into space and daydreaming. One pattern I have noticed with myself is when I am beginning to really zero in on a particular project that excites me (most recently this was a comedy play I am writing). Often I will then spot something in the everyday, or a cool concept/thought enters my consciousness, and I instinctively try to connect it to the work I am currently focused on.

So, what could have been a random idea that simply makes me smile or intrigues me and ordinarily gets jotted down in a notebook and filed away, now instead seeks out connective tissue to the project I am working on. I see possibilities for how it could be woven into that project. In the case of the play, I recently had an idea for a cool way of displaying visuals on a screen on a stage, and I quickly realised that this could be something that might work for the play I’m finishing up.

If I was to step back and analyse this a bit more closely, it starts to become a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. In my subconscious there are things rumbling, and I was possibly inspired to think about theatrical staging because I was working on a play. Or its equally possible that this idea was sparked by something else I observed and I was able to draw a connection to the play, and to then find a way to fit it in creatively to the piece.

More broadly though, I think the more you allow yourself to simply daydream and give a project time to breathe & formulate, the more you find that these flights of fancy come to you and, by extension, are something that you can start attaching to your current project like little lego ideas.

Deadlines can be a great forcing function sometimes, but I personally run into trouble when I am pushing myself to write something very specific and am demanding my brain to cook up inventive ideas that simply aren’t accessible. It can be done of course. And I have done it for many projects. But generally I find that you end up going back to cliches, standard tropes and things you’ve done before. If I have the luxury of time, the more I allow myself to not demand a creative idea, but rather give myself leeway to let it take shape in my head before committing it to a page, the better and more interesting it can be,

Everyone has a different process, and many creative people like prompts to spark new ideas, and others simply let the muse take them. As for me, my ideas come from everywhere, usually where there is space to not overthink.

Artlick Lounge: Home of “The Michael Gross Drink”

Back in the days of writing and creating for artlick.com (alas no longer online), I filled my notepads with several ideas & sparks for pieces to post on the site. Almost 25% of my ideas those days were visual – little doodles or sketches – which was probably due to the website being such a visual medium. One such idea was to create a secret part of the site that would take you to our artlick lounge bar.

And of course in that lounge we would digitally serve conceptual and silly beverages. And the signature cocktail was “The Michael Gross Drink”, named after the journeyman actor who starred in the sitcom Family Ties and the Tremors movie series. I remember us being very tickled by the sheer mundanity of calling it “drink” rather than cocktail or martini. And if memory serves, the drink contained whiskey, some prescription medication, and a feature length movie playing inside it.

The idea never went any further than these doodles that I sketched it out. Either it was too complex to pull off with our limited web design skills, or we found another idea that captured our imagination more.

Michael Gross – the actor, not the drink

Marble Run

Creativity comes in so many forms, and this week introduced me to a beautiful new one in the shape of “Jelle’s Marble Runs“. As an avid viewer of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, I was doubly pleased it made me aware of this totally compelling YouTube channel, dedicated to racing marbles on homemade tracks. Dry, silly commentary, coupled with absurd back stories & adoring marble fans, makes this a truly bonkers but brilliant slice of creativity. In the absence of actual sports, this might just be the only must-watch thing around. Not joking – it’s really fun, and a very welcome diversion.

Update: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is now an official sponsor of Jelle’s Marble Runs

OUR CUP WILL BE FULL AGAIN

A few weeks ago, my friend Gary Dunne, who curates an incredible artistic slate for the London Irish Centre asked me to contribute a poem to their online season. Gary and the staff of the LIC do incredible work for the Irish community in London and they have been very good to me down the years – they hosted the London premiere of Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About, and I have also showcased sketches with The Brownbread Players there too. It’s always a warm, giving audience that finds a connection through a shared tribe in a generous welcoming environment. So I was honoured to be asked, and frankly, I was happy to have a creative project to focus on in the rare moments I had to myself during this uncertain time.

The theme was HOPE which really spoke to me, and the image of a paper cup delicately dancing on a wave is one that has been with me for decades, but never found a proper home in a piece of writing. As soon as I sat down to write the poem I knew that this was where it had been drifting towards all along. It came together relatively quickly (thank goodness because time is a rare commodity these days) and it allowed me to marry it to a piece of music I wrote many moons ago that had also never found a creative home (unsurprisingly, the music was also written around the same time the image of the cup first washed into my brain). I also knew that the focus should be on the words but have a strong simple visual to guide it, so I went down to the sea by my home to film the waves but they just weren’t right. I resigned myself to using what I had and then serendipitously my friend Jim posted a short video that day on Facebook of the Irish Sea, that connects this island of Ireland to the UK, and I simply knew that it was the perfect accompaniment. Jim graciously allowed me to use it, and I lent my rudimentary video editing skills to piece it together. The end result feels ever so slightly imperfect but absolutely right, and I am immensely proud of it.

I hope it resonates with all of you, and I would be grateful if you shared it onwards with anyone in need of a message of hope right now.

Solas Creation #1

As part of our new Solas Season, we are commissioning Irish artists to respond to a theme. In Solas Creation #1, poet Kalle Ryan responds to 'hope'.

Posted by London Irish Centre on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A new poem & film coming this week

Delighted to announce that I have written a new poem in response to these remarkable times we find ourselves in (and created an accompanying little film to go with it). It will debut later this week as part of the London Irish Centre’s new curated series entitled SOLAS. Stand by…