Using Freewriting to get Ideas for Character Design and Illustration Work

I have always been a big fan of exploring different creative techniques beyond the standard mindmaps and moodboards that many designers use. For a recent project I needed to create some characters for a comic strip about the adventures of a startup. It was a project I was working on along side Constantina Katsari-Muston, who had the initial idea and was creating the dialogues. The first thing I needed to do was create the person with the start-up and we decided he would be 20-30s male.

My first attempts at sketches were a little bland.
startup business man

So I decided to turn to Freewriting to help. Freewriting is a creative technique where you give yourself a time limit and then write without stopping for that time. If you can’t think of what to write you just repeat yourself or write rubbish. The theory is that this doesn’t give the brain time for censorship, allowing ideas to flow that you might not have thought of. I freewrote anything I could think of about the ways I could create the character – from using a shoelace to changing the scale of my drawing surface from very large to very small. You can read more about my freewriting here.

I had also recently watched a great Ted talk by Laurie Rosenwald who talks about working quickly and getting back to experimenting with real materials rather than sticking on the computer. This let’s you make deliberate creative mistakes

I took Rosenwald’s advice and started experimenting, and introduced some of the ideas from my freewriting.

creative art shoelaces

change scale design

dripped paint design

Even though it was really scrappy there was something I really liked about the sticky note people (the small scale from my freewriting) and so I worked it up a bit.

sticky note people

Then it was incorporated with Constantina’s dialogue. This is a look at the way start-up founders have a tendency to ask friends and family about their idea, when they should really be finding out if their potential customers really have the problem they are trying to fix.

bsuiness startup cartoon



Using Mood Boards and Everyday Images for Inspiration

I have talked about mood boards a couple of times on this blog because I love them and I think they can really help boost creative inspiration. I probably don’t use them in the traditional sense of the word, but more as a massive source of inspiration, so maybe I should call it an inspiration board instead?

How to create an inspiration board / mood board

An inspiration board is simply a collection of imagery. This could be done manually (my preferred method) whereby you rip things out of magazines, print things out you find on the web and then paste them up on a large sheet of paper. You could also collect together your imagery digitally by using a photo editing program or a website like Pinterest.

Inspiration board created using images pasted onto a large sheet of paper

create a moodboard

A couple of ways you can use your inspiration board:

Use a mood board get a feel for your target market

A mood board is hugely adaptable for use in different ways the first and probably one of the common ways I use them is to get the feel for the target market of whatever I am designing. So for example say you were designing something for music lovers in their late teens then you would want to collect together imagery that might appeal to them. So you might go out and buy a selection of music magazines and look online a music sites and collect all this imagery together on a board. This will give you a big insight onto what might appeal to this target market might.

Mood board created to get a feel for toy company logos

toy logo inspiration moodboard

To get inspiration to break you out of your normal way of thinking

Imagine that you are designing something, be it a leaflet, product, piece of jewellery or character design. Chances are if we try and design it, we will fall back on styles or ideas we have used before or emulate things we see. Try this instead – whatever your current project, take a walk around your home or around your town and take photos of random things you see. So for example if I was walking round my house I could snap a photo of a guitar, a desklamp, a fire extinguisher etc etc. Collect together all these images and look how you could apply them to you current project. Perhaps the 6 strings on a guitar could form an interesting graphic on a leaflet which you link your graphics to, perhaps the twisty shape of the desklamp bulb could influence the shape of a piece of jewellery, perhaps the red of the fire extinguisher could become the dominant colour of a character design.

Inspiration board created using everyday images for character design inspiration

moodboard character inspiration

Do you use mood boards or inspiration boards? How do you use them?

Unstuck 52 Ways to Get and Keep your Creativity Flowing

unstuck creativit book coverI bought the book Unstuck (52 Ways to Get and Keep your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work and in your Studio) pretty much out of curiosity. I had previously read about the author Noah Scalin’s personal design project to create a Skull a Day. For this project he literally created an image by whatever means of a skull for every day of one year.

I am big believer in personal design projects and really like the premise behind this book. The book is filled with exercises aimed at getting your creative brain working. I know from personal experience how easy it is to get pigeon holed into a certain type if work, especially when you work full time, so this book might help you to break out of it.

It doesn’t matter how much time you have as the creative exercises are split into projects from 30 seconds (yes you read that correctly) to several hours.

So what sort of creative exercises can you expect?

Two minute project

Choose one of the provided squiggles (or make your own) and combine it with one of the supplied phrases (or make your own). Using the squiggle create a doodle which visually represents the phrase.

Unstuck Noah Scalin

Multi hour project pg 216

Take a camera and go outside, find images that can make up an alphabet.

Adapt the creative projects to your own needs

I have adapted one of the exercises myself. In the book Noah tells you to make 2 separate lists and the combine items from each to stimulate new ideas. Instead I created a series of coloured cards with different characteristics which I can combine at random to try and generate new character design ideas.

Interviews with other Creatives

Amongst the creative exercises there are short articles where different creatives share their thoughts and strategies on staying creative.

unstuck creative interviews

Who should buy this book

Anyone who is feeling in a creative rut or anyone who wants a new creative project outside of work to get their creative juices flowing.

unstuck creativity

You can get the book from Amazon here or find out more about it in the website

Please note the Amazon links are affiliate links – this means if you buy through them you pay the same but I get a small commission, so I can buy more books.

Great New Graphic Design Podcast

Graphic Design podcast

Deeply Graphic Design PodcastWes McDowell got in touch with me to let me know about his great new graphic design podcast called the Deeply Graphic Design Cast. Wes kindly agreed to answer a few questions about himself and what we can all be expecting from the podcast.

Tara: What is your name and your company name?
Wes: I’m Wes McDowell and my company is called The Deep End.

Tara: Where are you based?
Wes: We are now based out of Los Angeles, CA.

Tara: Please can you tell me a bit about your background as a designer and what you do now?
Wes: I’ve had pretty varied experience in the design world since I started back in 2001. I started as a freelancer, mostly doing logos and really really bad websites for local businesses. I shudder to look back at some of that early work. My first “real job” was as part of an in-house design team for a software company where I worked on the user interface as well as packaging for some of the software programs we put out. Then I moved to a different in-house team doing a lot of packaging and printed goods for retail. After that, I moved to Seattle where I freelanced and ultimately started my company The Deep End. My time in Seattle was mostly spent working on web based projects, and I learned a LOT about where the web is now and where its going. I’d say that 80% of what I do right now is web based versus print.

Tara: You have just set up a Podcast about Graphic Design please could you tell me a bit about it and how it came about?
Wes: I have been listening to podcasts for the past few years. I love the idea of walking or driving to work and learning something while I do it. I had a handful of design related podcasts I would look forward to, and the ones I really liked just kinda stopped coming out. That made me think that I should pick up the slack. I called up my old friend and former co-worker Brandon Voss, and asked him if he would be interested in helping me out with it, and he agreed. I was hooked up with Mikelle Morrison through a recruiter that I had worked with and I couldn’t be happier with our team. We have such different experience and viewpoints that it makes for a really interesting show.

Tara: What sort of topics do you intend covering in the podcast?
Wes: We want to do it all! It may take a while, but we plan on sticking around as long as people keep listening. We want to cover the business aspects, such as proposals, contracts, and how to attract bigger clients, as well as the creative side. Things like upcoming design trends, or where to go to find creative inspiration. We also want to cover topics that appeal to not only the freelance designer, but also to those who aim at getting a job at an agency.

Tara: Is the podcast aimed a newbies or the more experienced designer?
Wes: I think on the surface it seems like its more a newbie show, but I think that even more experienced designers will get a lot out of the show. Newbies will listen to get advice on how to do certain things, and pros will listen to get some different points of view on how they already do things. I know that just by having these conversations with my co-hosts that I learn something each time.

Tara: Why did you decide to create a podcast targeted at designers rather than potential clients?
Wes: I don’t think that clients necessarily have any interest in what we would be talking about. They certainly wouldn’t become longtime listeners, if design isn’t what interests them. Generally a client becomes interested in web design and the basic process while the process is going on, but once the site is built, they move on to the next phase of their business. Also, this is just a natural extension of my blog, which was always aimed at other designers. I just love graphic design, and I want to talk about it with other people who love it like I do. We want to build a community of listeners, and we invite them to email us questions that we will answer on-air, as well as tweet us topics they would like us to cover.

Tara: Where can people go to find out more about you and subscribe to the Podcast?
You can subscribe, listen and find out more about us at:

Fantastic Typographic Designs to Interpret Music

I recently discovered Typo Music by Carlos Fernando Agudo when he started to follow me on twitter, I checked out his website and followed him back. When I first saw his site I thought “what great collection of typographic designed album covers”, but I was wrong. I had already checked the website’s about page, but that didn’t help me as it wasn’t in English and I couldn’t easily translate it as it wasn’t real text. I contacted Carlos who owns the site and asked him if he could tell me a little more about his website and designs. It turns out that the typographic designs are his personal design project to interpret songs that he loves. He has then opened up the project to other artists and designers to submit their designs.

Read below what Carlos had to say about his Typo Music website and designs.

typographic design for music

“Everything started with an addiction problem … with a song, it was something waaaaay beyond enjoying. I listened this song on my iPod, every day … I’m not kidding, all day long … during three days.  In order to “exorcise” this feeling, I tried to put my feelings about the lyrics and the music itself in a design piece. Typography is the visual lenguage that I prefer, where I feel comfortable and let me express an idea more accurate as a designer, so, I used it to create a typographic composition related with this song.  The final result is what you can see on the last image, at the bottom of the page (The Metro, Berlin).  I uploaded this image to my flickr profile where I received a lot of good comments about the work, and other comments saying: hey, same thing happened to me with “X” song.  Then I opened a space where designers can do the same exercise.”

Simple rules:

1. Your favorite song (no restrictions)

2. Use typography as a main element on the layout, also you can use another languages and photography or illustration.

3. Square workspace (600×600 px).

And then MY FAVORITE TYPO’ MUSIC was born.  I received almost 130 designs from designers and visual artists from Colombia, Mexico and Argentina.  I developed my thesis using this work as a corpus, doing a reflection about the interiorization process of a content (music in this case) in order to produce a consequent design piece.”

“I’m working right now on trying to create a second call to designers and visual artists all over the world to participate and then to publish a book with those works and my reflections about it.”

If you want to submit your work to Typo Music please please visit the website.

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Why Do Personal Art and Design Projects? Examples Included

Personal design projects are something I have been doing for the last ten plus years or so, and you can see just a few of them (so far) at my new blog An image of one of my ideas is shown below.

volcano game toy

How about you? I would love to see and hear about your personal design projects and if anyone would like to send me any with a bit of information about yourself and why you do  them I would be happy to feature them on this blog.

There are many reasons you might want to consider doing personal art/design projects

1. To stretch yourself creatively
Not all live design jobs can give you the creative outlet you need.

2. To learn new things
I don’t know about you but I am absolutely rubbish at learning something new without trying to do something real with it. Tutorials just don’t work for me, I would prefer to read up on the subject, then give it a go. When I first wanted to try to learn 3D I decided to have a go at designing some watches and then created them in a 3D package. I learned a lot more this way, through trial and error, rather than just following a tutorial parrot fashion.

3. Maybe you want a change of direction in your work
Perhaps you want to develop an illustration style or maybe you want to create a blog where you can help others or share things you like. If you enjoy sketching or producing imagery you could put your work in exhibitions or enter The Arthouse Sketchbook Project for Artists and Designers

4. Perhaps you want to fill up your portfolio with new, more creative work
If you are a student or trying to get a new job you may want to set yourself projects to help build up a portfolio in the area of design you want to work in. (Students may also want to check out my sample design briefs)

5. In the hope that your ideas will be licensed or earn you some income
If you create something like a book or product idea you might eventually be able to get it into the marketplace or license your idea. You could also sell your photography or illustration work through various royalty free image sites or from your own site. You might find you have a market for your hand made goods on a site like Etsy or could sell T-shirt designs through Spreadshirt, Cafepress, Threadless or your own site.

6. Or perhaps you just enjoy a new challenge.

A couple of fellow design bloggers have their own personal design projects:

Writing and Illustrating a Children’s Book

Jennifer Farley (twitter – @Laughing_Lion) from Laughing Lion Design’s personal design project was to write and illustrate a children’s book. Looking at her illustrations you can see how she has developed a distinctive style, of course this can only be achieved through practice. A personal project like this has given her the freedom to experiment and now she can also try and get her book published hopefully adding another string to her bow.

childrens illustration bee

check out more of Jennifer’s work on

Post-it Designs

I love these posits created by Nick Routley aka @Phanyxx on Twitter
I asked him what started him creating these and he said he just had a lot of posits lying around. You can see from these, that it just allows his imagination to run wild and he is inspired by things that are in the news or that he is doing at the time.

post it design

post-it design

Check out more of Nick’s work at

Strangely enough careers have been developed just by doing similar things to this, that most people would just think was trivial or silly. Check out Hugh MacLeod who you can read about on the Screw Work Let’s Play website who started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. Something which started out as fun has ended up making him a living. Hugh’s website is and I enjoyed reading his book “Ignore Everybody” too.

gaping void

If you are a designer and have a personal design project you would like to share please drop me an email.