Finding Your Creative Spark

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

I love this quote from Ira Glass, the founder of the “This American Life” podcast and all around creative genius. I think a lot of creatives and non-creatives alike interpret and get inspired by this quote in a variety of different ways. To me I think part of this quote is referring to the creative spark any aspiring artist, designer, musician or any creative soul experiences when they start their creative journey. It’s the thing that really ignites their career, it can happen more than once and it can happen in the middle or later stages of a creative career. But how do we find that spark? How do we cultivate that intense burning desire to make things, to pick up and pursuit a craft as best as we can? I think the answers can be found in this quote by Mr. Glass.. let’s break it down:

  1. Having good taste… We all get this inclination to create something based on something that inspired or inspires us. It maybe a beautifully crafted building, an abstract painting that made you pause, or a finely tuned piece of handwritten typography. Whatever it is, there was probably something made in the world that urged you to say something to yourself like “I want to make something like that”. For me I remember getting inspired by mid century art, especially the work of Mary Blair and Jim Flora, those were the artists that really inspired me to start making stuff. I’ve definitely been inspired by contemporary artists and illustrators, and I think that’s OK when you’re first starting out. I’m not suggesting to copy someone else’s work, that’s obviously the wrong thing to do. But can you emulate and be influenced by a style or an artist? I say of course, as you keep making work, that style and that artists voice will start to subside and be replaced by your voice and aesthetic.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail… Because you will, you’ll fail early and often, and that’s okay. Failing, learning from it, and growing from it is a big factor when it comes to making it as a creative professional, or even succeeding at creativity as a hobby. I think there is a part of my process that always involves a dose of failure, I might start a piece that doesn’t start out the way I want it to, but I stick with it and move things around until I get it to where I want it. Of course I have failed at a much higher level than a few drawing mistakes during the making of an illustration, but I want to succeed at my craft so badly that I don’t let that stop me. Being okay with failure and mistakes will, in the end, make you an experienced and battle tested creative.
  3. Do a lot of work… When I was going through school I wasn’t known for my talent or how great the stuff I making was, I was just known for my work ethic. I showed up every day on time, put my head down, and worked. I eventually developed a style and voice that teachers and students began to recognize, but the work had to come first. There were many students that were much more talented than I was (I am lucky enough to say that a few of these people are now my friends). But it’s safe to say that only a few of us worked hard, sometimes obsessively hard. That’s the only secret I’ve ever come across during my creative journey. I’ve always been more satisfied when someone compliments my work ethic instead of my aesthetic or style.

What do you love about art? Or creativity? What’s the one thing that has been made by another creative that inspires you? Find out what that is and start making, don’t worry about it being good or perfect, just start. Leave a comment blow and share what you’ve been working on or share what that spark has been for you. You can see all the things I’ve been making at