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Q&A | 09. { Finding Inspiration }

I had been working on this post for awhile now here and then, but I decided to pull all my notes together and write it up for todays Q&A after a television commercial caught both Danielle and my attention last night (more on that later in the post) 

Also, in relation to the topic of inspiration, we are starting up a weekly post called Elements of Inspiration that we going to post every Tuesday -- it will be focused on the things that we are inspired by and a few lines describing why they inspire us. So check back next Tuesday for the first one in the series. 


Inspiration is an incredibly powerful tool in any creative environment. I like to think of inspiration as an element of the spark that ignites an idea, mindset, or process. It's something that everyone can experience, from bankers to mathematicians, to filmmakers, painters, musicians, athletes and scientists --- it spans all walks of life and careers. Inspiration is seemingly intangible, yet it often helps our minds wrap themselves around creating tangible things. 

Even the process of finding inspiration itself can be rewarding. Sometimes in our search we stumble upon something that can lead us in a direction that we never imagined when we originally set out. 

I see inspiration everywhere I look. I see it in other peoples actions, personal stories and deeds as well as looking to other artists works in film, print, and design. I am also inspired by the harmony of art and science -- how almost two distinctly different mediums can run in parallel with each other yet at the same time be interwoven so tightly. For example, the process of writing code and algorithms builds the framework behind software like Photoshop, that then empowers artists to create without limitations. This to me is both amazing and inspiring; a perfect blend of science and art. 

Danielle and I try to surround ourselves with as much inspiration as we can - throughout our house, in our office, and even right down to the objects and things we carry and use on a daily basis. The pencil and pen I use to draw and sketch out ideas are ones that carry an intrinsic value to me. Maybe its the way they are designed, or how they feel in my hand -- but nonetheless they are reminders to me to keep inspiration close. There is also the music I listen to, the chairs we sit it, the things on our desks, on our desktop, our screen savers, the computers themselves -- the possibilities are endless. 


A question we often get asked is how and where to find inspiration. My favorite method is to try and look outside the medium that you are working in. For example, If you are making a short film piece, then it can be incredibly powerful to branch out ---- rather than pulling up the vimeo staff picks it can be vastly more powerful to look at other works of art. Lets use paintings for example. Two of my favorite artists are Caravaggio and Delacroix and the techniques they used like chiaroscuro (the use of light within the image) and sfumato (low contrast haziness) help take their paintings from oil on canvas to something that conveys an emotion, tone, or feeling. These same elements can be pulled from these works on art and be applied to the film, or creative piece that you are working on. They can influence they way you color grade, the framing and composition within the shots, and even the emotional tone of the piece itself. 

So the next time you are stuck and in need for some inspiration, take a moment to look in another medium. I listed off a collection of things I often find myself looking towards to gather the kindling to ignite new ideas. Some are specific and some are entirely broad, but I thought I would list them just for anyone that was interested: 

• ukiyo-e • hiroshige • fiction • science fiction • poetry  • architecture • graphic design • maps • typography • polaroids • mathematics • science • biology • flowers/plants/trees • furniture • semantics & semiotics • optics • film negatives • wood grain • flashlights • light bulbs • notebooks • notes • paper • plastic cameras • vintage toys • oil paintings • hitchcock • museums • flea markets • the local news • newsprint • pantone • 

 I encourage you to come up with your own list and keep it close to you so you can look at it from time to time if you get stuck in a creative rut, or you just need to add some new flavor into your work. 


We've all done it -- we've seen a color, an image, and object, or a film out there and it strikes a powerful emotional cord inside us -- we get up from where we are sitting bolstered by an upwelling and drive to go create something. This feeling is powerful,  it's the spark that is ignited by inspiration. 

That spark can lead us in many directions, it can be personally gratifying and define a body of fresh work and comes from the heart, but it can also be tricky, because if it is too influential, it can lead us to just copy or imitate the work that originally inspired us. While the term rings true "imitation is the greatest form of flattery"  if you take imitation to the level of "copying" it can impede you from creating something truly authentic to your own style, vision, and idiosyncrasies.  

Last night Danielle and I were sitting in front of the TV after watching the biggest loser on TV (yeah! we love that show) and as the next ad came on, our jaws dropped and we both turned and looked at each other with wide eyes... glad we got that DVR -- we rewound the ad and caught another glimpse - we both had sworn that it was the footage from our holiday video that we created back in 2009. 

We quickly pulled up our video and realized that the sequence of footage in the commercial was nearly identical to what we created nearly two years ago.

This struck up a healthy debate about inspiration vs. copying.... This is an ever present issue that is becoming more and more relevant in the world of digital media today.

Here are the two images below the LEFT is the Lenovo commercial and the RIGHT in the holiday video we created two years ago. 


Its a little uncanny how similar these two shots look, as well as the frame rate the Lenovo one was shot it as well as the movement and placement of objects on the table. I'll leave it up to you, were they inspired by this, or did they copy this?

To me, the goal is to find balance -- finding inspiration and being inspired by others in crucial in developing and evolving ones art form. The trick is, finding how to best utilize different sources of inspiration and incorporating them into your own work. I think the end goal is to use inspiration to help you creating something original and authentic to yourself and your work. 

A couple weeks ago I tweeted an amazing video that I stumbled upon called "Putting back the face into typeface" Its an interview with world renowned  typographer, designer and businessman Erik Spiekermann. In the beginning of the piece, he talks a bit about how he utilizes other typography out there that he uses as inspiration for his own. I really love his explanation on his process for being inspired by other work out there and then turning that in to your own original creations & ideas

You can find this part at 1:18 - 2:52 in the video.

He has some insightful explanations on how he thinks and how he utilizes inspiration. Its definitely worth a couple viewings. 

One of the main points that I got from watching this video is to use inspiration as a precursor to creating something, rather than while you are actually creating it. So when you do create, its from your mind, your ideas, and with your own hands -- rather than looking at another's work at the same time you are trying to create your own. 

Inspiration is everywhere - as in the example when looking at the Dieter Rams / Jonathan Ive design similarities. Its interesting to see how inspiration was translated from the products and philosophy by Dieter Rams into the modern tech products created by Apple. 

This is an example that represents that there is a fine line between copying and inspiration. And it all comes down to how others percieve your work and also your intentions when creating it. I found these images below which to me reflect the idea of inspiration, but it can also be argued by some that they are copied. To me these are products that inspired other products that have different uses. The Braun floor mounted speaker inspired elements of the iMac. The Braun handheld radio inspired the iPod. Although similar, these reflect inspiration rather than imitation. The ideology behind them is similar, yet they are in different mediums and for different uses. 


Inspiration is indeed a powerful tool and it can be something that helps take your work, mindset, and ideology to the next level. Always go for inspiration over imitation and the authenticity of your work will shine. 

I am excited to start up the Elements of Inspiration series because it represents many of the things that have come to inspire Danielle and me in our business & daily lives over the years. So check back next Tuesday for the first post :) 



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Reader Comments (7)

Yeah one of Lenovo's designers definitely pulled your idea. But I would consider it more of a flattery than anything else because your video is great, and Lenovo is showing many different forms of creativity. They also pull motion sequences from many different semi-popular clips for the spot. Now if they had ripped the whole concept and repeated everything then I would be getting legal on the phone, but it's just a portion so take it as a compliment.

Thanks for the great post on inspiration vs. copying! I really enjoyed it.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthehalvo

Lol do you want kill the apple fan geek ? i think some fan will cry if they see them computer look like old tv or ipod look like old radio :)

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchâteau de la loire

Casey I enjoyed reading your thoughts on inspiration. It truly is more powerful than one can imagine.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax Lopatin


Great to hear you enjoyed the post on inspiration -- agreed, definitely a powerful tool.

May 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterCasey L. Warren

good stuff, guys... keep it coming!

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterryan koral

Really interesting post (and loved the video!). Have you read the "How to Steal Like an Artist" posts that were going around a while ago. Really great read along this same line of thought about where ideas and creativity comes from. http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Pick

This graphic is stupid, especially the iMac one. iMacs and Apple's all-in-one computers have existed since their beginning and been through drastic design changes. The similarity with whatever this Braun product is is most likely completely coincidental.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlarry

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