5 Imagination Building Tips For Visual Storytelling  

Explore what presses your imagination button 

Do you sometimes struggle with your imagination? Do you sit down and try to create your masterpiece only to discover you have 'imagination block'? Rubbish isn't it! In this post I want to share with you some tips and simple techniques to help stretch your imagination and take it to new places in the pursuit of new ideas.

Those ideas might encompass single pieces of work or complex overarching themes that hold greater bodies of work together. But first I think it’s important to explain why imagination matters in the creative process.
Why does imagination matter?
Imagination for me is the single greatest tool I cultivate in my creative kit. Without imagination, I lack the ability to creatively innovate. But for years I tied my head in knots for attempting to come up with ideas that were 100% original.
Innovation is difficult.
However, as my design career developed I learnt to see the potential for imagination growth as a series stepping stones.  
I learnt  see to that developing my imagination could be the process of building on ideas that have come before my own and it could help me to shift my own personal perspective of the world into a place it’s never been before.
This unlocked quite a few doors for me. It relieved the pressure of always having to start at the beginning of something and I started paying attention to my imagination as thing I could work to improve on in the long term and how I could make it stronger and more effective.
Imagination is personal
What you dream up can only be defined and given form  if you allow it. You are the only one who can. You have the power to manifest your ideas into something real or discard them. If that doesn’t illustrate how empowering imagination can be I don’t know what can.
I believe we all have an imagination button that when pressed, it starts a chain reaction of mental events that eventually becomes our own machine of creative industry. The trick is getting that button working and it takes something different in all of us for that to happen.
Nothing sparks my imagination and my desire to create new ideas more than the cinema. I gaze in awe, under the spell of an army of talented people and their collective imaginative efforts to bring stories to the big screen.
What is so endlessly fascinating about imagination is where exactly does it come from? You can’t hold it, you can’t see it, you can’t touch it and you can’t hear it or taste it. And yet we have the potential to imagine impossible things at times we least expect.
We have the power to daydream which can lead to inspiration and give way to imagination. Are we actually in control of our imagination or are there higher hands at work? That might sound a bit wizardy and mystical, but for something that feels so intangible at times, it can have a massive impact on our lives.
Imagination comes into it’s own when you allow it to stray beyond the boundaries of familiarity and let it work on making you feel something.
How to make unique connections with things that get your imagination flowing
There are a an infinite number of ways you can feed your imagination and this post would take a lifetime to write if we explored them all. There are lots of blogs that have already written about imagination in generic terms. Instead I am going to focus on the things I have found useful from the perspective of visual art and storytelling.
1. Do your research
Never underestimate the power of research. Learning something new can take your imagination to new places. Connecting something you have learnt that is fresh and new with something you already know can be like lightning. Try picking a topic you know a little about and Google it. Now see if you can move 10 clicks away from it, based on the information you find on the pages. Finally, compare your first step with your 10th and consider a scenario that could link them together. I chose:

Graphic Notation ... which got me to ... Ruby Slippers!

image source: smithsonian.com

From these two images I imagined that the first was a floor plan of a power station being fuelled by an army of dancers in red ruby slippers and the floor plan illustrates the routes the dancers take through the station. The creative possibilities of the ruby slippers image influenced the way I see the graphic notation image allowing my imagination to create a new relationship between both pictures. From a visual storytelling point of view, I now have a framework in which to build on.
If this was a scene in a film, I could now begin to imagine what kind of graphic props I would need to design like factory signage, notice board ephemera, packaging and logos.​
There are so many other places to research in addition to the internet as well. Don't forget libraries, archives, galleries, museums, shops. Anywhere that houses collections of information.
2. Keep Post-it-Notes 
Keep notes. Keep lots of them. Write down all the weird and wonderful observations you make using post-it-notes and find a place to stick them up. I have a wall in the studio dedicated to this:
This may seem like organisational chaos to you. Actually it is, because imagination is chaotic energy. It can explode from nowhere and wait to be harnessed and organised. The simple act of writing down quick fire thoughts as they come to you means you can mentally discard them and allow your brain to make space for new ones.
The trick here is to collect all the thoughts you would usually dismiss; conversations you have with others, flights of fancy, hopes, dreams, obsessions and passions, wish lists, succeses, failures, secrets and lies, fictional or factual. The list can be endless. Now you can move your notes toward one another to find interesting connections.
You can then archive your notes in books if you wish, or a drawer, or simply leave them all on a wall.  Whatever works for you. It can sometimes also help to come back to ideas after a period of time as it can promote a shift of perception and your imagination might thank you for it.
The key thing is to not be concerned with how silly or outlandish things can get. It is often in times of perceived nonsense that breakthroughs emerge and something new presents itself. Imagination thrives on the first draft of ideas.
3. Make connections between unrelated but familiar things
Let's say you are looking to illustrate an interesting title for something or you want to imagine a new world? Then the best place to start is with the one you know. Make a list of everyday things. It can be anything you like; music, food, space travel, fireworks, favourite tv, monsters, footwear etc.  In the illustration below I have chosen:

Colour-Profession-Action-Character-Object-Place.

Now think of an example for each one of the things you have listed and connect up two or more of them to make a sentence or title.
For example: The yellow unicorn box burst in to flames when it reached vault 37
COLOUR - OBJECT - ACTION - PLACE
Repeat that process a few times so that you have lots of variations and connections You should hopefully end up with a few titles or sentences that look a little bit like this:
+ The People With the Holes In Them versus The Market Square Teapot Army
+ 20ft Cliff Diving Musicians play 'The Number Crunchers of Littleland'
+ Chocolate Getaway Cars outside the Redworld Detective Agency
+ The Face Borrowers upside-down in Orange Town
+ The Machine That Makes Machines attends Robot Dance Classes
+ The Endless Book Of Potato Recipes found in the Time Collector’s Coat
+ Jack’s Tangled Trousers walked to The Forest of Fancy Food
+ The Insect Orchestra plays for Aunty Grace in The Arctic Triangle
+ The Square Planets align for Yeti Parliament
+ The King Of Blue Things requests The Inkmongerer’s Last Pen
+ The Speed Cannon Fires Angry Nerd's Invisible Words
+ The Name Thief goes on Strictly Come Knitting
+ The Letter Eater joins Kevin’s Matchbox Club
+ The Breakfast DJ's Cardboard Disco
+ The Miniaturetron and The Juniper Cup
+The Lunchbox Skyships and the Missing Fruit Salad
+ The Star Collector's  Smudged House
+ Bernard Big legs meets The Lemon Hunter 
+ Doug, Shiela and the Thousand Smiles
Yeah I know, bit silly! But once you have these nonsensical sentences you can begin to refine them and put your imagination to work figuring out what on earth they could possibly mean? You might call this the first stages of world building and they offer imaginative solutions because they created by lots different elements positioned out of context . Enough ideas there for a lifetime's work.​

4. Train yourself to ask improbable questions and don’t be afraid to feel silly doing it.
The trouble with real life is that it makes so many demands on us being sensible all the time.  What happened to that childlike surrealism, curiosity and wonder that allowed us to imagine impossible things? Children join up dots with ease as they have not yet learnt to eliminate the extremes in the pursuit of a singular manageable truth that we as adults often occupy ourselves with seeking out.
Adult logic can often revise anything that is perceived to challenge order and sense and discard it. Well I say enough! Let's invite some child logic magic back in to our lives and we can do that by asking improbable and bizarre questions like:
+ What does yesterday sound like?
+ If I was a box, could I fly by flapping the lid?
+ Can water talk?
+ Do chairs feel the cold?
+ Do dragons get hot?
+ Is my Aunty battery operated?
+ If I had a million eyes could I see what's happening on Jupiter?
+ Do frogs sneeze?


​Create magic.


5. Get doodling
An obvious one this if you are a visual artist, but you would be surprised just how many creative people give up on the simple activity of taking your pen for a walk. Doodles really help. They are a visual recording of your wandering mind and an immediate pictorial interpretation of thought.
 Doodling really comes into it's own when you are engaging in another activity such as talking on the phone or watching television. Because your conscious mind is busy doing something else, your sub-conscious mind is let free to busy itself conjuring up patterns, shapes, words and icons that could help take your imagination to new places.
What inspires your imagination?​
I hope you find these techniques useful.  They are really just meant to be fun starting points toward feeling more inspired to take action with your ideas.  And when we are inspired, we can imagine anything we want.
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