Analogue Creativity

A blog post by Neal Merrell, Production Designer.

Much like the sweet warm sound of Vinyl, or the grainy imperfection of celluloid film, sometimes it pays to take a digital step backwards in order to gain a more authentic view or get into a more creative headspace.

Studies show the retention of knowledge is higher with written conten vs digital content and that art therapy has been proven time and time again to help relax and treat patients with a large list of ailments from dementia to childhood trauma. But in this blog, I will discuss how writing and taking a step back from the screen can help with creativity, problem solving, and organization.

I have practiced this “digital step backwards” since my first years in school. It has helped with everything from design, to writing and even to just simply clearing my head.

The first practice I learned that helped with organization and coming up with creative ideas was mind mapping. This creative form of brainstorming leads to a plethora of different tactics and practices which allows you to create ideas that could never come from a digital workflow.

You can find out how to practice techniques like mind mapping, free writing, forced connections, or story boarding here. A lot of the techniques I use aren’t on this page, but honestly, after learning so many of these different techniques it’s hard to remember each and every site. Your best bet it is to search for different exercises and techniques, try each one and see what works best for you. You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Another written practice I like to use is more so for design, animation and art that goes beyond the process of story boarding. For most projects these days, storyboarding is as far as you delve into drawing for a project. If you have the time I would suggest creating an interpretation for the project that has a hand made touch.

The way I practice that is by drawing out all the content I need, scanning it, throwing it into illustrator, and using an image trace on it. Then you can colourize it and do whatever else you want with it. Obviously you can get a similar effect on a tablet, but it will still look different than a truly hand drawn image.

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Another way to take a step back from the digital drawing board is to create your own filters and effects for illustrator and photoshop projects. This could come down to simply creating personalized textures, or printing, tinkering, and rescanning images. One way I have used the latter is by printing an image, soaking it in water, letting the colour run, then spraying it with a bleach compound, letting the image dry and rescanning the image. What you’re left with is a signature style that can’t quite be replicated by a computer.

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Lastly I want to talk about some written exercises that can help you clear your mind and relax, which is the best creative booster of all.

Dear Diary; I have found that the best way to truly clear your mind and best dissect the day’s events is by writing down your day in a journal or a diary. This isn’t even necessarily something that you have to keep. Throw it away if you want, it is completely about the process. I’m seriously bad at keeping up to date with this one, but on the days that I do, my mind is much clearer and ready to start creating.

Try practicing some of these techniques with your coworkers or even on your spare time and watch your creativity, organizational skills and memory retention flourish. If you say "to hell with it, this is way too complicated", just take a quick minute or two and draw something in detail that's sitting on your desk. I promise you will feel much more relaxed and rejuvenated afterward.


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Neal Merrell

Neal Merrell