Anthony Burrill has been exhibiting his work in galleries across the world for over 15 years, finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I read his book Make it Now! to discover how I too could unleash my creativity. Follow these top tips to do the same.
By Margaret Gray
1. Change your daily routine and look at the world through fresh eyes
In order to think up new and exciting projects, Burrill lets his mind and his body wander in the world. A walk in a new neighbourhood or a weekend trip can give you a different outlook on your surroundings. “I’m constantly looking out for examples of interesting typefaces and graphic images”, says Burrill, “seeing new things helps to spark off new ideas.”
2. Document everything, take photographs, collect things and keep mementos
When Burrill was young, he used to collect keepsakes from his family travels in scrapbooks – leaflets from museums; tickets for plays, art galleries, and historic sites; receipts from restaurants; photos of everyday landscapes and road signs. Over time he built up a collection of ephemera that continue to inspire his work. Burrill believes that “soaking up new influences is an important part of forming your creative DNA”.
3. Be resourceful
When Burrill began his career as an artist, he couldn’t afford a computer, so he had to find new and inventive ways to make things. “It’s much better to use what you have around you then to spend lots of money producing something” says Burrill, “it’s about being clever with what you have and seeing the benefits in the restrictions you have.” It may seem counterintuitive, but limiting yourself may give your creativity more room to flourish.
4. Keep your phone at arm’s length
While social media is a great way to show off your work, it’s not the best way to stay focused and avoid distraction. Burrill checks his email just three times a day during planned, short answering sessions. This way, he stops his online activity from ruling his day, avoids procrastination and keeps his concentration. Shutting your phone off for the majority of the working day can prevent you from wasting time and help you be more creative.
5. Give yourself deadlines
Deadlines may sound scary, but they can actually be a valuable incentive to get to work and activate your creative impulses. Plan to have something to show for your long day of thinking and daydreaming. This will force you to find inspiration in your immediate surroundings and allow you to feel accomplished. Burrill uses this technique to motivate himself: “when a deadline is approaching it concentrates my mind and I become very focused on getting everything finished in time.”
6. Forget what you’ve done in the past
You may have already created some great work in the past, and you should be proud of that, but it is important to face forward and keep innovating. Getting stuck in older ideas can trap you in a repetitive loop. Burrill believes that “you really need to have a process of creative renewal so that you’re not endlessly remaking the same picture… that’s a trap that illustrators can drop in to.” Try not to limit yourself to your most common theme, or even your chosen medium – venture out and be more versatile.
7. Say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’
After leaving art school, this became Burrill’s mantra – and still is. “Sometimes opportunities come along disguised as something else, you need to learn to look beyond the obvious”, he says. A positive attitude and openness to new projects could lead you to your next creative project.
8. Build your creative network
Working in isolation can be both difficult and dull. Burrill values his creative network immensely as a source of inspiration. His fellow artists teach him new styles and push him to take risks. “Building your creative network starts with your contemporaries, your fellow practitioners of the future. These people will form the core of your creative community, from which a rich ecosystem of creativity will develop.”
9. Remember that conformity is the enemy of creativity
As important as it is to be familiar with what’s going on around you, it is also essential to maintain your individuality as a creator. Burrill works hard at this delicate balance, always keeping in mind that “as soon as you start doing as you are told and following the rules you stop being truly creative.” He knows that “unconventional people are ingenious and inventive”, and always strives to be the “oddball” amongst the crowd.
10. Optimism, energy and enthusiasm make everything happen
One of Burrill’s best-selling posters reads: “Optimism is not always dumb”. The impact of a positive approach to a project is severely underrated. If there is passion and optimism at the core of a project, it is bound to succeed. If you have the energy to make it now, and make it new, you are already on the road to being more creative.
More about the author
'If you’re stuck for an idea, have a big decision to handle or need a new perspective on a problem, here are some approaches for thinking, communicating and creativity. An upbeat guide that anyone can use to help with the big and small challenges we face every day.’ Anthony Burrill
A life-affirming guide to new thinking, creative problem-solving and getting things done from graphic artist Anthony Burrill. Full of inspiration and ideas, his best-loved prints as well as new work, this book will get you thinking bigger and better and recharge your creativity.