You might wonder why we’re bothering to write an article about creativity in a magazine devoted to tattoo artists.
Just because you can draw (or trace) or pull a line with the steadiest hand, doesn’t necessarily mean you are creative. Arthur Schawlow, winner of the Nobel prize in physics in 1981, was once asked what, in his opinion, made the difference between highly creative and less creative scientists. He replied, “The most successful scientists often are not the most talented. But they are the ones who are impelled by curiosity.”
Tattooing hasn’t always been that creative of an endeavor — in the early days, it was a “pick em and stick em,” mentality, and if you could copy a piece of flash, you’d have a happy client and a couple of bucks in your pocket. As the art form and the industry has evolved, tattoo artists have added the word “custom” to their shingle. Those sheets of classic flash are more a starting point for inspiration.
The key to creating and truly unique tattoo is something that you might associate with a scientist than an artist — call it innovation if you will; the essence of creativity begins with looking at things from different angles, solving problems and satisfying needs. With a tattoo, those requirements may have to do with placement, color or even something as intangible as how the design relates to the client’s personal experience.
Many people assume that creativity is a gift from above — either you have it or you don’t. Actually, creativity is more skill than inborn talent, and it is a skill that can be learned and cultivated. Creativity is easily defined — it is the process of generating new ideas. It is the same for aerospace engineers as it is for artists, whether they dabble in ink, paint or clay.
Tune the radio to a new station, take a different route to work, dye your hair a different color. As Frank Baum, wrote in the Scarecrow of Oz, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
Sounds simple enough, right? Put down your machine and take a breather. Here are three things you can do to cultivate your creativity.
In order to drum up unique ideas, you have to venture outside of your comfort zone. Google pioneered a concept of “80/20 time” that allowed engineers to tinker for 20% of their work time. It’s not enough to just want to be creative, you have to actively pursue it. If your schedule is packed solid with the technical part of doing, there’s no time for creative thinking. Give your brain a break, and set aside some time each day to doodle.
The act of doodling is thought to stimulate areas of the brain that may help you analyze information differently. Taking time to sketch and scribble your thoughts and emotions, either in words, pictures or designs, can lead you to new perspectives and trigger that, “Ah ha!” moment.
Take a break
Speaking of that lightning bolt of inspiration, focusing too intently on a task is the quickest path to a creative roadblock. When you step back and do something mundane or repetitive – shoot some hoops or play a few games of Mario Kart, you lighten your “cognitive load” and give your brain the space to be creative.
Embrace the wisdom of Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki (second cousin to Mr. Miyagi) who said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” You may be accomplished at a specific style of tattooing, but it’s never too late to recover the qualities of a “beginner’s mind,” to enjoy the freedom and spontaneity of being reborn into a child-like state of curiosity, without rules, without boundaries — without limits to creativity.