The Guardian, by Anne-Celine Jaeger
Where do great ideas come from? We asked artists, designers and writers, including Marina Abramović, Richard Quinn and Ben Okri, what gets their minds whirring
Judith Kerr, children’s author and illustrator
I’m not sure I’d call it creativity. It feels like getting on with the job. It feels like something you’ve got in your head that should be drawn. Walking often helps me to think of things or solve problems I’m stuck with, but mostly it’s just going up into that room and sitting down and then comes the “Now what?”
Practically all my ideas are autobiographical. The Tiger Who Came To Tea came about when I was trying to entertain my daughter with a bedtime story. Mog, the first of that series, was just about our cat. I’d never had a cat and always wanted one, and it was just about all the things he did, which to me were such a surprise. The Crocodile Under The Bed came about because my children used to think there might be something under the bed. Ideas come in bits and pieces.
Judith Kerr’s new book, Mummy Time, is published on 20 September.
Kengo Kuma, architect, V&A, Dundee
My creative sparks come at the moment when a meeting is over and everything has been decided and agreed on. Of course, during the meeting – typically, with clients and staff members – we brainstorm and discuss a lot, rapidly and with incentive. Even so, there are times right afterwards that I realise I was wrong and made bad decisions. Then I immediately call the people who were present and tell them I’ve changed my mind, with sincere apologies.
I don’t behave like a God-like architect. Being able to say sorry is key to being a designer, and can be a source of inspiration.
The V&A, Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, opens on 15 September, vam.ac.uk/dundee.
Tom Dixon, designer
It’s putting yourself into unfamiliar worlds that does it, looking at something from a naive perspective. I’m lucky enough to travel a lot. I go to the local museums and like being exposed to the worlds of sculpture or cooking, or music – anything that is not my core area of design.
For example, we have a restaurant in London, and when it started, I worked in the kitchen at times. You learn a lot from working in a team. Sometimes putting yourself in a junior position again gives you a different perspective. And sometimes it’s about learning adjacent or oblique skills that may not immediately feed into what I do. In the kitchen, you have a lot of very repetitive activities, like chopping, washing or grating. They become mechanical. You have to concentrate, but it becomes automatic, leaving the mind free to wander.
Marina Abramović, artist
I am always coming back to certain lessons that I have learned over the course of my career:
Lesson 1: The worst is the best. (A Sufi saying.)
Lesson 2: More and more of less and less.
Lesson 3: “What you’re doing is not important, what is important is the state of mind in which you are doing it.” (Constantin BrâncuȘi)
Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Lauren Child, children’s author and illustrator
There is something about movement that is very good for allowing my brain to go into free flow. I’m quite good at having thoughts when I’m driving or cycling or walking. I think you go into this place when you do something very physical and your brain starts to put together interesting thoughts. I also get this when doing something mechanical with my work, like collage. The act of cutting out pieces of paper, the intricacy and the concentration combined, allows my brain to pick up on other thoughts.
I often find myself staring out of the window. I think we assume that’s dead time, or an act of procrastination, when actually that time of just staring, when your brain goes into a slightly bored state, is quite important. In it, we start to notice things and put them together.
But if I get really stuck, I’ve learned not to just sit with it. If I’m working on a novel or picture book and I get downhearted, I go and do something different. I might start on a new story, or revisit one I started a while back. Sometimes I’ll draw. Sometimes the movement of the hand releases something else that’s stuck in my mind.
Richard Quinn, fashion designer
I like to try to find something that’s not on the internet. I go around lots of old bookshops. There are amazing charity shops in Walthamstow, east London that sell rare, limited editions. I like finding odd, obscure objects, so odd that when you type their name into the internet nothing comes up.
The collection I currently have in shops was inspired by a really obscure book about upholstery and fabrics from the 60s that featured bold florals, sort of Americana: camper-van florals. More recently, a picture of an artist covered in oil got me thinking about using an oil effect on shoes and bags. I like collecting a physical thing that you can touch, and turning it into something new.
Camille Walala, artist
Creativity is good in the morning. I take one hour for myself to just play around without any purpose or design in mind. I always carry a sketchbook with me, a pencil, some tape, a file with different-coloured paper, and things to collage with. Most of my work is based around graphic elements and colours, and I fill my sketchbooks with patterns and designs that I often refer back to. I love going for a coffee in that hour: I’ll spread out on the table, usually outside; or it might be when I’m travelling, when there is more freedom to be playful.
Tamara Rojo, artistic director, English National Ballet
I love going to see other art forms, especially theatre, and I’m an obsessive reader, not just of books but everything – magazines, newspapers, Twitter. I also love listening to the radio. My mind has a strange habit of remembering all kinds of information that often seems completely pointless, yet sometimes it all comes together to form this clear concept from beginning to end; and then it becomes a story that I feel has to be told. After that, all I have to do is convince everyone else to help me make it real. That’s usually the hardest part.
Ben Okri, author
I walk long distances. I walk to go through zones of the mind. I become empty and aware and I listen. I never know what I am listening for and then it comes, sometimes indirectly, sometimes as a stirring.
Creativity is our normal and fundamental way of being. It is everything else – our education, our social conditioning, our cultural mores, our upbringing – that imprisons our creativity. If you don’t believe me, watch a child at play. To them all things are possible because they have not learned that some things are impossible. We don’t need to learn to be creative. We need to unlearn not being creative.
Faye Toogood, designer
I am always most creative in a quiet and peaceful environment, somewhere I can escape the overload of the senses that we are all subjected to now. For me, being in nature and in particular the British landscape, with no distraction, is my main source of inspiration. Also, I have three young children, so at the moment I find their naivety and wide-eyed view on the world refreshing and unexpected. I can find inspiration in my girls’ drawings, what they collect on a walk and what they notice.
Wolfgang Tillmans, photographer
I find that the best ideas well up from the subconscious and knock on my “conscious” door. When I hear one knock for the third time, I know I must act. It happened like this with my series of photographs, Concorde. At the time it was in no way obvious that spending weeks around Heathrow and south London, looking out for the Concorde plane, would result in a strong work. But in the previous two years, the idea to do just that had popped into my mind on three or more occasions, without any outside cue. Listening to those ideas is important – to hear the faint voice of what you’re genuinely interested in, and filter out the loud noise of desire and vanity.