How to Find Creative Inspiration

We asked TRG Reality senior photographer Thomas Cook to share his inspiration process. Here’s what he had to say. 

From time to time as creatives, most of us need some sort of “pick-me-up” or jolt of outside influence to get our minds heading in the right direction again. So, where can you find these punches, these light switches, these hits of wonderment to give yourself a restart? Well, I believe we can find them everywhere.

The simple, obvious places like books, magazines, websites, and art venues often provide enough energy to get us going. Nature can often provide a good amount of sensory replenishment, too. But sometimes inspiration can come from less obvious places. 


For me, light is one of the biggest sources of inspiration. I regularly find myself caught up in the beauty of light – the way it spills onto the floor in the morning; the way it flares through the leaves on the trees in the afternoon; the bright reflections and shapes created when it bounces around in the city streets. Light both interests and baffles me in the same moment. It draws my eye and captures my thoughts. The simplicity with which light flows through a scene while creating complex shapes and patterns emphasizing textures and tones always leaves me stupefied. Just when I think I've seen the most amazing thing light can do, it reappears as something more brilliant once again.


In the same vein, several other intangibles inspire me from time to time. Morning often brings new ideas to mind. Be it good or bad, something about the start of a new day sparks my creative interest. The rush hour is another time during which I find inspiration. It might have something to do with the fact that I’m literally stuck in one place and can’t do anything with my ideas or the beautiful images I see on the side of the road. Maybe it's just because my mind has an unadulterated moment to wander limitlessly while my body is buckled down inside of a steel box, rubbered to the road. Regardless, I often find myself working through complex photo shoots in my head. They often happen in crazy places with elaborate sets or models dressed to the nines wandering freely in perfect light. They definitely represent places I would rather be than stuck in traffic on the inbound east shoreway along Lake Erie. 


Color is another intangible that sparks ideas every now and then, like those uncommon blues found in surprisingly odd places or a series of grays varying just the right amount to bring graphic interest to a flat space. Sometimes, a mix of contrasting colors reminds me of a place I’ve visited or a friend I haven’t seen in years. Color can provide just the spark I’ve been missing and didn’t even know I needed.


Sometimes, a slow walk through my neighborhood (and I emphasize slow) brings new ideas to mind. Something about the slow pace of a stroll through familiar territory always causes me to see new things I haven’t noticed before. Maybe it’s the extra focus I have because I’m not watching out for obstacles - physical or otherwise. Maybe it’s the fact that I look around more because I’m moving more slowly than usual, trying to occupy the extra time. Maybe I get deeper in thought because I can’t gauge how long I’ll be out walking. Whatever the cause, the result is almost always the same -- refreshment. 


A long, deliberate feast with friends, or a quick bite from a dirty diner during a weekend road trip -- these meals are good enough to push some fresh thoughts into my brain. I catch myself creating characters and scenarios out of the people and expressions I notice along the way. Some of them turn out to be downright delicious!


Change, be it good or bad, can be a hidden source of creative energy, too. Even the simplest changes, like a haircut, a new restaurant, a break in my daily routine or a new route, spark ideas and motivate me to make some work. And, when it comes to big changes, many times I feel like I’ve had a complete creative reset.

The bottom line for me with almost all inspirational situations is perspective: how I view what’s happening in the moment and how I can benefit from it. So, open your eyes, look around, and catch the moment in a new light. Maybe that new light will broaden your perspective and open your mind just enough to give you a fresh thought about an old idea.