Creativity Corner The Creative Process

The Creative Process – Meet James Davidson

May 13, 2013

I think we can safely now call it an ongoing category🙂

For new readers:
Much has been written about The Creative Process, which in its purest form is simply a way of solving a problem. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Creativity and its process, contrary to popular belief, is not just reserved for artists and designers. I believe that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding the numerous ways of the creative process. I will invite people to share their own personal creative processes with us and hope this will help you with identifying your own.

Today’s guest contributor is no other than the talented and slightly bonkers (in a good way) James Davidson. I met James a few weeks ago at a talk he held at The Hoxton Hotel and instantly fell in love (you know what I mean:-) He oozes creativity and brilliance so in typical Tina fashion I pounced on him with my request for a post on his creative process. Luckily he said: err, yes!

James, 34, is a former creative turned editor-in-chief of We Heart, which began as a personal blog around 2009 and now has a team of 5 and is one of the UK’s most popular online magazines.

‘We Heart is inspired by creators, makers and daydreamers, and explores the intersections between arts and culture, lifestyle, living and travel.’

James, who was nominated for “Most up-and-coming journalist/blogger” has transformed We Heart from a personal blog, which won Best Design Blog 2010 at the London Design Festival, into an online magazine with an ever-expanding team and ever-increasing profile. He’s driven by a desire to create innovative and engaging content, ensuring that We Heart is not one of the countless sites that regurgitate similar content. James is passionate about the experience of travel, covering hotels, bars, restaurants and shops that defy the norm. We Heart recently published its first book, a move into the offline world that James hopes will see We Heart grow as a brand.

Enough said. Over to James!

The Creative Process – James Davidson

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The infinite loop of inspiration

When you think of a process, you expect a diagram – maybe something that’s conditioned into us in the science classroom’s of our youth. I racked my brains, long and hard, to dream up a complicated network of arrows, boxes and motivational-manager-speak buzzwords, but could only come up with the lemniscate – aka, the infinity symbol.

The creative process, for me, is an ongoing chain reaction: inspiration, research, doing, publishing, inspiration…

I’ve had a quote on We Heart since it was relaunched as an ‘online magazine’ at the end of 2011: You can find inspiration in everything* (*and if you can’t, look again!). It’s less a quote, and more the title of a Paul Smith book about the designer’s life, loves and passion. For me, the creative process begins and ends with inspiration; with everything in the middle being your ability to draw fruits from yours. Never trust a creative who’s reluctant to share theirs. They’re probably ripping someone off.

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Music is the fuel for my creative process

When I was asked to share my ‘creative process’, my initial thoughts were ones of trepidation, of fear – I’m a fraud, I’m not a creative. I used to be: I worked in graphic and web design for a long time, eventually graduating to campaigns and marketing. I started making music around the age of 12 or 13 but, such is my workload, even that passion is on hold. I now just edit press images, occasionally take the odd few, and post them on my website – oh, I write a little too, but that’s not creative, is it?

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess6

I love buying old magazines on eBay to step outside the digital cycle of regurgitated content. This is a spread from a 1970s issue of Oz magazine

It was pointed out to me that I was being a little hard on myself, pointed out that I design the website in question, design the partnerships we run with various international brands and, if my recent nomination for best up-and-coming journalist was anything to go by, that my writing wasn’t too shabby. The thing is though, I don’t think that I have a proper job – it’s too much fun. Writing about what I want, doing what I want… I sometimes forget that thousands of people are inspired daily by the content that we produce. I forget that I’m a cog in the chain of inspiration that keeps me going, makes me want to get out of bed in the morning.

So, as simple and un-process-like my creative process may be (or I may see it), I wanted to share with you five top tips that keep me going, keep me creative and keep me inspired: 

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess3

Travel is such an essential part of my inspiration process, nothing can replace wandering unchartered streets with a camera as a visual notebook

Step outside the digital world

In my line of work, so much is recycled. Just a quick browse through a handful of the most popular design blogs on the internet will demonstrate this – it’s so easy to fall into a cycle of perpetual regurgitation of PR-led content.

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess4

Equally, trawling through old photos back at HQ is a great chance to be re-inspired

Get outside, see the real world, find content that nobody else is writing about. Travel is vital for what I do, but equally talking to local designers, artists and makers is utterly essential. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting at your desk and repurposing the same content over and over, and I’m not saying I don’t personally fall foul of it myself from time to time, but forgetting the internet for a little while is the best way to make the internet a more interesting read for everyone else.

Equally, a little more digging in the digital world can also pay off…

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Pulse for iPad is my news reader of choice, over 70 of my favourite websites can easily be browsed regularly

Crate digging for the 21st century

Rarely did anything give me as much pleasure when I was a kid, as digging through crates of records looking for rare gems. Theoretically little has changed, although the format of said crate digging is wildly more advanced.

It can be so easy to be reactive in creating content than it is proactive – emails constantly drop into your inbox, brimming with pre-made content, countless blogs and websites post content that’s so easy to repurpose… but where’s the fun in that?

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess8

Outsider art inspires me so much, this is from an outdoor art space in Detroit called The Heidelberg Project. A local resident started creating it all from the junk that people had left behind when vacating the area – these things are often so much more inspiring than the works of established artists, because they’re real, and from the heart

Get inspired – but dig a little deeper. When I see a photo series or an exhibition doing the rounds on design websites, I get in touch with the creative, find out more, flick through the proverbial crate of records with more intensity. The same photo series may be regurgitated on a hundred different sites, you’re not going to trump anyone by showing the same deck of cards – publish an interview, a retrospective, ask the creative about their inspirations. Explore. Engage.

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess7

It’s important to look the other way sometimes, this was on the floor outside a show at this year’s Milan Design Week and I loved it so much it inspired me to run a post called “Not Milan Design Week 2013” – a collection of the non-design-related madness going on all around the show. It was probably my favourite post from this year’s design week

Don’t take yourself anything too seriously

Well, this little nugget does pretty much what it says on the tin. I’m not a doctor, or a pilot… I’m a curator of ideas, visions and creativity. I’m a creator of content to inspire. I’m not going to win a Nobel Prize for this, ergo I’ve no need to act like I will. There’s nothing worse than po-faced creatives who think their work changes lives. It doesn’t, get on with it, have a laugh.

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess9

Another ‘outsider’ source of inspiration for me is toilet graffiti. Or ‘crap graffiti’ – having my iPhone at the ready to snap subversive pearls of wisdom is an ongoing source of thinking differently

Structure is dead, long live structure

Routine is everything and nothing: having a set way of doing things is essential, but do things your own way, and mix it up as often as you can. Being bored is the worst possibly deterrent to creativity.

I’m woeful in the morning, so fill my time with browsing websites, reading magazines and sorting through images I’ve taken as visual notes. I bookmark, file, request further information, file again… sure, there’s a structure to what I do, but it’s my structure. There’s no 9am clocking in, but equally there’s no 5pm clocking out. But for me, that’s vital to creativity – freedom.

I’d love to advise on methods, processes and procedures that work, but the most important thing is to find your own way of working and to fit it around the things that keep you inspired.

Keep moving

Finally, DON’T STAND STILL. Got comfortable in your structure, your processes, your style of writing or designing? Rip it up, and start again. Nothing stifles creativity like getting bored. 

jamesdavidson_creativeprocess10

A sneak peak of the new version of We Heart. It’s vital for me to keep changing, reinventing and never standing still – you need to stay enthusiastic and switched onto what you do

Whether it’s a good thing or not, We Heart is in a constant state of reflux – tinkering, reworking, redesigning… they’re things that may seem minor to the casual observer – hell, they probably don’t even notice – but the important thing here is that I keep it fresh. For myself.

Whenever you start to get comfortable, is always the moment you get complacent. Surprise yourself, re-find yourself – get out, look at what other people, in other sectors and industries are doing. Think about how you can apply new passions into what you already do.

If I knew what I was going to be doing in a years time, I’d give it all up now.

There’s little else to say but a huge thank you to James for taking the time to share your creative process with us. Hope everyone has a good week.

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35 Comments

  • Reply michaela May 14, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I’ve been a follower of WeHeart for some time – and really like a lot of stuff James covers – I love the fact that as well as design, he covers fine Art, street Art and contemporary music too. The Fine Art pieces I particularly enjoy – there’s a few exhibitions that have nearly slipped off my radar until I spotted them on WeHeart. x

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      We Heart was one of the first blogs I ever read. I remember being in real awe of them and thinking… that’s so cool and professional!!
      I also like that they cover many subjects… always really interesting!

      Loved that James showed a little sneak preview of the new site. It always looks fresh and never dates as they change fairly frequently. x

      • Reply James Davidson May 28, 2013 at 10:38 pm

        Thanks guys – for me it’s just important to cover what interests me and hope that it interests other people, that way I can stay in love with it and keep the passion in place. Glad you like the diversity – much more to come with the new site (which already looks different than the sneak preview above)!

  • Reply michaela May 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

    P.s nearly forgot to say – really like the look of the new look site – esp the logo – which I think does look a bit street Art inspired and totally suits the content. Looking forward to seeing it when it appears magically! x

  • Reply Nicola May 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    How wonderful to think that you don’t have a proper job because you’re enjoying yourself so much, when you’re in that groove it’s the place to be!

    Thanks for all the inspiration and information, love we heart and pulse x

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Being in the Zone, in whatever we do, is the best feeling. When I get there, usually with Tennis or Sports it feels like magic.

      I must say I find this more difficult with work. My creative zone comes and goes. However I love what I do, love blogging and don’t feel I have a job either BUT still am not in the Zone (YET).
      xx

  • Reply Louise - 30s Magazine May 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I recognize a lot of what James says. I also try to be different from the other bloggers here in the Netherlands by featuring other subjects. And if I do cover the same, I make sure that I photograph it myself. I think 80% of my hotel reviews are my personal photos and my personal experience and angle.

    As to structure, I also have my own structure, and that is not from 9-5. I can’t be creative within limits or constraints. Freedom is a prerequisite.

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      You’re certainly different from many of your fellow bloggers:-) In fact, you are a little like a magazine.

      Having original photography is key for me too but foremost having one’s unique voice makes us all different and stand out.
      James points resonated with me too. Structure is important. I also call it accountability. For example, I take my blogging schedule very seriously.
      I feel accountable to my readers.

      Ahem, what’s 9-5… think last time I experienced that was in 1990:-)

      For me,

  • Reply Helen May 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    So much of this struck a chord with me. We Heart is a site I admire a lot so I found it interesting to hear James’s behind the scenes thoughts on what he does.

    A really inspiring post.

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      With me too. I feel so privileged to have all my guest contributors inspire me and others and share their process here. I learn so much and am always
      surprised how different, yet similar it is!

  • Reply design elements May 15, 2013 at 10:33 am

    this post is simply an inspiration. thank you, Tina

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      You’re welcome. Glad it struck a chord with you.

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey May 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I am so pleased that James didn’t worry about providing diagrams & flowcharts etc. Nothing turns me off more 😉

    Interesting that it says James “is a former creative turned editor-in-chief of We Heart.” He is of course still very much a creative.

    The infinity loop is, for me, the best thing about this post and the idea of an an ongoing “chain reaction” works for me. It has a structure to it, but isn’t so prescriptive that it stifles creativity.

    When I set out to blog on Walnut Grey, I was determined it keep my content fresh and original. I certainly didn’t want to regurgitate anything from other blogs or mags and where I might write about a popular topic, e.g. Milan, I aim to do it in my own way. This is so important to me and something I’m always looking out for when reading other blogs.

    And thank you James for saying “there’s nothing worse than po-faced creatives who think their work changes lives.” That is so true and having lived in London for quite some time, I do believe the design industry there needs to lighten up a bit. I often find creative people too serious and overtly full of themselves.

    I’m at the stage now where I believe Walnut Grey could be a lot bigger than it is. I just don’t know how to take that next step, though part of it may be stepping outside the digital world as you say.

    Thanks for the insights James & thanks Tina for having James on board the CP Express 🙂

    Gxx

    PS. Writing is perhaps the most creative endeavour of them all 😉

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Hahaha. You’ve obviously never met James, haha! No flowcharts and diagrams anywhere to be seen:-)

      You know, I noticed that too.. “is a former creative turned editor-in-chief of We Heart.” I think that editor-in-chief sounds posh and indicates the head of..
      but they can still be a creative, so thank you for mentioning this.

      Your blog is unique and one of my favourites. It certainly has your voice plastered all over it and although we often disagree on design aesthetics, I ALWAYS
      look forward to checking in and being seduced by Mr Walnut Grey!

      The debate of designers taking themselves too seriously is an interesting one. In general, defo in London, I would agree. But true creatives/designers can be the most
      humbling of all. They are just quietly creative and I find those the most appealing ones.

      Maybe James has an idea or thought on how you could expand Walnut Grey…

      …”having James on board the CP Express”…. totally love that! From now on I will refer to my series as the CP express (with your permission)

      Thanks G xx

      • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey May 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

        Ha. Of course you can refer to it as the CP Express. I’m honoured 😉 And if James has any thoughts on how I could expand, I’d be most grateful.
        And I do agree, the truest creators & designers are often the most humble. That’s what struck me about Ilse or someone like Lee Broom when I met him. Just nice people! xx

        • Reply tina May 17, 2013 at 9:40 pm

          Thanks G.. I’ve already been using it:-)

          Here’s to the humble creators and designers xx

    • Reply James Davidson May 28, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      Glad you liked it Gerard, your blog looks great – and it’s nice to see good quality originally written content too. You’re right, writing is creative – it can just feel like you’re not physically creating something, I guess that’s from the making/doing background I have.

      And, what is this flowchart thing you speak of? 🙂

  • Reply Judith May 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    “Get outside, see the real world”. Totally relate to that! Thanks Tina and James!

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Pleasure. You get out a lot, ie… to Berlin next weekend.. see you there x

  • Reply Chi @ 106 May 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Hello, James! 😀
    Yet another fantastic creative (un)process in the bag – LOVED it!

    “The thing is though, I don’t think that I have a proper job – it’s too much fun.”
    I heartily disagree – sounds to me like you’ve found your true calling – congratulations!!! 😀

    I’m currently reading Flash Foresight by Daniel Burrus and, so far, the one thing that has resonated with me the most has been: “Go opposite (look where no-one else is looking to see what no-one else is seeing do what no-one else is doing).” All the points you’ve made above perfectly illustrate that.

    My favourites are your habit of buying/reading old magazines and “crate digging for the 21st century” – brilliant!

    As a student, I used to spend hours in my university library leafing through old magazines. Sadly, I didn’t keep it up after I graduated but you’ve inspired me to not be quite so hasty in recycling the ones I have and to take it up again.

    Thanks for the introduction to James and his blog, Tina – definitely one to add to my virtual reading list! 😀 x

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      I must get a copy of FF- it does sound fascinating…

      “crate digging for the 21st century” was also one of my favourites. As a magazine junkie I do look at old issues but there’s always new ones coming out so I get distracted.
      Certainly one point I will re-visit

      We all know my collection of magazines. A good ‘structure’ would be to go back and take a look at the first year of publication..

      I’m sure you’ll get many happy hours reading We Heart. Totally up your street! x

    • Reply James Davidson May 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Chi – kind words, glad you enjoyed it and my words struck a chord. Honoured to be on your virtual reading list 😉

  • Reply Doris May 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    My goodness, I couldn’t stop reading this as James is so inspiring. I love the non-process attitude not only to the creative process but to what seems to be his life. I especially love that he doesn’t think he has a proper job! Just brilliant. Thanks James and Tina. xD

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Love all my readers. It seems you all resonate with the non-process attitude – you lot are a free range bunch! Love it!!!
      You’re welcome x

  • Reply leah of sang the bird May 16, 2013 at 6:13 am

    “Not Milan Design Week 2013”, this is fabulous. Thanks Tina and James for an inspirational Creative Process. There is a lot that James wrote that resonated with me: “Don’t take {yourself} anything too seriously”, & “Routine is everything and nothing”. Brilliant pearls of wisdom, I think I need these quotes on my wall! Thanks xxx

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      I don’t take myself too seriously and often think about Routine.. sometimes I need it – other times I rebel against it and just want to be a free spirit. I tend to listen to my gut and be guided!
      xx

  • Reply Catherine May 16, 2013 at 6:24 am

    So inspiring James, I especially like the “don’t take yourself & others to seriously. I think mixing things up and not sticking to the same way of doing things is key and if something doesn’t work, change it. Thank you for the insights and the introduction to We Heart Tina. x

    • Reply tina May 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Personally I find everything James wrote inspiring and the idea of constantly re-inventing, change up, mix up stuff is so important. I’m not sure I do enough of it.. I think sometimes I stay in my comfort zone for too long! That part really hit home to me.

      Glad you got something out of it. xx

  • Reply 5 things I’ve learnt from… | Diary of an Interior Novice May 17, 2013 at 7:10 am

    […] James Davidson provided an insightful view of his “Creative Process” over on COLOUR LIVING. […]

  • Reply Lena May 17, 2013 at 9:36 am

    What an inspiring creative process post! It’s been said before, but I will say it again. I can relate to so many things he pointed out that reading it just lifted my mood! Thanks Tina and James!

    • Reply tina May 17, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Aww, that’s great. I hope this will make for a good weekend. Look forward to seeing you next weekend in Berlin x

  • Reply Holly May 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Great guest Tina! James, thank you for sharing your thoughts here 🙂

    I’m a fan of We Heart, it’s on my reader list and I refer to it quite often for inspiration and to keep up with interesting news in fields I am interested in. So great to learn more about it from this point of view. This post confirms that We Heart is a work from the heart, and there’s no better work than that.

    Wonderful advice for the creative process, especially “keep moving”. That’s a hard one to do because I think we can often and easily mistaken comfort as the ultimate goal. I have taken notes 😉

    Xx.

    • Reply tina May 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Hello you. Can’t wait to see you next week in Berlin.

      I think it’s so refreshing to hear from the people we follow/admire how they think and go about creating. What makes this series nice for me is that they’re all
      really lovely people, humble, creative and very generous!

      I share your thoughts about ‘I think we can often and easily mistaken comfort as the ultimate goal”… moving forward is sometimes scary xx

  • Reply James Davidson May 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Wow – thanks to everyone for your kind words, only just had the chance to catch up and leave a comment to thank you all properly.

    Glad that my discordant structure has resonated with you guys, I’m so happy that Tina gave me the opportunity to step outside what I do day to day, and think about how I work. It’s certainly made me think more, and hopefully given me impetuous to be more creative in myself.

    X

  • Reply 5 things I’ve learnt from… | Diary of an Interior Novice January 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    […] James Davidson provided an insightful view of his “Creative Process” over on COLOUR LIVING. […]

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