Creativity Corner The Creative Process

The Creative Process – Meet Tim Milne

September 2, 2013

It’s time for another helping of The Creative Process.

After a quick summer break in August, it’s back and I’m delighted to feature Tim Milne from ARTOMATIC. I first visited ARTOMATIC in the late 90’s but only re-met with Tim a short while ago.

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.

Why not let Tim introduce himself.

The Creative Process – Tim Milne

Hello. Well, I suppose I better start by explaining what I do and what I’ve done, since I don’t regard myself as creative in the purest sense—like a designer or artist.

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I’ve run ARTOMATIC on and off for pretty much all of my career. It started out as a kitchen-table screen-printers that bridged the yawning chasm between creatives and printers by being curious and nurturing of other people’s creativity. In 1998, we opened a reference-library-cum-graphic-concept-store in Clerkenwell to give designers more choices from a building full of materials and samples. We also wanted to wave a flag for printing in the dawning digital age. It was about ten years too early, but that’s another story.

I published a series of prints, ilikeprinting and created a physical advertising channel, Matterbox. This year sees the first edition of a new publication about the nature and culture of objects—CONTAINER—a different take on the concept of a magazine—a collection of conceptual objects, rather than a printed book.

So, my creativity runs on two quite different levels.

On a day-to-day level, I’m a collaborative producer. I help designers and agencies manifest their ideas into real things that can be made (usually involving some element of printing). On a very different level, I’m fascinated by physical communications and their role in a digital age and I create vehicles to explore that idea.

As a producer and collaborator, I’m part of other people’s creative process, rather than my own, though there’s a common theme with everyone. Creativity is essentially the same whether you’re painting a picture or designing a building—it’s a journey from uncertainty to certainty. Ideas are the glint and they sparkle brightest before they’re subjected to tedious process of rationalisation and execution. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to make things that are quite big, in some nice colours and lots of them; execution demands specifics. So, the process is defining the specifics, which is about choices and problem solving.

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Machines demand specifics

Creativity and development are an anathema to manufacturers, because manufacturers (whether printing or widget-making or construction) only make money when they’re actually making stuff. Anything else is a nuisance. So, much of what I do is about narrowing down the choices into something I can take to a manufacturer and then, within a narrow framework of understanding his/her processes, ask, “What if we did this…?”

If there’s a golden rule it’s this: always start with what you want, and never what you can have.

It’s curious that for the first ten years of my career, we never proofed or prototyped anything, yet, nowadays, projects can take many months to develop and every single option has to be explored and presented and refined and changed. It’s a shame because there’s a very real danger that the initial lustre of an idea can be completely extinguished. Whereas creativity thrives on the designer’s uncertainty—what if?—it can drown in the client’s.

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When we had the shop and Library we observed a curious comparison. In the Library, designers would bring their clients in and we’d show them lots of interesting stuff. We’d notice their initial, visceral reaction as their eyes lit up when they held something nice in their hand. We’d then wait a few seconds for all the rationale about why it wouldn’t work—“it’s too big/small/colourful/plain/rough/smooth etc”.

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But, in the shop, we saw the same visceral excitement as people picked stuff up and explored it with their hands, but instead of a destructive rationale, they simply went to the till and paid for it. I think Marketing is in real danger of over-thinking their agencies’ work and distancing itself from consumers—who don’t think.

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Which sort of brings me to CONTAINER. A magazine-that’s-not-a-magazine-but-a-box-of-objects is quite difficult to understand conceptually and so, there seemed little alternative than to take the risk and make it. More importantly, it’s a chance to collaborate with creative people outside of the commercial value chain—we have nobody else to please.

For the first edition, I asked ten different contributors to each come up with an idea for an object around the theme of Hot & Cold. I gave them very little instruction and no specific restrictions. Rather than the linear value-chain with a client at one end and me at the other, we had a more circular one, with me as both publisher and producer. As publisher, I had the final say-so on the ideas, but this was easy—my criteria was simply, did it excite me. As a producer, I made it easy for them by researching and offering execution possibilities that I knew could be made.

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Accept & Proceed – Poles


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John Willshire – So Hot Right Now (interim scamp)

Within this framework, there was actually a lot of variation in each contributor’s individual process. Some were more specific than others about the individual details of their items and on two pieces, in particular, Accept & Proceed’s Poles and John Willshire’s So Hot Right Now, we avoided the drawn-out let’s-see-all-the-possibilities development process and created the items as we went along.

The idea for CONTAINER is to publish it fairly regularly (quarterly eventually), each edition with a different theme and different contributors. It’s about exploring the communicative language of objects, a basic tenet of human communication we are in danger of overlooking in the instant-sharing digital age. The ambition is to bring in an increasingly diverse array of contributors—people like economists, musicians, scientists—people who don’t normally produce objects and see what they come up with. Since all they have to do is come up with an idea, we could have anyone (or any kind of organisation, since it doesn’t have to be individuals—it could even be a religion or a government). It could be very interesting.

Well, there’s an interesting parallel here. I would also like to invite economists, musicians and scientist to describe their creative process but fear that they might shy away at first. I’m working on it! Thank you Tim for sharing the fascinating journey of your career. I wish you all the best of luck with CONTAINER. No doubt it will be a huge success.

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  • Reply caroline @trend-daily September 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Wow-fascinating indeed-what an incredibly inventive man. Brilliant read and isn’t CONTAINER such a great idea. I read about something a little similar last week-except a magazine in a single object form, rather than a group together, but I love the fact that Tim has gathered 10 objects from various artists on one theme-genius-can’t wait to see the results and yes, it will definitely be a huge success! 🙂 xx

    • Reply tina September 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Yes. It’s fascinating for me to see how everyone interpreted the brief and came up with such interesting and out of the box thinking.
      If you’re interested to see more, take a look at this video:

      Thanks Caroline xx

  • Reply Catherine Bedson September 3, 2013 at 1:40 am

    Container is a wonderful idea, so interesting to see what each individual comes up with. A diverse range of contributors from science, economics or an organisation makes it even more fascinating. x

    • Reply tina September 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Ha. I know, there’s a tall order indeed. For this series I also want to invite more scientists et cetera but they immediately shy away from the fact I require some visuals too!

  • Reply Jocelyn Casey September 3, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Hello Tina, I enjoyed this article very much. Everything about is was insightful for me, it sparked my curiosity for sure. Mid way through I thought about what my creative process looks like, how it feels, and how an idea all comes together. Thank you for this today, it was a wonderful way to start my morning. I wish Tim all the success in his ventures, I am quite certain his work is needed in today’s creative culture. Have a lovely day. xx


    • Reply tina September 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Thinking about and pinning down our ‘Creative Process’ is a challenge, hence this series. I’m hoping that through this category people might start thinking about their own. Thank you for taking the time to read this xx

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey September 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    We do live in a world of over-thinking and over-complicating things. And sometimes it would be great if clients accepted the designer’s advice and ideas without endless reworking… an ideal state perhaps.

    I’m digging my way through Tim’s creative process. He has a lot to say and to share. With CONTAINER I love the idea of having no one else to please and simply going with something, instead of looking at endless possibilities. It’s a great concept… I wonder if removing the items and using them is similar to tearing pages from a magazine? 😉

    Thanks Tim & Tina.

    • Reply tina September 5, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      I love it when clients just let me get on with things and appreciate that I’m the expert in whatever they commissioned me to do.. they are usually visionaries with very strong entrepreneurial spirits. These clients understand delegation, their limitations in the field they hired me in and the vision of an excellent outcome. They are my favourite clients and I try and target them as often as I can. Of course, I’ve also had other sort of clients:-)

      Tim’s journey is fascinating and I love how he keeps re-inventing himself.
      CONTAINER is in essence art. It’s intelligent art and it certainly has a voice that is needed in this world.

      Removing the items? I watched a video of John unpacking his CONTAINER box:

      Thanks G xx

  • Reply Holly September 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Wow. Two things really stick with me here. One is that “creativity is the path from uncertainty to certainty”. That feels bang on to me. And the other is Tim’s golden rule, “always start with what you want, never with what you can have”. I think this must be the ideal way, although i imagine it a challenge to practice that consistently.

    I love the idea of container! What a refreshing concept. I love abstract things like this. It seems simple, but it requires feeling and imagination. I have to go investigate about it more 🙂

    Thank you for a great peek into another unique creative process!

  • Reply tina September 5, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I want to thank Tim for his pearls of wisdom and sharing his career journey with us! Very inspiring indeed!!

    I did get to see some of CONTAINER’s content before it was completely ready. It looked fascinating and was lovely to handle too.

  • Reply leah of sang the bird September 6, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Such a diverse range of contributors makes for an engaging read. T, you never cease to amaze and inspire me.
    I find “physical communications and their role in a digital age” fascinating. Tim thanks for sharing your creative process.

    • Reply tina September 9, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Hi Leah. Glad you enjoyed it and found it inspiring! x

  • Reply Nicola September 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    So true to “start with what you want” because often it’s the first idea you come back to and find it was the best.

    That’s after the client has given you the runaround or, as you say, “every single option..explored…” How do you learn to justify your instincts?

    I love the concept of Container. In these days of all magazines going digital it would be great to receive something tactile and thought provoking.

    And what a thump on the doormat!

    • Reply tina September 9, 2013 at 11:55 am

      You’re so right. I call it my gut instinct. Compromising is often good, but in creative endeavours it’s often not!

      Haha. A real ‘thump on the doormat’ indeed!
      Thanks N x

  • Reply best of britannia » colourliving colourliving October 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    […] up is my friend tim milne of ARTOMATIC. Tim has featured in my creative process series, where you can read all about his latest project: CONTAINER, a publication about the nature […]

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