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How Being More Observant Can Improve Your Creativity

by Erica Yong. |

I would consider myself a creative person. Art is my way of expressing myself, my ideas and my perspective. It would be hard for me to imagine a life where I can’t work on my projects or express my ideas.


By day, I am a student, pursuing my diploma. By night (and certain pockets of time that I am free), I engage in some hobbies of mine: hand lettering and writing. I like art and most creative pursuits in general, but hand lettering, the art of drawing decorative letters, and writing are what I tend to focus on. They are my source of joy and reprieve from the hecticness of daily life.



However, there are periods where I am stuck, facing this wall of creative block. This is when I take a step back, put my sketchbook away, close the word document I’m working on. I take my mind off the work and observe the world around me, taking in all the sights and happenings. It can be a big help in jumpstarting my creativity. Here’s why:


1. I see other ways of doing things

I’ve been creating hand-lettering art for a while, for almost 2 years, in fact. I have a few styles of letterforms or drawing that I go to, and there will be times that I struggle to think of new ways or methods. This is when I turn to the world around me. One avenue that I turn to is social media, usually Instagram. When I scroll on Instagram, I observe the details in the work done by others, not just double-tap and move on to the next one. Doing this helps me gain inspiration, learn new methods, and go in a different direction in my art.


Being observant was what led me to chalk lettering. I was following Nathaniel Ong on Instagram, a chalk-lettering artist from Singapore. Observing the details in his finished chalk pieces, watching his process videos, eyes glued to every hand movement, every technique used, gave me the confidence to give chalk lettering a try.


So, when the opportunity presented itself, I did. A cafe that I frequented had a chalk wall, and I was given the chance to unleash my creativity on it.


I would have never thought of trying a new medium like chalk. This would have never happened if I did not observe how it’s done. I would have never had the confidence to give it a try.


Tip: Look at artwork or piece of writing that you like. Write down three things about it that you like. Maybe now you’ll have something you want to try or incorporate into your work?


2. I notice things that may help me to create in better detail

My mum likes to refer to me as someone who spaces out, which is true. When I am out and about, I like to take in the scenery around me, whether it is nature, buildings, animals, people, especially if there are people.


People-watching is a past time I engage in my daily life, whether it is on my daily commutes, short breaks in the library, or walks in my neighbourhood. I find the ways that people interact with each other interesting. The way we as a human race just exists and thrives and go about our lives is something that I would always be interested in.


Such observations are the fuel for my writing and my attempts at drawing people. It is through observation that made me think about how makeup can be like an armour, as I watched people touching up their makeup on the MRT; or listening to my friend talk about how she needs to put on her eyeliner just right on the morning of examinations. It is observing sunsets and plants and nature around me that enables me to come up with certain metaphors in my poetry, on how us as people are like plants.


I remember writing some prose at sixteen years old about feelings when I am crushing on someone being like clouds, constantly changing and never quite stable. That notebook that I scrawled it on is missing but I always remember how I wrote the line “My feelings for you are held up with fantasies and dreams that will never come true, just like how condensation helps clouds form, just like how, on a hot, sunny day, the sky will turn grey and it will rain, making my feelings, and the clouds disappear.”


It is through observation that helps me refine my drawing skills too. I needed to be more observant of the people around me in order to hone my skill level of drawing people. I have to observe for the way the hair parts, the face structure, the shape of the eyes, the mannerisms. A current project of mine involves drawing cartoon versions of a few of my friends, and I found that I had to look at them more in order to do their features any justice.


Observing really helps your art in some ways, helping you refine the details and increasing the extent that you can be creative.


Tip: The next time you’re sitting in a cafe or anywhere with some time to spare, look around you. Notice anything that attracts your attention? Make a list of these things. I personally like to take pictures of things that attract me, like the shadows that form in the MRT, chalkboards at cafes that are interesting, or buildings that look interesting. These pictures would go into an “inspo album” on my phone.



3. It helps me to think of new ideas

I think being observant also means thinking more deeply about the things that you are looking at. This can only happen if you are paying attention to the things around you. Author Tim Harford, in his TED talk, talks about how creativity happens when you are shifting between projects. I apply this to my life in another way, on how even when you’re not creating, your eyes and ears are taking in stimuli for new ideas to happen.


When I think more deeply about what I’m looking at, I find that I think about what does it mean to me, how would I represent it, whether it is in words and imagery. It is this kind of reflection that makes the art or writing stand out from the rest, as it incorporates your own insight and interpretation of the subject matter.


Thinking more deeply about things was what led me to create this piece last year. I was part of an online poetry group for a while. This line made me think of ink and pens, leading me to create this.


Tip: Do you find something is stuck in your mind? It can be a song lyric, a quote, something someone else said or something you saw. Reflect on why does it stand out to you. This may be the subject matter for your next creative pursuit.


4. It helps to add a personal touch.

I love making things for family, friends and people that I appreciate. However, personally, I feel that in order to make something that is meaningful to the person, that really expresses how much you appreciate them, you will have to observe them, know their interests and character well.


Recently, I had lecturers who were leaving to pursue other opportunities. One loved floral dresses, the colour pink and kept an extensive range of colours when it came to whiteboard markers. She is also a passionate and outgoing person, forming a kind of friendship with us, the students. The other had nice stationery, is meticulous and passionate about the course content.


This led me to make thank you cards for them that incorporated all of these elements. Both had various topics from the respective courses written in the fine print. One card had a whiteboard marker, the other had a fountain pen. Each lecturer liked their card a lot when I gave it to them.

Tip: Think of someone or something that means a lot to you. List some traits about the individual or thing. Try to create something that would express all or at least some of these traits that you have listed.


Taking a step back to observe things can do wonders to your creativity. I hope these points have given you some ideas on how to improve your creativity.

You may find out more about Erica through her Instagram too.

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