The Elusive Source of Creativity

David Trubridge
Mervyn Chan for Unsplash
David Trubridge bandsawing
Q: “Where do you get your inspiration from?” A: “The collective consciousness of subterranean elves”. Ok, but really? David Trubridge shares his answer.


This (grammatically dodgy) question is guaranteed to be included in every Question-and-Answer feature put to designers. It has come to irk me and I can’t help giving my flippant answer. I know the query is put with genuine curiosity but the asking betrays a limited understanding of the creative process. It’s the old idea of the artist’s “Muse”, who invariably used to be portrayed as beautiful and female.

This is an attempt, not so much to answer that trivial question, but to explain how I believe the creative process works, at least for me. It is no doubt quite different for other people. Hopefully I can make up for my flippancy.

Creativity is fairly pointless on its own. We all need an audience.

Creativity is fairly pointless on its own. We all need an audience, or at least a response. What we create only has meaning or relevance within society. But ironically for me, if it is to be really true and honest, the act of creating has to happen outside of society. While I am amongst people, my creative faculty is locked in to the world around me; it is too self-conscious and responsive to what others are doing. That is the nature of the finely tuned antennae of the artist.

The works of other artists are like sign posts: ‘Try over here’ or ‘Look up there’. Some are on well worn paths where many people have taken up the invitation; even other artists have followed to see what they can find down the same road. Others are on the extremities, a barely discernible way offering exciting new prospects in unexplored territory; not many people have yet found their way out this far.

But all these are tracks and even on the faintest ones you can still see the odd foot print of someone who has come this way before. Those who are enriched by curiosity and by the rewards of art have come here to experience what thy can find, the newer the path the more enriching, though also the more challenging.

Truly creative people look beyond and between the signposts to find their own way.

Truly creative people look beyond and between the signposts to find their own way. End of the road, Fin de Chantier. Get out of the car and walk — move off the track and explore — take risks. A track is a risk-free way of ensuring a safe return back to where you started. To hell with the safe, the norm, the expected. There are no maps here. It is the limit of cartography: Terra Nullis. Leave the phone behind, it doesn’t work here. Let’s go.

Most of this new space really is empty and can seem to be mocking. But there is a silence that leaves only us, alone, the centre of an indifferent world. It can be scary but it is also immensely empowering. We have to believe . . . believe in ourselves, because here is where we will find some wisp of the unexpected. It is not out there in the inscrutable emptiness but within ourselves. In cities, noise and people press in and constrict, but here the surrounding void sucks the other way and allows an inner expansion. You begin to be aware of a subtle internal realignment: things are not as they were. A space has appeared, which may hold in its core a precious spark of new life. Hold it, cup it in your hands, breathe on it, let it grow and carry it back carefully.

This incipient ruffle of a idea is only a feeling at this stage, something of which you are vaguely aware, a presence that gently tugs at your consciousness. You take it home and live with it and try to understand it, to give it life, to give it form. You have to take it from yourself, give it meaning and put it into the world. It has to move beyond self-indulgence to offer hope and relevance to others. Only then may it become it art. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t.

Then it is into the studio, to the society of other people, and the hard work begins. First with pencil and paper, then testing the idea with materials and only finally, when something has sufficiently coalesced, on to the computer. But all that is another story, the answer to the second Question.


Before sharing with The Big Idea, David's story was first published on on 16 July 2018. 
David is an international artist/designer/craftsman born in Britain. In the 80s, he sailed to New Zealand with his young family on a yacht where they live still.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

29 Nov 2018

The Big Idea Editor

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