500 tabs opened in the browser. That's how browsing the internet looks like for some while in search for inspiration. The problem is, inspiration is a state of mind and a practice.
"I just put the music on and start drawing!"
Never mind that.
Inspiration comes from having ambitions. Which is contrary to what most people think of. According to the Harvard Business Website, inspired people share certain characteristics, such as being more open minded to new experiences and having conscious goals. Having a positive mindset does not equal being more inspired, however inspired individuals do have lower negativity. That's because inspiration involves having involvement with the task at hand with high levels of positivity. When one has goals, he or she is more likely to act and procure ways to make it happen, often resorting to creativity to find new ways and unexpected solutions–hence the open-mindedness. According to studies, the relationship between goal setting and inspiration was reciprocal: goal progress also anticipated inspiration for future goal setting.
People who are in an inspired mindset have a more positive look towards life, and are more grateful.
First of all, inspiration cannot be evoked. That's why the recurring habit of putting music on and collecting artwork doesn't work as inspiration–it's just a ritual to start working and referencing as to bias the brain to reach a certain conclusion, respectively.
Inspiration assists creativity. People that are constantly inspired view themselves as being more creative. Creativity requires no constraints, whilst inspiration is a set up of circumstances that assist in achieving a state of mind that allows it to be affected positively, with clarity and awareness of new possibilities. Moreover, both inspiration and creativity must be acted upon.
Preparation, and not inspiration, requires effort. Preparation might come in various forms. Reading, exercising, meditating, and a personal one to me, writing. All of these practices literally reform your brain and help you be more inspired, and are considered preparation. We, artists and designers, think a simple moodboard will suffice. Nah-nah. That's just referencing. The brain is way more complex and needs to connect information together so it can be used anew later on.
An overlooked trigger
There is just so much a piece of work can teach you, because it shows only the final result and not the process, but it can also inspire you. As we've seen, the major triggers for inspiration are preparation and work mastery, therefore, for creatives, it means reps, reps and reps, until a skill is mastered. That's why we collect objects –and online artworks. That's the common path everybody takes when learning something new.
However, because inspiration is a mindset and not an evoked feeling, it's worth surrounding oneself with inspiring speakers, industry leaders, and other role models. Personally, diving into people I admire who are successful allow me to learn a behavior and a mindset that I want to attain for myself, as well as giving the courage to do new things. Remember that thing about open-mindedness?
Inspiration x reference
Inspiration is a state of mind. I particularly read, write, exercise, and meditate to find my prime self. That requires a lot of discipline and it might take a while to delve into the habits, luckily those are practices that might already be incorporated into your life.
Reading about your own line of work is not sufficient: you won't be attaining different sets of information. It's more fruitful to connect different subjects in order to come with something anew up, rather than reiterations of the same subject, over and over.
Collecting and organizing references
Gathering references with intention, because it will affect how your brain functions in regard of what you've just experienced. What you consume prior to a creative work will work as data input. Everything we do, we do because we have been exposed to it, one way or another. Controlling how (and from whom) you consume work will affect how your brain mixes and remixes what you've seen, which when done right will result in better solutions.
By focusing on the problem, you are able to expand. Here comes the dichotomy: focus on the issue, but let your imagination run free. Making free associations will help come up with better and more creative results, rather than just an obvious one.
Where you collect references is not truly important. What matters most here is the preparation and how organized you are, so you can access those files when you need them for references. When you consume something intentionally, you will remember what it is. Therefore keeping a photo, a book or an article that has proved to be inspiring in an organized way will help you trace down what it is and in which specific source it was from. That is why being inspirational takes effort–not inspiration itself.
One of the mentors I have in life, Tai Lopez, has taught me to keep my books in e-formats so that I can easily search through my library after a specific word or phrase–facilitating referencing.
When it comes to images and articles, collecting them in your operational system might be facilitated by some apps or websites, which I will list bellow.
Use referencing to learn your craft and expand your skills
I usually do this by writing aspects, doodling forms and shapes down, in order to increase awareness of a particular aspect I like–which also increases my mastery in that specific craft. In this sense, the pre-inspiration stage requires the effort of spending time and energy to understanding how something is done.
With a basic knowledge, you can apply what you've learned and create it anew with your own touch.
Tools and final words
Inspiration can be achieved with a set of habits and with great filtering, such as reading, writing, exercising, and consuming work from different industry leaders. Inspiration is a fruit that is collected from a garden that is well watered and kept.
My favorite tools to organize knowledge and references are not different than you'd expect for a designer, they are also simple to use.
The Science of Inspiration [I agree only halfway with this one]