The Mind Blender: aka the Cure for the Common Rut

The Mind Blender...Sure to give you more than just whirled peas.
This is just a little contraption I came up with to try and jolt the old creative juices. One word of caution. Don’t try to blend all of these at one time unless you really want to end up like Christopher Walken. Oh. And One more thing. Make sure the lid is on. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Creative Collaboration in the workplace: The Lennon and McCartney Way.

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Creative brainstorming in the corporate environment can often be a challenge. There’s almost always someone in room who doesn’t speak enough and always someone who speaks way too much. Egos can impede the entire process, particularly if one of them happens to be the boss. An overbearing manager can bring the entire process to a screeching halt leaving some fantastic ideas, ideas that make you money, totally unexplored.

Creativity in today’s workplace is needed now more than ever. Thousands of businesses nationwide are passing up a golden opportunity to innovate, which is vital for survival, simply out of fear. The newspaper business, which is where I spent the bulk of my career as a cartoonist, is a prime example of an industry afraid to change, afraid to invest the money it takes to reinvent the business model. Papers across the country are laying off some of their most creative talent and cutting content to save money in a time when they need to be totally committed to out-of-the-box creativity and innovation.

So what can we learn from the collaborative relationship of John Lennon and Paul McCartney that can translate to the corporate environment? Plenty. I think there are some key elements that Lennon and McCartney used to create some of the most lasting music of our time that we can incorporate into the day to day creative brainstorming in the workplace.

Brainstorming with the Beatles
1. Check the egos at the door. To have successful sessions of creative brainstorming it’s vital that everyone is free to pitch ideas equally. There can’t be a pecking order and there can’t be a room full of yes sir, bobble heads. Unless, of course, you want really crappy ideas that make the boss feel like he’s Einstein when his creative IQ is more like Goofy. The reason Lennon-McCartney worked so well is there was mutual respect. It worked for them and it can work for you.
2. Give every idea a chance. Everyone involved in the session must be totally free to submit whatever idea they have on their minds without the fear of ridicule or apprehension. I’m pretty sure the idea for the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” sounded a little lame at the time.
3. Be the Yin to their Yang. Lennon-McCartney did the bulk of their songwriting by throwing out small ideas that were the exact polar opposite in lyrical content of the song they were working on. Always remember that “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time” was countered with “It doesn’t get much worse”. That’s Yin and Yang.
4. Be Fearless of Failure. Not every song the Beatles recorded was a hit. Don’t expect every brainstorming session to be one either. Keep digging and eventually something will click .
5. Find the right atmosphere to Create in. Lennon and McCartney did a lot of their creating in hotel rooms and recording studios. While those places can be stifling, kind of like the boardrooms we brainstorm in, you can bet they were comfortable and relaxed. Have a day of casual dress, meet at a bowling alley and do your brainstorming while bowling a few frames. Break out the Hawaiian shirts, put on some Jimmy Buffett, string up a few Christmas lights in that boardroom and start the meeting over Virgin Pina Coladas and Margaritas. Now that’s an atmosphere you can create in
6. Check the cell phones and blackberries at the door. Distractions are the mortal enemy of creativity. Sure, a bowling alley isn’t exactly quiet, but it’s a lot better than someone taking a cell phone call in the middle of a brilliant brainstorm. Set aside the time and treat it with care. Lennon and McCartney wrote about Penny Lane, not ON Penny Lane. And neither should you.
7. It’s brainstorming not brain surgery. Some people thrive under pressure and great things can be created under a tight deadline but to put expectations on every session is just not conducive to great brainstorming. Sure Paul McCartney got the melody and structure for the song “Yesterday” all at one time. But he went around singing “scrambled eggs” for weeks until he could find a lyric more suitable for the song. So throw some windup toys on the boardroom table, cater in some ice cream and have some fun while you’re thinking up the next great idea. Relax. It’s only brainstorming.

The Beatles: 7 Sources of Creativity

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The Beatles have inspired hundreds of thousands of artists, writers, musicians and songwriters. There are an unending amount of creative tips and techniques we can learn from their years of creative productivity. Today I want to share some of the cool things about the inspirations behind many of the Beatles most memorable songs.

By the time the Beatles were invited into the living rooms of America in February of 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Shows, these young guys from Liverpool were already a polished and very experienced band of musicians. They had spent years playing 5 hours or more a night, 7 days a week in the clubs of England and Hamburg, Germany. In his recent book “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell attributes the Beatles incredible success to the 10,000 hour rule.. Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule estimates that it takes roughly that many hours of dedication and hard work to become proficient enough with your God given talents to be truly masterful. I think it’s a great example that nothing great is ever achieved without years of preparation.
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The early years of the Beatles creativity were influenced by the music they grew up with including Gospel, R&B, rockabilly and the beginnings of rock and roll. The subject matter of their early work consisted primarily of love songs and teen relationships. As they matured, so too did their music and the inspirations behind the songs.
Lennon and McCartney worked together in the early 60’s bouncing their songs off of one another face to face, often in hotel rooms while on tour. Their popularity had forced them into a world of isolation and yet their exposure to all of the many places they toured and the people they encountered certainly primed the pump to create at an amazing pace.

Tomorrow I’ll delve more into that collaborative process and how we can apply the Lennon McCartney creative approach in the atmosphere of the corporate workplace. But for today I think it’s key to remember that their relationship and their approach to songwriting allowed them a greater range of creative options to explore than if they had chosen to work separately.

I’ve broken down a list of Beatles songs and the inspiration behind them into categories. I think this helps to be able to see how many songs were influenced or inspired in different ways and I hope gets your creative mindset open to the possibilities for the creative sparks all around us everyday. They are there, if we are open enough and observant enough to see them and use them in our own process. Much of the information I gathered for my research for this list came primarily from the terrific book “A Hard Days Write” by Steven Turner. I highly recommend if you want to get a much more in depth explanation behind the songs.


The Beatles and The Seven Sources of Creativity.

1. People


Iris Caldwell, one of the girls McCartney dated inspired “I saw her standing there”- Paul
Dot Rhone, another of Paul’s girl friends from1961 inspired “PS I Love You”-
Jane Asher, McCartney’s most steady female relationship in the Beatles early years was the inspiration behind numerous songs including “We can work it out”, “And I love her”, “You Won’t See Me” “I’m Looking Through You”, “Here, There and Every where” and “For No One”
Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife whom Harrison had met during the filming of “A Hard Days Night” inspired “I Need You” “ “If I Needed Someone”, the enduring “Something” and the Eric Clapton song “Layla” after her affair with Clapton.
Cynthia Powell ,John Lennon’s first wife inspired multiple songs including “Do You Want to Know a Secret” after Lennon learned she was pregnant. The couple married shortly thereafter.
Lucy O’Donnell was Julian Lennon’s child hood friend that inspired a picture that became the source of the Lennon classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
Tar Browne was the friend “who blew his mind out in a car” in the song “A Day in the Life”. Lennon wrote the lyric partly after the tragic car accident that claimed the life of Browne, a well to do Irish socialite.
Prudence Farrow-Mia Farrow’s younger sister who inspired the song “Dear Prudence”
Linda Eastman, whom McCartney married in the later Beatles years inspired many songs including “Birthday” from the White Album
Yoko Ono
, Lennon’s second wife inspired-”Don’t Let Me Down” and, of course, ” the ballad of John and Yoko”. There’s no real proof that Yoko was the muse for the cryptic song about a Lennon extramarital affair in the song “Norwegian Wood”
Rosa Parks was the inspiration for the classic McCartney song “Blackbird”
Timothy Leary’s run against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California inspired Lennon’s attempt at the campaign song “Come Together”
Julia Stanley,John’s mother inspired the song “Julia”
Mary McCartney, Paul’s mother provided some of the inspiration for ”Let It Be”

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2. Places

Abbey Road
Hamburg helped inspire “Ticket to Ride” Lennon’s veiled song about the licenses prostitutes in Hamburg had to acquire to be legal.
Penny Lane a song by McCartney was about the area he and Lennon had grown up in.
Strawberry Fields was a large Victorian building in a heavily wooded area close to one of Lennon’s childhood homes. The building became a place he could escape to be alone to think. He remembered it fondly as a place he could let his creative imagination roam free. The building is no longer there.
High Park was the farm in Scotland owned by McCartney and the inspiration behind “The Long and Winding Road”
The Lennon song “In My Life” had numerous references to places he remembered during his youth. He took them out so the song could be a bit more relevant to a wider audience.

3. Things


“Eleanor Rigby” was actually a name on a tombstone near the place where Lennon and McCartney first met. It wasn’t until years after the song was written that McCartney became aware of the actual existence of an Eleanor Rigby tombstone. The name had manifested itself subconsciously from something he had seen years before.
“Paperback Writer” was written mostly because Paul liked the sound of the words. SGT Pepper reference to salt and pepper or Dr. Pepper
Salt and pepper became “Sgt. Pepper”
Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspired some of the lyrics Lennon’s “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”.
The Goon Show, a British radio comedy show also was a source for Lennon’s lyrics in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I am the Walrus”
A piece of property Paul had purchased sight unseen became a song called “Fixing a Hole”.
Newspaper articles inspired McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” as well as Lennon’s contribution to the song “A Day in the Life”.
An 1843 Circus Poster that Lennon discovered in a 1967 stroll through an antiques store inspired the classic “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Eastern philosophy inspired George Harrison to write “Within, Without You” “I, Me, Mine”-
A box of corn flakes became the song “Good Morning, Good Morning.
Television advertising Slogans helped Lennon pen the anthem “All You Need is Love”. Lennon found himself more at home after 1965, burned out from the rigorous schedule the Beatles had kept in the early 60’s. Simple things found around the house now inspired Lennon songs mostly because he was too worn out to venture any further.
A play-on-words became “Hello Goodbye”

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4. Emotions


Both Lennon and McCartney lost their mothers at a young age, which influenced each in very different ways.

Lennon internalized it more, and it manifested itself in his songs like “Help”, It Won’t be Long”, “Tell me Why” “I’m a Loser” and “Nowhere Man” each stemming from feelings of isolation, loneliness, and insecurity.

McCartney, whose childhood was much more stable than Lennon’s, despite the loss of his mother, tended to write more optimistic songs like “All My Loving”, “She Loves you” and “We can Work it Out”.
McCartney wasn’t always upbeat. His song Hey Jude was a compassionate letter to Julian Lennon, who was forced to endure his parents painful divorce, and “Let it Be” was all about the pain of the Beatles being torn apart at the seams after the loss of Brian Epstein.
Paul and John weren’t the only ones who were able to express emotions through their songs.
“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight days a Week” were both inspired by Ringo Starr’s frustration with the Beatles often grueling work schedule
“Don’t Bother Me” was written after George Harrison’s day in bed with the flu.
“Here Comes the Sun” was also written by Harrison to express a glorious moment of freedom from the the painful ongoing business meetings at Apple studios that would be the bands undoing

5. Environment


Much has been made of the influence that drugs played in the creative process of the Beatles. Many of the alleged references such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” being a cover for a song about LSD just simply weren’t true. But clearly some of their songs were a product of their environment and the time in history in which they created. Songs like “Rain”, “Got to get you into my life”,”Tomorrow Never Knows” and “She said, She said” were most likely songs about their experiences. Since I come from the school of thought that any kind of artificial stimulus impedes the creative process (that includes caffeine, so I’m guilty as charged) I won’t speculate here as to the outcome that the Beatles experimentation had on their process.

Dreams can often be part of the creative process. The song “Yesterday” literally wrote itself musically as McCartney awoke one morning. He sang “scrambled eggs” to remember the melody and completed the lyrics much later.
A Family boating outing
inspired Ringo Starr’s Octopuses Garden.
“It’s Getting Better All the Time” and “Fool on the Hill” were a product of McCartney’s many walks with Martha his dog.
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6. Childhood
“Yellow Submarine” was a McCartney’s attempt at writing a children’s song
“Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” were both childhood recollections and the song “I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends” was a children’s song for Ringo’s Billy Shears character on the Sgt. Peppers album.
The writings of Lewis Carroll were a definite influence in John Lennon’s creative process, as I mentioned earlier. The poem “the Walrus and the Carpenter” inspired “I am the Walrus”.
And, strangely enough, McCartney’s song about growing old “When I’m Sixty Four” was written at the ripe old age of 15.
Beatles - Sgt Pepper
7. Sounds
The Beatles sound was inspired by a myriad of musical influences. They were known for borrowing a chord from a Glenn Miller song to practically lifting a bass part right out of a Chuck Berry tune.
Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, Nina Simone, The Loving Spoonful and the Who were all influences that the Beatles incorporated into their songs and melodies.
The key were there is incorporated, not copied.
It’s OK for an artist to reflect those influences that inspire them, to learn from them. It’s not cool to have your art, writing or music be so influenced by one certain artist that it ceases to be yours. In other words, like the Beatles, diversify your inspirations.

There’s a lot to absorb here. Take your time or print this list out and just ponder it for a while. And next week as you start to create, set aside a little time to be inspired by something in your world that is under each of these Seven Sources of Creativity categories. I’m going to do it and see what I find. I hope you will too.

Tomorrow I’ll be back here with The Beatles Build a Better Business or Creative Collaboration in the workplace the Lennon and McCartney Way.

Coyotes and Creativity: Markus Pierson

“There’s no doubt in my mind that my success has more to do with luck than talent, more to do with stubbornness than vision, more to do with ignorance than insight, but the fact remains that I pursued my dream and attained it against staggering odds. I say this now to anyone who will listen: even if I had failed, it would have been worth it. Better to face a brutal truth than to grow old wondering what might have been.”Markus Pierson

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I first saw the amazing work of artist Markus Pierson on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. His depictions of Coyotes, often dressed in zoot suits, resonated with me immediately. I grew up in West Texas with a great love of the desert southwest and the animals that roam the landscape. Pierson’s art, particularly his early pieces, were full of southwestern imagery, complete with towering saguaro cactus’, enchanted moons with wistful faces and wide open, tumbleweed lined highways. So I bought a lithograph, taped a few of his images from a calendar to my drawing board and added this statue to a shelf at home.

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Clearly this was an artist who knew something about long drives across desert vistas that lead you a thousand miles to nowhere, and I could relate to that. Another reason I found Pierson’s work so compelling, is it’s almost, but not quite, humorous illustration, which is one of the genres I practice and love a lot. So I connected with his art on that level as well. But there was one more element that sealed the deal for me about Markus Pierson. It was the words.

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“That many had ventured farther and done so in finer style bothered me not. My journey was my own and I found it to be quite spectacular.” from the Pierson painting Spectacular Journey.

Pierson’s paintings are always accompanied by words. Intriguing sayings that seem to call out to that part of us that says “Live Fully”. And I love that.

Markus Pierson grew up in Lansing, Michigan. Not exactly the southwestern artist I had envisioned painting Coyotes next to a Kiva fireplace in Taos and driving a 57 Cadillac through the back roads of New Mexico. A near death experience at 24 left him in a place of deep reflection. He decided that life was too short not to be doing what he loved. So he quit his job as an accountant to pursue his passion to create art rather than to crunch numbers for the rest of his life. The idea to draw and paint Coyotes was inspired by a song by Joni Mitchell called Coyote. He worked as a billboard painter during the day to build a bridge to his dream, and to pay the bills. At night he painted and bonded with the Coyotes . His breakthrough came after painting of a couple of Coyotes in the throes of passion as a wedding present for some friends, simply because he couldn’t afford to buy them one. The wedding party loved it and before you know it, Pierson goes from starving artist to selling in hundreds of galleries seemingly overnight. Well, not quite overnight, but you get the idea.

Here’s Five Creative tips from the art and life of Markus Pierson:

1. Be Courageous. Markus made the defining decision of his life on from a hospital bed. Some thought he was crazy to abandon a good paying job with a relatively secure future, to follow the artists soul inside of him. Crazy? No. Courageous. Very. But it was the right choice.
2. Be in preparation for Inspiration. A song. Markus Pierson’s entire life’s work was inspired by a song. As creatives we must always be open to inspiration no matter where it comes from. John Lennon’s song “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was inspired by a poster in an antique store, almost word for word. The inspiration for the Peanuts comic strip character, Lucy, was inspired by Charles Schulz’s ex-wife. Could it be a billboard or a movie poster or a t-shirt, or a painting that inspires your next project. It could if we are open to the possibilities all around us everyday.
3. Be willing to Sacrifice. Each act of creation takes sacrifice. For Pierson it meant leaving his career in search of his calling. It meant late nights alone in a dingy, small apartment cranking out Coyotes. It meant taking that job as a billboard painter to build the bridge he needed until his paintings could pay the bills. For some of us, it may mean something as simple as setting aside an hour or two a day, completely dedicated to pursuing our dreams.
4. Create for Your Contentment. Don’t create something just because you think it will sell, because, it often won’t. Entertain yourself. Create something completely for you own amusement, your own satisfaction. Pierson found drawing and painting Coyotes was something he wanted to do. Actually something he had to do. He didn’t really care if no one else liked them. He did. That is all that mattered. When we create from this part of our souls, we create something totally unique. And that passion, that joy that we feel when we create at that level is what invites people to like it. They don’t see the art. They see the soul in the art.
5. Live Fully. Create Boldly. This is probably the biggest thing we can learn from the art and life of Marcus Pierson. Life is short. The chances we don’t take now are the regrets that haunt us later. When the race is over, don’t we want to know we’ve run it?

“No one works this hard and this smart – and has it come to nothing.”Markus Pierson

For more on the works of Markus Pierson you can see his website here.

Creator’s Incubator # 1

Welcome to the first ever Creator’s Incubator. Since it’s the inaugural edition, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a few behind the scenes stuff about my creative process.

Sparks:
Individual cartoons have their own set of sparks, so I thought I’d give you some of the everyday variety.
I like to surround myself with cartoon collectibles and cartoon art in the studio. It makes me feel at home.Here’s just a few samples from my home studio.

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Five things that help me Create:
1. Reading. Newspapers, magazines, websites, billboards, t-shirts, movie posters, anything visual It’s the most important part of creating sports cartoons. After I read I let it soak in for a while.
2. Silence is golden for thinking up ideas. I can listen to music or CNN after I pencil the cartoon and I’m ready to ink, but not before.
3. Word play. I write down topics and free associate a visual metaphor for what it is I want to say in the cartoon. In my case it’s usually an opinion I have about a topic I’m drawing on.
4. Ink don’t think. The worst thing to do is force an idea. Ideas form when you’re most relaxed, even if you are under deadline. If I get really stuck I’ll put the subject I’m drawing about in the most outrageous situation I can imagine. Case in point. This Phelps cartoon.
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5. Bang my head up against the wall and hope that something besides hair comes out.

Creativational Quote of the day: An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
Edwin Land

Created on this date: 1963 – Beatles record “She Loves You” & “I’ll Get You”

The Rhino Recommends: This fantastic book about the founding of Pixar and the innovation and creativity it took to pull it all together.
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There you have it. I hope you’ll join us here and at DrewLitton.com for the next edition of the Creator’s Incubator

Welcome to the Creator’s Incubator

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Welcome to my Laboratory, “The Creator’s Incubator”.

What’s it all about?

The single most asked question I get as a cartoonist is “Where do you get your ideas”? Aside from the answer “ I drink a lot and sleep late” once given in jest by cartoonist Gahan Wilson, I’ve always stumbled my way through it.

I’ve long been intrigued by the creative process and have often wanted to find a way to answer that elusive “ideas” question. So I decided why not feature daily insights, tips, and suggestions about this thing called creativity and how we can all apply it to our daily lives. Why not go “inside-the-lab” with stories about other creators and how they hatch their amazing works of art. We’ll delve into it all, including music, writing, character development, movie and TV show development, cartoons, comics, comedy and just about anything else that can be created. We’ll make it interactive, so that you too can share your own creative thoughts and insights. Think of it as one big Creative Community. A Creators Incubator. That said, it’s time for the grand tour.

The Creator’s Incubator upcoming Features
Sparks: Those things that inspire creativity. For instance, one of the most fascinating stories about the creation process of the Beatles infamous Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club album revolved around the John Lennon song, “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. The songs lyrics came directly from a circus poster Lennon had found in an antiques store. That’s a spark.

Creativational Quotes: Quotes to motivate the creative spirit in us all, like this:
“A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-

Creative tips: Like this one… Ever read billboards? Sometimes they can provide great ways to create powerful, well defined ways to communicate ideas. The key is in the simplicity and in the way one grabs your attention. Just don’t drive off the road doing it.

The Rhino Recommends: Once a week the Incubator will give it’s recommendation of a book, a movie, cd or blog that can offer something valuable to the creative process. Not exactly Oprah, but you get the idea.

Inside-the-Lab. We’ll go behind the scenes into someone’s creative process giving you some cool information about how other creative people come up with their stuff and how you might use it at work or in your daily lives.be sure to read my daily cartoons as well.

Created on this date: Highlights of the worlds most creative achievements, like this:
On June 29, 1964 the 1st draft of Star Trek’s pilot “Cage” was released.

Readers comments, tips and insights. The interactive part of the Incubator.

Ask the Rhino. Send in your questions about creativity directly to the Rhino. He’ll answer one good one a week.

There you have it. I hope you’ll join us here for the Creator’s Incubator starting July 1.