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Tools to Unlock Your Creativity

by Art U News

By Greta Chiocchetti

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, School of Interior Architecture & Design Capstone Coordinator Tom Collom hosted an interactive online workshop with some outside-of-the-box tips and tricks to help attendees—both current and prospective students—harness their ingenuity. 

The webinar, “Tools to Unlock Your Creativity,” was the first of a series of free public art and design workshops from across the 22 departments at Academy of Art University. Focused on helping attendees break out of a creative rut, the workshop included a live demonstration of techniques to help you see things from a new perspective. 

“I get so many students saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m very creative, I don’t have that gene.’ And really, it’s not a gene, it’s more of a practice, a learned skill,” said Collom. “And I think that’s very encouraging to some who might be intrigued and [want to] get into a creative field.”

Collom, the interior architect behind the award-winning San Francisco-based design firm BruceandTom, contextualized the workshop first with a discussion about the power of creativity. 

“It’s like a superpower. Creative problem-solving works everywhere,” he said. “It’s what the world needs right now. We have so many problems confronting us today, and sometimes, you feel a little bit helpless, but maybe one of you tonight will solve a problem that the world needs to make it a better place for everyone.” 

To illustrate the idea of creative problem-solving, Collom led an interactive exercise called a “creative stretch”—with a goal to cultivate a flexible mind. Beginning with a yogic breathing exercise to help attendees get in the right mindset, Collom introduced a useful technique in solving a creative problem: changing one’s perspective, illustrated by puzzles that could only be solved by literally looking at them from a new angle. 

“That actually came from one of the modules that I teach in my beginner studio class,” Collom said. “The students always love that, you know, that there’s not only one solution to the problem. It illustrates the point that when you begin to try new directions, it can lead to some surprising results.” 

Attendees were then shown another valuable skill: mind mapping. Collom demonstrated how to organize thoughts through divergent thinking, the same technique that helped him win a $10,000 prize in a design competition while he was an architecture student himself. He used the same design problem from the competition: designing a park in St. Paul, Minnesota, that was specifically designed for the region and residents. 

Leading the group as they shared their associations with the word “park,” Collom created a mind map on the screen, beginning with the very general and progressively becoming more and more specific to the region, the park’s users, and the city. Initially many of the associations were traditional ideas of what a park has: trees, benches, playgrounds, and flowers. 

“In that sense, some of them fell into the predictability trap,” said Collom. But after some probing and prompting, attendees came up with some innovative ideas: art sculptures for both people driving past the park as well as those inside it, landmarks, and sound elements. 

Collom then took the group step-by-step through the process behind his own award-winning work. 

When he faced the same challenge several years ago, Collom explained, his student design team focused on the fact that the majority of users would be accessing the park via their automobiles. 

Collom recounted the ideas that came out of his own brainstorming session: a northern lights-inspired sculpture that changed shape as locals drove past, made of poles which had holes cut in them to evoke a sound; a clearing between the poles for a stage; sandpits for children to play in. 

“These steps actually can lead to some very creative solutions that you may have never thought of before,” said Collom, as the seminar closed. “We need creative thought—we as humans all have it. You all have this creative power within you, you need to unlock it, you need to bring it out—bring it out into the open and share it with the world.”

Watch the Tools to Unlock Your Creativity workshop in its entirety below.

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