New Yorker Cartoonist Offers Views on Creative Process

Matthew Diffee, whose cartoons you may have seen in The New Yorker and Texas Monthly, recently offered his views on idea generation and the creative process. He was in Houston presenting to the American Advertising Federation.

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Matthew, not unlike a lot of us in a creative industry, has a quirky sense of humor and sees things (or at least thinks about them) from a different perspective. This helps in generating ideas.

One of the first things he believes in is to make it easy to “do ideas.” If you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you’ve got a fresh pot to start things off.

Second, or at least this is what I jotted down as second, is a list of five verbs that he uses when he reviews his ideas: Add, Subtract, Switch, Invert, Mash up. These may lead to some sort of visual and/or a caption for the visual. The interplay between words and pictures can be fun!

An example he gave of taking a traditional question oft times used in job interviews, “Where do you see yourself in five years?,” and, instead, coming up with “Where do you see yourself in ten minutes?”. Try that in your next interview.

The best thing one can do is to maintain momentum – keep going in your process. I’ve learned from experience that stopping and starting does no good. You really have to get into some sort of flow.

Another one of his takes on a traditional phrase goes like this: “A penny saved is a penny who has accepted Jesus Christ as its Lord and Savior.” I know, I know, not everyone will find this humorous. I guess it depends on one’s sense of humor. 😉

Other elements and observations from of his creative process:

The Zone – easy to start, hard to stop. We’ve all found our “zone” before. Once you’re in it, don’t let up until you’ve got what you set out to get.

Flip Funnel – large end to finely tuned. Seeing an idea in a broad sense and developing it to a specific angle or perspective. Going from concept to a single cartoon cell in Matthew’s case.

Generating Ideas – quantity over quality. You can sort through these later. You need ideas and lots of them. Never critique when generating ideas.

Can’t make a great idea just by working harder – inspiration hits like a turd. Though somewhat crudely put, his thought is true. We can’t plan to have a great idea by a certain time. It’s not like we have an On/Off switch. We may take five minutes or two days.

Dull Bulbs – assume your work could be better. Don’t let your ego get in the way. No matter how wonderful we may think our idea is, there’s something about it that can be improved.

So whether you’re a budding cartoonist, experienced writer or designer or someone who needs to come up with a bunch of ideas for the next mode of transport to Mars and beyond, some of these techniques may help.

And when you review what’s been discarded at week’s end, don’t throw them away. Who knows what other uses may be made of them.

What has Matthew done with all his ideas which have been rejected? He’s made them into a book, an archive of sorts, entitled “The Cream of the Crap.”

 

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Rich Klein – RIP

The advertising community in Houston recently lost a good friend. Rich Klein passed away Sunday, October 12, 2014. This blog is a big believer in creativity and nurturing that in students and young professionals (and pros from all age groups for that matter). Rich was a valiant supporter of young people’s dreams and aspirations, and encouraged many to enlist in the advertising profession.

Jay Hagins, a longtime friend as well as a believer and supporter of creativity, had this to say about Rich:

Rich’s passion for the advertising industry was unparalleled; he mentored literally thousands of advertising professionals and with his partner, Bill Fogarty, built an advertising agency that attracted clients from coast to coast bringing national attention to the Houston advertising industry. Rich and Bill won national and regional clients such as Chef Boyardee, Ranch Style Beans, Waste Management, Advance Auto Parts, Popeye’s, Builders Square, Mattress Firm, BFI, Randall’s Supermarkets, Shiner Beer, Mission Foods, Amegy Bank, ConocoPhillips and many others. Rich and Bill nurtured the industry’s future with a highly competitive internship program with teams of college students that would actually get to present their own strategies, plans and creative to real clients.

Rich was recognized as a Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame member, AAF-Houston Silver Medal award winner and Living Legend. Rich and Bill began giving scholarships to qualified college students in 1991 and later established the Rich Klein and Bill Fogarty Communications Scholarship within the Advertising Education Foundation of Houston where Rich became Chairman leading the foundation to unprecedented growth. This year Rich and the Foundation awarded $30,000 in advertising scholarships to students throughout the Southwest.

From the unlikely pairing of a seasoned packaged goods brand manager and an ex-journalist-turned advertising maven it has been a long voyage from the day Rich Klein had to break it to Bill Fogarty’s wife that the pair was leaving their jobs to start a business with no business in hand. Lucky for advertising in the Southwest, Rich Klein and Bill Fogarty stayed true to their vision and made it happen, creating the best, darn agency in Houston, one with a rich legacy of innovation and accomplishment, integral community work, and programs to inspire future ad folks like themselves.

Rich will be truly missed but to further his legacy and to honor Rich’s passion to further the education of young people, the family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to:

The Rich Klein Communications Scholarship
AEFH
P.O. Box 27592
Houston, Texas 77227

I would encourage all who may read this to consider donating to this very worthy scholarship.

Thanks for reading and your interest. Thank you, Rich, for your advice, friendship and guidance over the years. We’ll miss you!

The Creative Process

Those of you in and around Houston are in for a treat. Register now for this Wednesday’s American Advertising Federation Houston’s Speaker’s Series Luncheon. It features cartoonist Mathew Diffee, frequent contributor to The New Yorker and Texas Monthly.

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