Brendan Dawes’ seven rules of creativity

By Huge London

February 2, 2021

The UK artist puts on a master class for Huge London on how to keep your creative spark burning bright.

Brendan Dawes is a UK-based artist who uses generative processes involving data, machine learning and algorithms to create a panoply of projects. His work comprises interactive installations, electronic objects, online experiences, data visualisations, motion graphics and imagery for screen and print. In short, he knows a thing or two about digital.

Despite its centrality in his work, Dawes sees technology as simply the vehicle for delivering the story he wants to tell. “Stories are universal,” he says. “Stories are what people care about and what resonate. Data needs poetry to make it come alive.” Recently, Dawes was the guest speaker at Make Something You Love, a semi-regular series of talks by makers, for makers, about the art of creating something out of nothing, hosted by Huge London. In the course of sharing details of his creative process, seven key lessons emerged that could apply across creative disciplines. Find them here, along with inspiring soundbites from the man himself.

1. Embrace doing nothing — absolutely nothing In a world where being “busy” is considered a badge of honor, Dawes stresses the importance of switching all the way off. He believes that it is in times of stillness that all the different information he has consumed, both actively and passively, commingle to form new ideas.

“Turn off notifications on your phone,” he counsels.” In fact turn your phone off, get into nature, go for a walk, and sit doing nothing on a park bench and let all your ideas mesh together.”

2. Learn from, don’t copy Drawing inspiration from others is a critical part of the creative process and can come in many guises. But inspiration is not imitation. Dawes says the best thing to do is to remember the “headlines” — that is, the outline of the idea or concept — but to actively try to forget the details. “Let everything go fuzzy,” he says, “and what will come out the other end is yours.”

3. Be innately curious Dawes is an avid reader, enjoying material across a wide range of subjects, from architecture to poetry. “Whilst I am neither an architect nor a poet, absorbing this material enables me to open up my mind to new concepts and possibilities,” he says. Dawes believes that inspiration can come from anywhere, and his job as a creative is to constantly question and, most importantly, listen to the answers. That way he’s certain to be open to different perspectives.

4. Do things you don’t know how to do, then learn how Comfort and complacency are the enemies of great creative work. Dawes says boredom is the leading indicator that complacency has begun to set it. As an antidote, he recommends trial and play. “Experiment with new ideas and techniques,” he says. “The [goal] is not perfection, but to continuously push your brain to do new things. You also never know when these little ideas may be brought out of the drawer at a later date.”

5. Don’t believe your own PR “Do not take your current successes for granted. Ego will start to color the way you view the world.” It’s a lesson Dawes learned from his dear friend, the legendary American graphic designer and filmmaker Hillman Curtis. “Don’t surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear. Surround yourself with people who tell you what you need to hear — people who give you open and honest feedback.” Dawes stresses the importance of putting yourself out there and actively seeking out critique and listening to it. Doing so can’t help but make your work better.

6. Don’t react immediately We have all received emails that have made our hearts race and blood pressure skyrocket. Brendan stresses the importance of taking a breath, walking away and coming back to the email with fresh eyes. “I have my wife to thank for this,” he says. “Walking away has allowed me to respond much more rationally than I would have done in the moment, and often when I re-read, it is often not as bad as my first interpretation.”

7. Be yourself Particularly in creative fields, it can be difficult to carve out your niche. Don’t try to approximate or absorb someone else’s creative sensibilities, as it will just come across as disingenuous and inauthentic. “Bring yourself to the stage, to your work,” Dawes says. “People respond best to people who are being people, mistakes and all.”