When I'm working on a visual design project, one of my favorite parts of the process is the "not doing" phase.
When I'm designing a book, business card, or illustrating an idea I first get clear on the intention of the project. What is the hope or aspiration? What meaning and feeling will it convey? What is the design intention? I then spend hours looking at other types of design (the joke in graphic design is that there are no original ideas, just borrowed ones) seeing what styles have resonance, even if I'm not sure exactly why. Once I'm visually satiated, it is then time for the "not doing." That means forget all about the project, go for a walk or the gym, and completely surrender the idea to my unconscious. It's like heading out while a big pot simmers on the back of the stove: I know when I return that something delicious will be waiting. All those ideas and other images will have been digested, transmuted into something new and exactly what I need for the project. It's a kind of composting. It requires a trust in my capacities of creative digestion. And it's deeply pleasurable.
Sometimes the composting, this "not doing" can happen in the present moment. For example, I have a concept like "itch" that I want to illustrate. I'm curious about the sensory experience of itch and perhaps I read a bit about it, discerning the differences between itch and scratch and pain, discovering the role of natriuretic polypeptide b (Nppb) and the pathways between skin and brain, etc.. And then I just let my pencil wander across the page, letting images emerge that are not a conscious depiction of "itch" but more an embodied sourcing of what my eyes and drawing hands 'hear' from the intelligence of my body that knows "itch." The result is not something my mind would ever have designed, but the image has resonance for all the rest of me.
How about you? How do you compost ideas? What are your tools of alchemy?