You’re decided to go to college to become a graphic designer, and your Digital Media professor gives you the hardest assignment of your life on day one.

Your Professor:
You have until next class period to create an interpretive self-portrait of yourself in PhotoShop. You cannot use your physical likeness in the art. No body parts or photographs can be used in the design. The design must represent something deeply personal about you, but you do not have to tell the class why it represents you upon submission. You have 48 hours.


Julia Sotnykova Art

You go home, your head in a slump, and you sit down at your desk with a pen and a paper.

Ideas for Interpretive Self Portrait,” your write at the top. Then, you add a few bullet points. “Yeah, this is good.

Now what?” you ponder.

Your mind begins to turn into a solid shade of white. Nothingness. Then, the flood comes:

  • How do I even begin to design an interpretive self portrait?
  • What images are analogous to my life right now?
  • How do I make the design telling, yet mysterious?
  • How do I create a design that doesn’t give away too much about my deep dark secrets but also accurately portrays something about me?
  • What if it’s awful? What if everyone else’s is better than mine?
  • How in the world am I supposed to finish this by next class period?

As an artist, you are probably well aware of this thought process. You don’t even give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You drove yourself into the ground before you even had the chance to speak about it. Inspiration, in this case, that strikes you like lightning from time to time is not anywhere to be found, and you have a blank canvas in front of you that needs filling, and filling fast. More questions may seem to trickle in:

  • How do you fake inspiration?
  • How do you at least “fake it ‘til you make it?’
  • Is that even possible?

Before you go off the deep end with this story in mind, take a deep, deep breath in through your nose for 4 counts. And, slowly let a cool exhalation come out through your mouth for a solid 8 counts.

Okay, take a moment and heed my instruction.

I want you to think about the person in this story, and ask yourself, “Is this the only person to have ever felt these feelings or had an assignment like this?” Absolutely not. Because we reside in the technological age, do you think it’s possible that other people have written about ways to overcome this? You bet.

And now, I am one of those people. So, I want you to listen here, and listen close. There is only one piece of advice I want to give you out of all the research I have done on creating in the face of blankness and no lightning-strike inspiration.

My advice is to view the creation of art as a process of elimination, creating numerous, strategic limitations for yourself until you create something meaningful to you.

Decide what supplies you won’t use to create the design. Decide what designs you do not want to create. Use the process of elimination. Once you have done that as much as you feel is adequate, ask yourself, “How can I limit my artwork?” Implement three limitations on the piece at least, whether that be in style and material or inspiration and how long it takes you to complete it. Doing so, you will find, will actually give you much less options, in turn, making it easier to choose what you will create and will find inspiration from. Stress will melt away, and your creative juices will begin to flow.