Artemy Lebedev

§ 61. How to get instantly creative:  A concise guide

December 1, 2000

One of the major goals of a creative agency or studio is thinking up and implementing creative works. But certainly not with every design task can you employ means and tools required to implement a large and expensive project. Of course, it’s primarily up to the customer: as a rule, he is not prepared to pay for a banner as much as he would normally fork out for an intro of the main page (sometimes it takes more time and pain to draw a banner, though).

The vast majority of Russian designers don’t pay excessive attention to this problem: they’ve got five or six links to photo bank websites and a dozen CDs with a pirate Corel library in store.

A design studio with staff limited to a student busy with keeping the pot boiling can afford to put a $30–50 price tag on a banner that was whomped up using just one picture cribbed from elsewhere, and an animated font placed askew. Strange as it is, most of “full-fledged” studios unashamedly adopt the same approach to their work. Websites built on one picture (that is often touched up to hide watermarks) are too widespread not to stick out a mile. Even if a manager’s conscience suddenly begins to gnaw at him and he decides to pay a hundred for an official license for the picture, the studio’s honor will still be tarnished, since snaffling pictures from photo banks is a disgraceful offence, if we are talking about design, not a second-rate junk. Scrounging someone other’s work is way too simple to cost the money paid for original work.

Obiter dictum

Using photo banks is only permissible if you cannot possibly get a picture anywhere else. Among such pictures are photos of planets, comets and archive photos. But even with these complicated items it’s better to find the first-hand source and pick the pictures that never hang in the first catalog you come across.

A special case is with canonical pictures and paintings. Mona Lisa, for instance, will always be one, there’s nothing to add. Photos of John Wayne may differ in size and quality, but a copy from a photo bank will likely be far better than a clipping from People.

So what a poor designer can do when he needs to quickly get an inexpensive picture, but the wicked art director tells him to forget all about photo banks?

For a spectacular result, a scanner plus a digital camera may come handy. You can also do with only one of these, but taking the scanner out, pressing it to the ground and scanning it isn’t an easy thing to do. The same with the camera: if you need a picture of the top of a caviar can, the camera may fail to do as good a job as you probably need.

The following is three examples of getting the hang of how you can get instantly creative:

Designer is thinking… …and here’s what is to be done
I need to illustrate the Partnership section of company A website. I guess I’ll just go to and type partnership in the search line. And I bet they’ll gimme forty pages with lots of handshakes. And you know what? I’ll just take a picture from the first page and post it in the section. Get Dumpkin and Stumpkin to stand near the fridge if there’s no other white background, and take a picture of their handshake on a digital camera. (You better think of something else, since a handshake is the first commonplace banality to imagine as an illustration of partnership).

I’ve been assigned with making a banner to advertise fall discounts at company B. I guess I’ll just go to and do a couple of searches using the key word “maple leaf”.

Go out into the street, pick up a maple leaf and scan it.

I was told to make a page where there’s a paper note with “Gone to Lucy. Back soon. Get yourself a drink.” scribbled on it. Guess I’ll take Brush Script or some other typeface and get the thing done.

Take a scrap of paper, write the message on it and scan the note.

If you need a picture of a light bulb, unscrew one and take its picture. If you need a clockwork, take a snapshot of the first you can find. If you can’t find one, buy a broken one at a flea market. If you need soil texture, there’s a flowerbed outside. Similarly, you get a flower at the florist’s, a keyboard—right from your own desk.

And so on.

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