The Creative Scrapbook

The Creative Scrapbook

Where does the inspiration for great creative work come from? YouTube? Long baths? Long baths watching YouTube? Beer? Walks? Walks to beer?

How about from a large green book? With no title. No picture. Nothing on the spine even. Merely a small logo in the corner that reads L. CORNELISSEN & SON.

Since time immemorial these green tomes have been a secret stash of inspiration for me and other creatives. The weapon of choice to crack a brief. Scraps of (potential) gold, between green covers, hoping for the oxygen of a brand to launch into the world. 

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Cover of Dave Dye’s Illustration scrapbook

I remember my first green book moment, at BBH in the 90s with Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth. My creative partner Adam Scholes and I were having a review and Tony reached into his cupboard and retrieved one. I’d never seen anything like it. An Aladdin’s cave of cool shit. Bits of type. Bonkers photos. Scraps of paper. Quotes. Colours. Pieces of material. Any and everything that had caught his and Kim’s eye.

He gently bollocked us for not having our own version before we legged it to the nearest London Graphic Centre to stock up. I spent the next few months filling them up. And have done ever since, dipping in regularly for inspiration and desperation in equal measure.

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John Hegarty quote in the Evening Standard

By curating your own stuff you are creating a unique collection. Sir John Hegarty said a while back, “Don’t sit at a computer all the time because then you are looking at the same thing as millions of other people.” A quote I studiously put into my scrapbook. The internet is a big place. On Pinterest there are currently 50 billion pins across 1 billion boards. But all the same he has a point. Most pins are pallet projects and vegan recipes.

Tony and Kim weren’t the only ones doing them. There was a hardcore at Leagus Delaney, Dave Dye being the Godfather of them all. “I started doing them at Simons Palmer,” he says. “I thought if I gathered enough reference I could merely dip in and out of my scrapbook and I’d crack it.” From Dave’s incredible body of work it looks like a wise move.

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Spread from Dave Dye’s scrapbook

Another prolific scrapbooker is Mark Denton: “I’ve always liked creating worlds ever since college. I still do it now – whether it’s for a stills shoot or a TV ad, the minute I start thinking I start making scrapbooks.” Mark’s collection of ‘worlds’ is as meticulously kept as his moustache: ‘Graphics 1’. Graphics 2’. ‘Men’s Clothes’. ‘Women’s clothes’. ‘Men clothes tracksuits’. These are just some of the titles in his huge collection. 

There broadly seems to be two types of scrapbook. The ‘concept’ book, that leads directly to ideas. Adam and I got our Lynx ‘Weddings’ press ad straight from a clipping from an East Sussex free paper. Very rare when this happens. But very lovely when it does.

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Clippings from the wedding page of the East Sussex News, around 1993

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The resultant print ad for Lynx, created at BBH, Photographer: Ariel Van Stratton

The second type of book is more an art direction tool, when the idea is formed and you’re drilling into it. Rosie Arnold shared with me one of her little black books (they don’t all have to be big and green) for her Levi’s Blind People’s press campaign. It’s a fascinating insight into her world of lighting / cropping / casting – virtually doing the photographer’s treatment for them. 

Mike Mckenna, Nik Gill, Mark Reddy, Luke Williamson, Flo Heiss and a thousand other names were at it. Laurence Quinn of adam&evddb even took to collecting headlines. Why should art directors have all the fun.

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Rosie Arnold’s scrapbook for the Levi’s Red Tap ‘Feel’ print campaign; photography by Glen Luchford

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Then the internet arrived. And everything changed.

It was a while before the launch of Pinterest – widely regarded today as the home for digital scrapbookers – but in the intervening years there was an inevitable move from Pritting to pinning.

Paul Belford decided to get a massive hard drive which he’s been filling up ever since: “I created two folders: ‘photography’ and ‘design’ and that was pretty much it. I drag and drop any and everything I like,” he says. “I dip in at random places and see what wonders I’ve forgotten I had.” 

Creatives starting out in the digital era could be forgiven for thinking that cutting and pasting is a bit meh. Why bother when you’ve got the whole wide world of ref at your fingertips? Surely the internet is your scrapbook.

It’s a fair point. With less space in offices there’s no room for them. And with less time on briefs you need to get to the source quicker. Three weeks on a brief is now more like three days. Of all the younger teams I spoke to none had old school scrapbooks and all used Pinterest or bookmarked pages and sites.

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Tony Davidson’s Pinterest page

Davidson can see the benefit of both: “My scrapbooks are open for the department to look at. I also have large Pinterest files that I share. There is still something about the physicality of scrapbooks that is different to storing things online. Staying curious and collecting things that inspire you outside of the strategy or brief is critical unless we want all our work to be totally data driven.”

Digital scrapbooks throw up another question – public or private? “Don’t reveal your sources,” was John Webster’s mantra, echoed more recently by Graham Fink to Dave Dye when he decided to put all his scrapbooks on Pinterest.

It all depends. If it’s art direction, people seem to be cool with sharing. But if it’s ideas, it’s best kept locked.

It also depends on the stage of your career. If you’re a young creative team making your way then it would be unwise to share too much. However, if you’re an ad legend with hundreds of awards to your name, you’re probably big enough to not care. 

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Dye, like Davidson, still feels paper ultimately has the edge. “I think there is something about the actual act of bothering to cut something out and stick it in a book that stays in your brain. It’s an act of ‘doing’ that resonates. The super speedy nature of marking a page on the web can often get lost in the scramble of the brain.” 

This is often described as kinaesthetic behaviour, in which learning takes place by students carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations. Getting your hands dirty basically.

Tony Cullingham at Watford College has produced no end of successful award-winning creatives for the industry. And is seeing first hand the digital habitats of the next generation, which he is trying to balance with an appreciation for paper, explained in a recent blog post:

The computer is a big cluttered cupboard, a super-fast postman and a very clever professor. But it’s not a creative tool. Not when your task is to come up with new ideas.

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Spreads from Mark Denton’s scrapbook

Caroline Pay, joint ECD at Grey and a student of Watford herself, has never really dabbled in either, but has another way in:

“I suppose I always likened my office to a scrapbook. I tend to immerse myself in stuff – so whatever project I’m on I’ll surround myself in it – rather than looking down at paper or on screen – I just look up and cover the walls.”

It seems there is no right or wrong way. What suits the individual is what goes. If there was one way to guarantee amazing award-winning work, we’d all be doing it. But until that day we’ll just keep cutting, pasting, bookmarking, covering walls and pinning together with the odd bath and beer, hopefully coming up with gold along the way.

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