From screen to screen: How to build your creative muscles

When I’m not experiencing the joys of fatherhood, I love nothing more than spending time in a shed at the end of my garden.

The end of the garden is an oasis where I spend time doing many wonderful things… like splitting logs while listening to Alice in Chains or incrementally nudging large pieces of paper on a fluorescent green screen-printing bench.

As a designer, I’ve always believed that engaging in creative hobbies outside of work is an important way to exercise my creative muscles and is essential for maintaining and enhancing my imagination and innovative abilities. I’ve been screen printing on and off for several years now. I love the creative and physical process of screen printing, but most of all it’s a chance to get my hands dirty and away from the Mac.

What is screen printing?

Screen printing is a process where ink is forced through a mesh screen onto a surface. Making certain areas of the screen impervious to printing ink creates a stencil, which blocks the printing ink from passing through the screen. The ink that passes through forms the printed image (it’s also a lot of fun).

I use screen printing for posters and sometimes on fabric. It’s a great way to explore new ideas, styles, and techniques outside the constraints of professional work. This definitely helps inspire me to fresh perspectives and innovative solutions in my design work. I’ve always found that learning and experimentation stimulates the brain and encourages creativity.

Day to day most of my creative output is done on a Mac. Screen printing gives me the chance to experiment with different mediums and use my hands for creative output. It’s a handmade printing technique, so there are multiple stages of the process. This often leads to unexpected discoveries, which leads to play and a playfulness that can stimulate creativity.

The main aim of my hobby is pure enjoyment, but I have introduced themes for print runs in the past to set limitations and constraints. This encourages creative problem-solving and can foster resourcefulness and unique solutions.

A central theme helps me to branch out with related ideas. For one of my projects, I wanted to create an abstract typeface from signal flags. To do this I photographed each of the flags while they were blowing in the wind to create the stencil and the flat shape retained a sense motion in the prints.

Designing professionally involves solving communication problems to specific client requirements and adhering to brand guidelines. Screen printing, however, offers me an outlet for personal expression, enabling me to explore my own style and ideas without constraints.

Constantly working on professional projects without a break can lead to burnout. For me, screen printing serves as a mental break, helping me recharge and prevent creative fatigue. This, in turn, can enhance focus and productivity when I return to my professional design work. Creative hobbies also provide a healthy balance between work and personal life. This balance is essential for our wellbeing, reducing stress and promoting a positive mindset that can enhance creativity.

Creativity is a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time. The key is to consistently engage in activities that challenge and expand your thinking, allowing your creative muscles to grow. The goal is not to turn your hobbies into work but to enjoy the process of creation and exploration. By fostering creativity outside of your professional responsibilities, you can bring a renewed sense of passion and energy to your design career.