SPaRK - How to have great ideas: A guide to creative thinking

By Helen Yip - teacher at Asquith Girls High School.

Resource overview

A Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for visual arts Stages 4-6 (Years 7-12).

‘How to Have Great Ideas: A Guide to Creative Thinking’ by John Ingledew (2016), London, UK: Laurence King Publishing.

A kaleidoscope for ideas prospectors, this handbook outlines an extensive array of strategies and approaches for ideas generation and creative thinking. Creativity, an essential 21st century skill, is demystified and presented as a teachable way of seeing and understanding the world through playful experiments, associations and interconnections. Ranging from exercises in visualisation and improvisation to system swaps, tinkering and instinctive storytelling, each approach offers a practical means for developing novel concepts and bodies of work through the art making process. Concise explanations, insightful advice and illuminating examples, sourced from historical and contemporary graphic design, photography, art, architecture, fashion, music, engineering, animation and object design, provide teachers and students with rich stimulus material to inform classroom investigations and further research. Inspiring project ideas and briefs target the development of divergent thinking and multiple intelligences through conceptual and material interventions across everyday contexts and scenarios. The efficient layout and generous image plates activate intersections between diverse thinking techniques and creative disciplines. Teaching creativity is made authentic, lively and accessible through this immersive, joyful guide.

Educational significance

Offering practical approaches, insights and projects for developing students’ capacity and motivation to think creatively, this resource promotes conceptual autonomy, sustained material experimentation and positive risk-taking via the artmaking process. It highlights the significance of perceiving meaningful and unexpected connections between visual, physical, verbal, textual, spatial, sensory, environmental and psychological cues in students’ surroundings. The book also explores how ideas and actions can be enacted to generate innovative interpretations of the world. As such, this resource provides a useful scaffold and platform for enriching students’ understanding of how they can represent their intentions and an informed point of view in their artmaking, as well as in their critical and historical accounts.

Importantly, the book explores how the process of creative thinking underlies the practice of artists. This prompts students to consider the nature of practice as intentional and informed, constantly evolving over time, responsive to innovations and new knowledge, and shaped by re-interpretations and re-presentations of the world. Guided by the detailed strategies presented, investigations of diverse subject matter and forms will promote students’ ownership of their ideas and empowerment through the process of conceptualising, visualising, developing, making, collaborating on and resolving artworks.

Syllabus links

Additional syllabus links

Suggestions for using this text

This text serves as a useful reference guide for developing a range of critical, historical and artmaking investigations. Particular creative thinking strategies or approaches may be selected to form the focus of individual lessons or extended, project-based tasks. Or a combination of strategies may be explored, relevant to a certain design brief, challenging scenario or real-world context.

Teachers may choose to examine historical and/or contemporary examples of innovative thinking across different fields in the lead up to an artmaking task. Students could inform their own practical experimentation through research and analysis of the practice and work of other artists, designers and creative thinkers mentioned in the text.

The range of illustrated subject matter and forms also provides students with rich stimulus and source material for concept development, particularly towards the brainstorming, visualisation, production and documentation of a potential body of work or series of works. These processes could be undertaken individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a whole class. Alternatively, teachers may choose to utilise specific creative thinking techniques as short, strategic ‘warm up’ or training exercises at the beginning of lessons to provoke flexible, lateral thinking.

Students may be challenged to design their own tasks or proposals based on a selected creative thinking approach or scenario outlined in the book. Strategies such as free association, automatic drawing, analogies, recombining, visual connections, puns, elaboration and translation could be used to develop students’ analogical, web-like-pattern thinking and mind mapping of possibilities. Teaching students how to see and make connections across diverse contexts, and how to recognise when ‘aha’ moments occur, will develop their adaptability and trust in the artmaking process.

Teaching activities

  • Research and construct a ‘family tree’ documenting the historical development and evolution of a particular creative field or discipline, such as conceptual art, advertising, street photography, typography, architecture or fashion. Analyse how and why pivotal developments occurred, considering the avant-garde role of artists as creative thinkers and risk-takers within their contemporary art world and society.
  • Explore the personal spaces of artists and other creative thinkers, consulting various documentary sources such as photographs, articles and critical and historical accounts. Visualise and recreate a selected artist’s studio or workspace in the form of a panoramic mixed media collage, and overlay a transparent mind map of the artist’s aims, intentions, experiences, creative thinking process, words, materials, actions and experiments over this space. Refer to the photographic collages and composite polaroids of David Hockney for inspiration. Reconstruct the selected artist’s studio or workspace as a life size set and role play the artist. Based on these investigations, write an account examining how the artist’s practice has been influenced and informed by their surrounding environment and context.
  • Discuss the purpose of art and the role of the artist in society, considering the conceptual versus material and aesthetic valuing of art. Also examine the role of the audience in art, and whether art could exist without an audience. Critically consider these relationships and agencies, researching and comparing the manifestos of different artists and movements. Role play different artists, artist groups or viewpoints and debate what ‘good’ art is, considering how notions of creativity influence this concept. Watch Julian Rosefeldt's film Manifesto (2015). Encourage students to write their own manifesto or declaration of their beliefs and creative objectives, either individually or in groups. Share students’ manifestos and display them within the classroom to support students’ conceptual drive throughout the artmaking process.
  • Examine how artists visualise abstract ideas, referring to the work and practice of the Futurists, Abstract Expressionists, Surrealists and other artists such as John Cage. Analyse how these artists innovatively translated abstract concepts and experiences into material forms. Experiment with visualising and drawing abstract subject matter such as different genres of music, tastes, sensations and onomatopoeias.
  • Analyse how and why Dadaists and Surrealists utilised the nonsensical, irrational and subconscious to generate unusual connections and chance associations. Account for the role of collage and automatic drawing in the practice of Dadaist and Surrealist artists, considering artists’ contemporary socio-political context. Refer to the works of Hannah Höch, Man Ray, André Masson and Joan Miró. Experiment with the processes of collage and automatic drawing to develop an understanding of the nature of free association. Appropriate signage systems or everyday objects and create absurd signs or sculptures that challenge the expectations and perceptions of viewers, provoking questions, new associations or humorous reinterpretations.

Syllabus outcomes

A student:

  • explores the roles and relationships between concepts of artist, artwork, world and audience through critical and historical investigations of art (Conceptual framework, P8, Visual Arts Stage 6 Syllabus)
  • explores ways in which significant art histories, critical narratives and other documentary accounts of the visual arts can be constructed (Representation, P10, Visual Arts Stage 6 Syllabus).

Additional syllabus outcomes


  • Experiment with visual storytelling by finding six random images from magazines and inventing a narrative. Consider interesting visual or conceptual connections, and how the sequencing of the images affects how the story could be interpreted. Write down the story in six words or, Twitter-style, in 280 characters. Alternately, divide a whiteboard or large piece of paper into 6 equal rectangles; one student draws a starting image as the opening scene, then other students complete the storyboard, aiming to incorporate twists in the story. Create a short film or animation based on these visual narratives.
  • Draw a familiar image, symbol or object. Exchange drawings with another student and rotate their drawing to visualise something different. Commit to new associations without judgment and transform the drawing. Experiment with multiple exchanges and limited time frames.
  • Construct a story within a story, referring to how Duane Michals constructs an unexpected, cyclical narrative in his photographic series Things are Queer (1973), and the appropriation of Google Street View by Dan Glaister and Ali Kayley.
  • Investigate the potential for humour to generate unusual ideas and associations, experimenting with puns, everyday sayings or idioms. Create a photographic series or sculpture inspired by taking words or phrases literally, or by interpreting them in alternative ways. For example, a ‘letterhead’ could be reinterpreted as a wearable text sculpture or sleep idioms could be translated into soft sculptures using recycled pillows.
  • Visualise analogies, brainstorming how two seemingly unrelated objects, items, images or words might connect or be integrated. Refer to the tent designs of FieldCandy, such as Fully Booked and Picnic Perfect.
  • Explore wordplay by collecting or documenting words within words in packaging, street or shop signage and reflections. Decipher and photograph letterforms that are accidentally created in the environment through the effects of time, decay, wear, repairs, light, shadows, rain or movement. Improvise and develop your own typography by using found objects or things immediately at hand such as stationery, clothing, desktops and people.
  • Propose and implement alternative uses for everyday items, objects or spaces, experimenting with repositioning, recontextualisation or surreal, shifting viewpoints. Consider Hussein Chalayan’s Autumn/Winter collection 2014 of nail art dresses, Jan von Holleben's series Dreams of Flying and Phillipe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus (1948).
  • Deconstruct an object or series of objects into their component parts. Photograph, draw and/or categorise these. Rearrange, recombine, reposition and reinterpret these parts via 2D collage and/or 3D sculpture to generate altered formations, metamorphosed objects and eclectic visions. Refer to Picasso’s Bull’s Head (1942), Ai Weiwei's Forever (2003) and Todd McLellan's series Things Come Apart. Experiment with digital and hand-generated collage techniques, overdrawing, mark-making, photocopy enlargements, monoprinting and frottage to create a series of exploratory studies of these reconstructions. Curate and present a collection of these curiosities, similar to the hybrid specimens and contemporary wunderkammers of Maïssa Toulet.
  • Take a walk, observe and record unexpected scenes, objects or relationships in natural or urban environments, looking up, looking down, cloud spotting and imagining possible visual, physical or spatial interventions. Experiment with layered drawings, photographs and collages to visualise and develop site-specific proposals. Research the practice of biomimicry, referring to nature for ways of developing new connections and innovative, sustainable solutions. Consider how Massoud Hassani was inspired by tumbleweeds to create Mine Kafon Ball. View Archigram's designs for the Walking City and the Plug-In City.
  • Question and change what appears fixed about particular objects or social activities, such as a house, a camera, a phone booth or eating in a restaurant. Envisage reversals, alternative forms, ephemeral performances and unexpected scenarios that challenge conventions and audience assumptions. For example, devise a lost owner poster, portray a bad manners café or propose how a movie could be improved if audience members had their phones turned on. Tinker with broken cameras to discover new ways of recording the world, referring to the contemporary revival of tinkering.


A student:

Additional outcomes

References and further reading

Professional resources

Art Gallery of New South Wales. (2018). Contemporary art education kit

Art Gallery of New South Wales. (2018). Photography education kit.

Museum of Contemporary Art. (2018). Learning resources - ephemeral and performance art.

Yip, H. (2017). Developing innovative thinkers and positive risk-takers. Scan 36(3).


642 places to draw. (2014). San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Bird, M. (2012). 100 ideas that changed art. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing.

Clements, F. (2015). Have a little pun: An illustrated play on words. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Danchev, A. (Ed.). (2011). 100 artists’ manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Feijoo, M. (2016). Cloud sketching: Creative drawing for cloud spotters and daydreamers. Beverly, MA: Quarto Publishing Group USA.

Fulford, J. & Halpern, G. (Eds.). (2014). The photographer’s playbook: 307 assignments and ideas. New York, NY: Aperture.

Ingledew, J. (2011). The A-Z of visual ideas: How to solve any creative brief. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing.

McLellan, T. (2014). Things come apart: A teardown manual for modern living. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.

Nielsen, D. & Thurber, S. (2016). The secret of the highly creative thinker: How to make connections others don’t. Amsterdam, Netherlands: BIS Publishers.

Ono, Y. (2000). Grapefruit: A book of instruction and drawings by Yoko Ono. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.


Ai Weiwei. (2013).

Centre for Experimental Practice. (2010). Archigram Archival Project.

David Hockney. (2018).

Dezeen. (2017). Hussein Chalayan.

FieldCandy. (2016).

Jan von Holleben. (2018).

John Cage. (2016).

Julian Rosefeldt. (2018).

Maïssa Toulet. (n.d.).

Massoud Hassani. (2013).

Todd McLellan. (n.d.).

How to cite this article – Yip, H. (2018). SPaRK – How to have great ideas: A guide to creative thinking. Scan 37(5).

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