March 22, 2023

The 5 Step Creative Process That Works


Why Use a 'Creative Process?'

A creative process can help you to create consistent work and avoid creative block.

Artists, Photographers, Designers, Musicians, Authorswhatever your creative pursuit, ideas can at times feel elusive. Creativity can begin to seem like a mystery—'inspired' and unpredictable.

Our best ideas can turn up when we least expect them, most often when we are unable to note them downlike in the shower or in the middle of a less than stimulating conversation...

While we all love the feeling of sudden inspiration, we can't always wait for it to strike. This is why it can be helpful to have a structure to follow.

This 5 Step Creative Process has served me well for 15 years, across multiple creative fields. It is the process I continue to follow as a Conceptual Artist. I hope it can help those of you who are new to creating, as well as those who may find themselves in a bit of a creative rut.

Portrait of Artist Leigh Schneider

Leigh Schneider

The 5 Step Creative Process

The next time you start a creative project, try these 5 steps: Topic, Research, Concept, Creation and Release, or T-R-C-C-R. I tried to make this an acronym, so it would be easier to remember and obviously failed miserably.

So, let's get to it!

Step 1: Topic

The first thing you want to establish, is what to create on.

When you take a commission, your client may provide this for you, or you can work on it together. When creating personal work, you have absolute freedom.

If you are stuck for ideas, think of subjects that you care about. What is a topic you connect to emotionally? What might you like to say to the world about it?

Using my artwork 'Self Medication' as an example, I chose the topic of addiction. Having been friends with an addict many years ago, who lost their life to their addictions, this was a topic close to my heart. I wanted to create work that held a hopeful disposition on this heavy subject, as well as communicated some of the complexities and choices associated with it.
photoshoot concept on addiction

Step 1: TOPIC ('Self Medication,' 2021)


Researching your topic can give you a broader perspective on it, which you can draw ideas from. It also shows you what has already been created on that subject, as well as what hasn't. This allows you to find your own spin and create something as unique as possible.

For 'Self Medication,' I drew from the experiences I had within my friendship, as well as from music on the subject. I also searched the web and watched documentaries on the topic of addiction.


Get your ideas down, without too much thought at first. Then, expand on them. Often the first thought you have on a subject, is the first thought a lot of other people have too. If you want to create work that really reflects your take and personal style, go deeper than that initial idea. Come up with a few more concepts, develop them further and refine them, until you have something that reflects the way you think and what you want to say.

The initial ideas I had on the topic of addiction, didn't involve a model wearing a headpiece of dead wildflowers, that were then set on fire. The idea formed via the development process. I thought about the symbolism of the flowers (being full of tiny seeds, which represent potential for new growth) and added to that the storytelling components of fire and water.
conceptual photography concept sketch

Step 3: CONCEPT ('Self Medication,' 2021)


Sometimes viewed from the outside as the full picture, the actual making of the work is just part of the whole process. You can of course create with no plan at all, but even that would require some prior organisation. By thinking about what you want to say with your creation before you make it, you are more likely to generate consistent work that is in alignment with your goals.

What creation involves, will depend largely on what you are making. For me, as a Conceptual Fine Art Photographer, it usually involves sourcing materials, handmaking props for the shoot, finding and communicating the idea to a model, location scouting, lighting planning, the shoot itself, image selection, post production and preparation for print.

The creation process for 'Self Medication,' involved many hours of picking dead wildflowers from empty, overgrown plots in Dresden and creating a paper mache headpiece, which I then added them to. This part of the creation process alone took over 20 hours. Then all that work got set on fire for the final image...

behind the scenes conceptual photoshoot

Step 4: CREATION ('Self Medication,' 2021)

making of conceptual photoshoot
making of conceptual photoshoot
making of conceptual photoshoot
behind the scenes conceptual photoshoot

Step 5: Release

Here is where you let the work make it's way out into the world. Take the time to share your creation and what inspired it with others. You never know who might need it. Even if it seems like noone does, that's ok tooyou made something that is meaningful to you.

This part of the process is also a good time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved on next time. Let this creation be what it is and take those lessons into the next project.

When I shared 'Self Medication' on my social media, I wrote about the concept and invited my followers to engage with the topic:

"This image was inspired by the song 'Medicine,' by band Daughter, as well as my own friendship with an addict many years ago.

The dead wildflowers that cover her head represent potentialeven when it seems like they have dried up, they are full of tiny seeds, ready to start again. Addiction is the fire that destroys that potential, difficult to contain, passionate in itself. The water represents choiceto put out the fire and the depths of the struggle to do so. The little detailsthe moths, leaves and dragonfly, represent transformation, a new season and the ability to rise above.

I hope I can use this medium to inspire thought on difficult topics and ignite vision for a future beyond them. You can help me in this by sharing my work and if you or someone you know has experienced addiction, please leave a black heart in the comments to show your solidarity. 🖤"

Many people did engage with the post and it helped some to feel seen.
conceptual photograph on the topic of addiction

'Self Medication,' 2021

Was This Helpful?

Please consider sharing this post and thanks so much for reading!