How are creatives staying inspired during the lockdown?

Creativity in isolation: creatives share their inspiration indoors
Creativity in isolation: creatives share their inspiration indoors

Yes, Contagion does make an appearance.

From meditation to social media, people in the industry have been forced to literally think inside the box in their search for inspiration amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

As the world continues to adapt to working from home, Campaign asked creatives from all levels what they are listening to, watching or reading to stay on top form.

Alex Grieve, executive creative director, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

I’m reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. As we transition to a new life working from home, it’s essential to create new habits to make work work.

I was reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve now stopped. 

David Kolbusz, chief creative officer, Droga5 London

Watching: I'm actually rewatching my two favourite television shows of the last decade: The Leftovers and Enlightened. Criminally undervalued in their time and victims of cancellation by an overzealous HBO, the showrunners were still given enough notice to give each programme the conclusion it deserved. Both are about how humans process grief, but one's a drama and the other a comedy. 

Listening: US Girls is the alias of singer/songwriter Meghan Remy. Every time she puts out a new album, I use it as an excuse to go back and revisit the rest of her exceptional catalogue. Heavy Light is her latest and it came out about a month ago, but I'm also just bouncing back and forth between her six other full-lengths as a matter of habit.

Reading: In spite of the fact that I read and loved Hilary Mantel before the whole Thomas Cromwell phenomenon, historical fiction never really interested me and this trilogy seemed a little too "middle class", chin-strokey for my tastes. Then I actually picked up Wolf Hall and read the first couple of pages. Holy fucking shit-fuck. I hope to get through all three by the time we're allowed to leave the house again.

Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer, Digitas UK

In times of trouble, I retreat into my bubble of literary escapism: the Lakeland catalogue. It’s a comforting, secure world comprising steam mops, miraculous expanding kitchen-drawer tidies and spring-release cake tins. 

There is nothing remotely unpleasant or difficult in Lakeland. Add a space and it could even be a theme park. There are no nasty surprises (there’s the moth-proofing system for that) and the most taxing decision is: would you would really use the deluxe heated clothes airer or not? 

The Lakeland catalogue is my constant comforting companion and when all this nastiness is past I’ll revert back to Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.

Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Havas London

In times of stress, I take solace in the oldies. At the moment, it's 1970s Willie Nelson. Red-headed Stranger. Tammy Wynette Golden Ring. Then I might change it up with some Millie Jackson. Caught Up. Millie has got me through some tough times in the past. She never lets me down.

The TV is constantly on while I work. Channel 81. They’re running all the old Powell and Pressburger classics. The Red ShoesA Matter of Life and Death. I love their work. Look up their company. The Archers' Manifesto. It’s brilliant. That’s how I work – one eye on the TV and one eye on Microsoft Teams.

When I was on gardening leave, I taught creative writing to a group of vulnerable women. I arrived full of woke aspirations and Ken Loach’s back catalogue. I was going to teach them how to unlock their stories. They had other ideas. All they wanted to do was write porn. Bad porn. Grammatically incorrect, gynaecology incorrect porn. For three months, all I did was say: "Sharon, you spell **** with an 'u' not an 'o'."

I’m trying to turn their writings into something… a book? Podcast series? Film? I’m not getting very far. It’s bad, but it’s a bloody hoot.

Guillermo Vega, chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

The Tangled Tree: a Radical New History of Life by David Quammen.

It’s a book about genetics and human nature. I have to admit I don’t read books about art and advertising very much. I love physics, social science and biology. It might seem weird, but it makes me think more laterally.

To be honest, it’s not super-hardcore science that I’m reading, but it definitely helps me balance my advertising self.

Adam Kean, executive creative director, Karmarama

Approaching Shakespeare by Professor Emma Smith.

It’s a podcast. And it’s brilliant. She takes each play and asks an unusual, lateral question. Something you don’t expect, which unlocks a whole new way in. And she does it with real charm and wit.

Josh Tenser, creative director, Uncommon Creative Studio

I’ve just put down Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion. It’s a brilliant character study by an incredible writer, nihilistic and beautiful – all at the same time. What a joy! I’m currently halfway through Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, which has also been a f****d-up, Pop Art blast so far.

I watched Climax by Gaspar Noé over the weekend. First off, it’s absolutely foul and extremely weird, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. But the camerawork is unreal. There’s things in it I’ve definitely never seen, that had me properly "WTF?!?!?" at points. And the soundtrack is a stone-cold banger. It’s definitely escapism!

Did you know Kieran Hebden has a secret playlist on Spotify with 1,322 of his favourite songs in it? You do now.

Keep safe, everyone!

Ali Freeman, art director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

My friends and I are planning on having regular video calls, but adding a creative edge to them. So things like:

  • All sitting down and having dinner together
  • The ones who are musical will be doing mini-gigs for us
  • Organising pub quizzes
  • Bedtime stories for our friends' kids
  • Playing digital hide and seek

Trevor Robinson, creative director and founder, Quiet Storm

I know I should be scared, especially since I’m older, but instead I find it quite exciting seeing this new wave of community arising amid all this uncertainty. I’ve just come back in from popping to the shops and couldn’t help but notice that people are seeing each other with new eyes, awakening a need to communicate.

Even in the supermarket, instead of the usual way of getting on with what you have to do, people are more open to having a conversation. As I was on my way back into the house, one of my neighbours who has never spoken to me before rushed to take the opportunity to talk to me and find out how I was doing.

Thinking back now to everything I’ve been watching recently, they are all of an apocalyptic nature. I’ve taken particular interest in series one of The Outsider, which also has a soundtrack I am quite keen on. I love the slightly ominous sound of music in Lost Star, which is quite a moody, Radiohead-type track that is perfect to work alongside.

Another song that’s taken my interest is Hair Down by SiR, featuring Kendrick Lamar, and Gangster No1 by White Sea. While working with my creative partner Neal, this music playing in the background is not too distracting.

I watched Contagion (starring Matt Damon) years ago, but had to go back and watch it again, considering the viral theme of the season. I’ve been watching Home, a Channel 4 comedy series about a refugee found in the back of a car, which is quite funny and improbable, but well-acted.

I’m still watching The Walking Dead, too, even though most people stopped watching it after the exit of Rick, played by Andrew Lincoln, who was well-known for his mispronunciation of his fictional son’s name, Carl. I found the season finale brilliantly funny, in light of the current pandemic. It’s definitely given me tips on how to get by during this period, like getting a flame-thrower.

My good friend Alan Young has also recently sent me the Desert Island Discs podcast with Ian Wright, which I have also shared with other friends. Only a person with a heart of stone wouldn’t get emotional listening to it, especially if you’re an Arsenal fan, and the music taste has also helped my playlist grow.

Sarah Levitt, art director, Now

Apart from having a one-year-old – who currently seems to be taking up the majority of my spare time at the moment! – I’m really enjoying reading Beth Kempton's Wabi Sabi. It’s a book of Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life. 

It’s really brilliant. One particular quote I love: "It’s less about what we see and more about how we see it." 

David Billing, chief creative officer, The Beyond Collective

I have two books waiting for me on the bedside table. The first was a Christmas present from my father-in-law, Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals (I think he was trying to make a political point). The second is Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. I think they’re both going to come in useful.

Stephania Silveira, creative director, Grey London

Listening to audiobooks while doing the laundry and other house chores gives me an incredible sense of calm in these turbulent times. And accomplishment – it’s the first time in years I've managed to empty all laundry baskets.

I’m listening to the book Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. The author makes very insightful observations on the use of social media and our inability to show solidarity without making it about our personal views and experiences. Very eye-opening in a period when everyone (including brands) are trying to show others that they care. It inspires me to use creativity for good in a genuinely helpful, not narcissistic, way.

Steve Howell, creative partner, Dark Horses

I found myself listening to quite a lot of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Ghosteen Speaks really made my kitchen feel like a sanctuary from the madness this morning.

Andrew Long, creative director, Leo Burnett London

OK, so I have to confess. As much as I wish I could, I’ve never been able to get into the whole meditation app thing.

Also, not a massive reader of books that don’t have lots of photography in them. The TV is filled with news and hysteria and the internet, although good for an occasional distraction, is a frenzy of speculation. All considered, calm feels a little hard to come by.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is everywhere I look. Seeing the locals of northern Italy forming a balcony band or joining in with Chris Martin’s Instagram Festival on my phone. Listening to Rita Wilson’s "Quarantunes" playlist. Even the countless #WFH bants sent around email by the Leo Burnett London lot yesterday.

Creativity is often born in a crisis. Necessity is the mother of invention and seeing people’s sense of humour and lateral thinking shine through in a time like this is, to me, incredibly inspiring. 

Oh, and I have about three episodes of Celebs Go Dating to catch up on whenever I do need to switch off completely.

Don’t tell Chaka. I’m working – promise.

Sacha Ward, creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London 

I'm listening to BBC Radio 3. The music is beatless and beautiful. And with very few news bulletins, it's largely free of coronavirus doom and gloom. With works from across the centuries, it reminds you that beauty and creativity endure.

Ben Brazier, creative, TBWA\London

My attic. 

It's a treasure trove. While most creatives mine YouTube and loiter in galleries, I don my old tracksuit and go exploring through the dust jungle. It's important that we don't all seek inspiration from the same places and I know for certain that nobody else will be writing ads about a broken Mega Drive and a paint-splattered Regi Blinker Sheffield Wednesday shirt.

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