S.C.A.M.P.E.R. for Artists

This is from business marketing ideas but I love it for creating art too!

Alex Osborn, the originator of the brainstorming method, originally came up with many of the questions used in the SCAMPER technique. However, it was Bob Eberle, an education administrator and author, who organized the questions into the mnemonic to address specific questions that help solve business problems or ignite creativity during brainstorming meetings. The name SCAMPER is acronym for seven techniques; (S) substitute, (C) combine, (A) adapt, (M) modify, (P) put to another use, (E) eliminate and (R) reverse.

These keywords can be used to spark the creative process for painters, sculptors, crafters, writers or musicians. It is like disruptive thinking. Change the flow of the thought process in order to spark new paths of exploration. I have used many business techniques for creativity such as Mind Mapping, Storyboarding, Word Association and even collaborative painting processes; but I had not heard of SCAMPER until recently. The more I read about it, I saw that I have used this for decades, I just didn’t have this name for it.

When I began writing my first book, Image Transfer Workshop, with Darlene McElroy, we used to swap ideas. I even began to dream of new ways to transfer things. We would brainstorm daily and it became a process where we asked questions and then used the solution to apply it to another situation. In the next book, Surface Treatment Workshop, I came up with the idea to explore all the different possibilities and perspectives for the same acrylic technique. For example, an alcohol resist is the main technique, but I went on to explore how variables of surface, viscosity and temperature could result in different effects. This is basically what I was trained to do in writing my cognitive science experiments. I called it what-if.

S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is essentially a process for expanding and improving upon ideas by changing purpose, combining techniques, rearranging or finding new purpose. You can use the mnemonic to ask yourself questions about your process or artwork. Kick start a new perspective or even come up with a whole new material or technique. You do not need to ask the questions in a particular order. I find it helpful to take a concept and jump around with it. I will give you an example at the end.

So how can an artist or creative use this business model? I give you the standard business question and then I adapt it and add my own painting or creative bent. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. questions and ideas are malleable. Come up with your own interpretation or rearrange the order to make CAMPERS or play with the concepts. This is all about being creative.


The business question is: Can you replace a part of the process or finished result to generate new ideas? e.g.: What would happen to the project if we swapped X for Y?

For the artists it could be: What would happen if I used my hands to paint instead of brushes?

What if I used only black and white to make the painting and then added glazes?

What if I used oil pastels first to add a resist to the next layer of acrylic?

See how easy it is to generate creative ideas!


The business e.g.: What would happen to the project if we combined X and Y?

For the creative: What if you combined two different materials, ideas, or processes to come up with something unique? This is the realm of mixed media artists.

What if I combined 2 different painting styles like abstract background with a realistic element?

What if I mixed sand into my acrylic gels or added coffee crystals to my mediums? I did this in my book Surface Treatment Workshop.


The business question e.g.: What changes would need to be made to adapt this project to a different context? Apply a solution that worked well for you before to a different problem.

For artists: what would I need to do to take my painting and make it into a 3-D sculpture?

What if I used the idea for a painting and developed it into a story? Or if I wrote a short story and then painted it?


The business e.g.: What could we modify to create more value on this project?

For artists: What if I made a series of small pieces to create a larger image?

What if I enlarged a small area of an existing painting and used that as the next painting?

Put to another use

Business question e.g.: What other uses or applications might this project have?

For the artist: Could the painting become a design for a rug, jewelry or a dress?

What if I paint over a large part of a piece and create a new one on top?

What if I use the painting process to teach coping skills for children?

What if I use my art to write stories, make coloring books or to illustrate books?


The business focus e.g.: What could we remove from the project to simplify it?

For the artist: Does the painting work better without some elements? Use your thumb held out in front of you to obliterate the area while viewing the painting from a distance.

What if I eliminate the middle person in my art marketing? How can I simplify the art buying process?

What is non-essential or unnecessary? Can I sell the art without frames perhaps?


The business question e.g.: How could we reorganize this project to make it more effective?

For the artist: What if I painted in reverse on glass or Plexiglas?

What if I began my painting with a title or poem written onto the surface?

What if I worked on several paintings at once?

This method forces you to approach your project or problem in unexpected ways. Each question asks you to dig a little deeper into the issue and consider new possibilities. Here is the example for taking an idea and jumping it through the SCAMPER hoops. I check my lookbook idea journal for a color theme and then I flip through journals for a concept. Now I ask myself can the concept be put to another use? If I was going to paint an abstract space piece using analogous colors, what if I used the colors in different layers of cloth and then collaged then together and then cut into shapes. Could I use these pieces of fabric layers to make jewelry? I could dip them into resin and make earrings. How could I modify and simplify the process? I could create many different colors, shapes and textures at once by alternating the fabric layers. Then I could create an entire series of jewelry. I could use the leftover material scraps and roll them into beads and add them to my paintings. This is stream of consciousness creating! Go out and rearrange your thought processes, have some disruptive party gatherings with like souls and you never know, you could change the world for good.

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