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How to Create Unexpected Images from Everyday Objects

There’s a good chance you already know who Brock Davis is. Thanks to his inventive iPhone photographs that take everyday objects like cereal or carrots and turn them into TIE Fighters and pencils, he’s become a bit of a digital celebrity, with more than 150,000 Instagram followers. His work has been featured by Mashable, Fast Company, and most recently via a profile in Wired.

An ad-agency vet since 1995 (and currently a Group Creative Director at Space 150), Davis has done everything from designing t-shirts for Threadless to pursuing a project where he created one piece of creative work every day for a year. But it’s his iPhone photography that truly shows off his unique ability to see the things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives in different ways, making them new and magical again — a valuable design skill if there ever was one.

We sat down with Davis to talk about what goes into these images and round up five lessons you can learn from his curiosity, creativity, and unique perspective.

1. Let Your Curiosity Guide You

Talking to Davis, you realize very quickly that he’s an insatiably curious person whose photography and design is often driven by questions that start with “What if...” or “What could I do with...” His endless interest in playing with the possibilities of new (or different) artistic outlets is one well worth emulating. But he’s also a testament to the importance of translating curiosity into the proper follow-through to make a powerful image that has an impact. “It’s not that hard to come up with different ideas," he explains, "but you need to have the right kind of execution in order to help those ideas resonate.”

2. See the Potential in the Ordinary

There’s certainly a “cool” factor to Davis’ images — which take everyday objects and tinker with them to create new perspectives — but they’re more than that. It’s not an arbitrary fixation for him; it’s about helping us rediscover the overlooked. “I think that ordinary objects have more power than things that are new and unfamiliar to people,” he says. Davis believes that with objects like toothpicks, electrical sockets, and Q-tips, “if you can take something like that, and just give it a little twist, it makes it more powerful.” The result is design work that can show us our everyday world in a whole new light.

3. Be Spontaneous

Ideas often appear spontaneously to Davis when he’s in “auto-pilot” mode, doing things like washing dishes or cutting the grass. The ideas don’t always emerge fully formed, of course, so often spontaneous inspirations becomes spontaneous experimentation. “I’ll think about an object, sit back, and go ‘Hmm, I bet I could make it look like [my idea] if I just give it a few minutes worth of time,’" Of course, it’s not always a success; he admits that sometimes what he makes turns out “horrible.” Still, seizing upon that creative spontaneity is key. To Davis, “the more quickly that creativity can be captured and then executed and shared with other people, the more that it holds that sense of spontaneity intact.”

4. Always Consider the Context of Your Subject

Preserving an object’s natural context is a big part of Davis’ shooting process. Take "Cake Ramp," where a miniature car launches itself off a slice of cake. Originally imagined as a wedge of cheese, Davis realized that to honor the way cheese appears in everyday life, he’d have to include a cutting board or crackers in the shot. That, he felt, would distract from the image and its core idea. So, cheese became birthday cake, “because that can be on a plate as if a piece had been cut for someone. And then a little toy car makes more sense jumping a piece of cake, because maybe that’s one of the toys at the birthday party.” The result is an image that “is a stretch of the imagination” but still makes sense by being recognizable and familiar.

5. Always Be Creative. Always Be Learning.

If there’s one thing Davis conveys via his artistic evolution, it’s that you should never stop learning, experimenting, and pursuing your creativity. “I feel like creativity is one of those things where you should be kind of a constant student. I don’t think there really is an echelon to creativity. I just think that you continue to gain experience, and with that will come more skill in what you’re doing. There’s still something new to learn all the time.”

All images by Brock Davis

All images by Brock Davis

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