Subliminal Fermentation

While you are on your way to meet your friend for dinner, an old song comes on the car radio.  You immediately recognize the tune, feel very happy and can sing (almost) all the words, but what’s the name of the artist who sings that song?  You run through a bunch of names, but you just can’t remember.  So frustrating!  Two days later, you meet another friend at the movies (you really lead a relaxing life).  Although you are really enjoying the film, halfway through you scream “Rick Astley!  It was Rick Astley!”  How did you suddenly remember the artist’s name?  You certainly weren’t concentrating on remembering – you remembered because your brain was processing this question all along.  Way to go, brain!

My biology professor in college used the term Subliminal Fermentation (a term I can’t seem to find in any formal, online searches) to describe the way our brains seem to “stew” on thoughts while we aren’t thinking about them – our trusty brains are still solving puzzles while we are sleeping, while we are exercising, while we are focused on other things.

How Subliminal Fermentation Relates to Card Design

So what does this have to do with card making?  Well, Subliminal Fermentation is the first step of most cards I make.  I’m not very good at making a card “on the fly” – if you handed me a sketch and then stood over my shoulder to watch me make it, I’d be a disaster.  I like to ponder an idea for a while and prompt my mind to do a lot of the designing work for me.  🙂  Some of my best ideas have come to me while I’m trying to sleep or just waking up from a nap or doing something mundane (like grocery shopping).  When I approach a sketch challenge, I study the drawing and reference it over-and-over before heading downstairs to The Fungeon to begin creating my project.

Here are some ways that you can train your brain:

  • If you want to create fresh and new cards, take some time away from your craft space to let your mind have fun for a while.  Before you take a walk or before you head to bed, think about what types of projects you want to make.  Give a quick thought about what products you might want to use or what style of card you might want to complete.  Then let it go.
  • If you are inspired by a color combination, set the ink pads together on the corner of your desk so that you can reference them frequently.
  • If you are stuck on a card (you know it needs something else, but you can’t define it), walk away.  Have dinner.  Sweep the kitchen.  When you come back, you might not have the answer, but you’ll have a fresh perspective.

Don’t get me wrong – Subliminal Fermentation doesn’t do all the work for me.  Thinking and planning will never take the place of creating, but it can certainly make your design time more productive.  Nothing’s final until the paper is cut and the stamps are inked – and that come sometimes be the most enjoyable part.

You don’t have to CONCENTRATE on something to THINK about something.  Prompt your mind with the concepts and let it exercise a little bit.

Thanks for stopping by today!


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  1. I get the same results through mindless meditation!

  2. Oh my goodness, this is brilliant! I’d never thought of CREATING this way…. It happens to me all the time! (Actually that Rick Astley thing actually DID happen to me recently!- although, not in a movie theatre!!) thank you for the lesson! You’re a fantastic teacher!

  3. I too have had a Rick Astley moment! How bizarre….
    I am worried about sounding ‘a bit wrong’ here – by saying I often muse designs in the shower!…. (just saying). lol 😀

  4. Meeting a friend for dinner, going to the movies, taking a nap…so that is what a bachelor’s life is like…sounds like heaven to me! 🙂

  5. So, was the song “Never Gonna Give You Up”?

  6. Thank you for this post Brian and for validating the process I use when I create! I too ponder on sketches. Sometimes long enough to miss a sketch challenge, LOL. But that’s ok. I can always use a good sketch. 🙂

  7. That is very true. I do a lot of thinking while I sleep and often come up with ideas or solutions at night. And not just for creating. The challenge is to remember it all when I sit down to create.

  8. I create in the same way! Most of the planning gets thought out before even stepping into my craft room!

  9. I do this same thing (not thinking about Rick Astley) when I am designing a card layout . In fact it can clutter up my thinking sometimes if I don`t lay out some of the paper ,ink pads ,punches , get the process rolling . My problem is I sometimes have two or three ideas brewing and that can lead to a lot of “creative clutter”. But that is the fun of being a card “Artist”. I like that term “Fermentation” except it reminds me of cheese for some reason!

  10. Maria Rodriguez

    Well, I didn’t know that was the term for it but I have had that kind of Fermentation, unfortunately, not to make cards, the layout and combination of colors and patterns will forever be my nemesis, (SP??). Sometimes, and it can be at any time of the day or night, I suddenly remember where I put the receipt of the toaster oven I needed to return, (it was way to big) or the keys to the lock of the darn shed, sheeesh!!
    Thank goodness for creative people like you Brian, who share your Subliminal Fermentation with us, daily.

  11. Subliminal! WOW! All I hear in my head today is Rick Astley! And I have to say Mister That’s just wrong!!! LOL Rick Astley is a torture name in my family… All I have to do is say the name to my Sister & or Son and I’ve planted the seed the will keep on giving ALL DAY LONG “Never Gonna Give You Up” Sad thing is I scan you email first thing in the morning saw that name and Had to close the email… I haven’t even been able to read it yet! But I will! just because I know it sounded interesting. Hope you have a great Time at convention!

  12. Selina Kilpatrick

    Brian, you nailed it! That’s how I approach almost any creative project, I just never had a name for the process. I love it!

  13. Subliminal Fermentation reminds me of Gwyneth Paltrows “conscious uncoupling”, ha ha! It’s an interesting theory though…

  14. I must be weird! I never know what I’m going to do when I sit down to make a card. The few times I did have a design in mind when I started, I ended up with a card that looked absolutely nothing like my original idea. LOL Sometimes I start by picking out a stamp, sometimes by picking out a color of card stock, sometimes a die I want to use. It always turns out O.K. no matter what I start with. I think part of it may be that I have just got too many hobbies. On the other hand it may be that card making is my favorite. I don’t know. Brian is right though – I cannot begin to count the times that I can’t recall a name or a date or whatever and two hours later I blurt it out and the hubs looks at me and says “what are you talking about?”. Well, he’s gotten used to those type of outbursts and now, on occasion, he finds himself in the same boat!

    Have a safe and wonderful trip Brian. Enjoy your time is SLC and just absorb the entire experience. Hope you have enough fun for all of us!

  15. “Nothing’s final until the paper is cut and the stamps are inked”
    And even then there’s something you can do to change it up if you need to! I love that about the creative process. How many times have you told us on here that the design needed that final something? (Usually candy dots, in the recent examples!) Great post, Brian, as always 🙂
    I hope you are having a ball in Salt Lake – I cannot wait for the European Convention in October for just that reason. I hope to “join” you through the magic of the internet for one or more of the live streaming sessions from SLC!

  16. Thanks for the tip.
    Here’s one for you: try the app Soundhound. When you activate it, it gives you the title of song you hear when you’re shopping and can’t remember what the tune is you’re hearing. You can even sing a few bars of a song and it will give you title, artist, and even lyrics. It’s a pretty cool app!

  17. I can totally relate. I just thought I was pouring the idea on the “back burner” of my brain.
    This just happened to me actually.
    I was stressing because I wanted the Stampin write markers for the new in
    colors for a card but don’t have them yet … And much later it occurred to me that I could do the card with that technique if I used the previous in color color scheme …
    It sounds kind of silly now that I write it down. But I think this is what you were talking about with subliminal fermentation.

  18. I like that phrase, subliminal fermentation. 🙂 I like to do that on my morning walks sometimes, but occasionally I find myself trying too hard to come up with something. I like your reminder to just let it go and trust your brain to figure it out. It’s like those Chinese finger traps we used to play with as a kid – the harder you pull, the harder it is to get your finger out. When you just relax, it’s much easier. 🙂

  19. I also do that all the time, and like Kelly, will miss a sketch challenge because my brain hasn’t come up with something for me yet. I once wanted to make a halloween card and woke up knowing I would cut it out looking like a witches shoe. After that the card came together so quickly. but that fermentation process can be a long long time.

    Thanks for explaining ourselves to us Brian. Have a wonderful time in UTAH!!


  20. Rick Astley…wow, I had such a crush on that red headed guy with the deep voice. Actually have his album! I often step away from cards and look at other crafting forms, like quilting or sewing. Looking how those types of crafts have patterns and color combinations inspires me to transfer that “look” into a stamped card. Guess that is still CASEing but I am using it more as a jumping off point for the card.

  21. ..never gonna run around and desert you!!!

    My teenaged girls know this song! Don’t ask me how. They have such a disdain for any music that I like 🙂 .

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