Storytelling is an ancient art to engage and entertain an audience. Today, however, storytelling has become essential even in creating art pieces, designs, and brands. This is because people relate to art and brand if they find authentic and engaging stories behind creative works. During the webinar, Stephen Thomas shared his experience and showed the correct way to tell a brand story through art pieces.
Take a logo of any globally established brand, and you will find that the design has some story to tell you. The story is authentic and relatable, as well. This is the reason that global companies spent millions of dollars on creating their visual identities. They want to convey their brand’s story to the audience in many different ways.
To make new artists and designers see the importance of storytelling, Designhill conducted a webinar with storytelling expert Stephen Thomas. The webinar was organized on 20th June 2020. Stephen is the Founder of steven thomas design.
During the webinar, Stephen advised the designers and artists to grow into the process of storytelling. He delivered on topics such as storytelling, instinct or a method, and how to keep on reinventing stories. He discussed many other aspects of storytelling while answering the questions of the audience.
Here Is The Video Of the Webinar With Stephen Thomas
Here Is What Stephens Thomas Shared About Storytelling
Designhill: What is the concept of storytelling, and why is it important?
Well, I just want to start with modern art, which is pretty controversial at the moment. For example, I was walking around a gallery and looked on the floor in the gallery. I saw just a brick sitting there and thought that either that place was still being built or the brick was a piece of art. It was the latter.
A Piece Of Art Has A Story
Another example that came to mind was that of the unmade beds. You might have seen it. I saw it a while ago, and I just thought, was that art? Anyone can unmake a bed. I thought if I could make a bed, then it must be easy to unmake it. I thought about it. The bed was littered with condoms and empty alcohol bottles, and things like that. Then, I thought that it can’t be too hard to make up. I came to know that the bed was sold for two and a half million.
But the funny part of it is that the artist was able to replicate the same design and sold it again for another two and a half million. It gives the impression that there is a story behind the bed. This artist was Tracey Emin, and she talked about her manic depressive, overly sexual phase of being an artist. And that was embodied in this bed, which I took as the piece of storytelling.
Prefer Storytelling Over Technique
People are paying to see the unmade bed art that is still in a gallery where you can walk in and see the deep meaning. And then there is always a little caption, which gives this story. The whole point of this is to show that storytelling is an essential aspect, and it is more important than technical ability, composition, format, etc. Storytelling should be treated as the highest priority, especially in education. I mean, I just finished university education, but I feel as though my work could have been a little bit better if they said the focus on the story, to begin with, and make it authentic. But this is something that slips underneath and is regarded as an entirely different subject.
Designhill: How did you get into storytelling and how the journey has been since then?
It has been an interesting journey. I realized that a lot of art that I produced had the technical detail. I can see all the excellent planning marks there, and I know that sounds obnoxious. But that is just the way I looked at it. And now, I think this is crap because there is nothing to relate to when I see those works. While it may look good but as I keep scrolling past it, I take nothing from that. Whereas if you pull out an art piece suddenly, there is something to relate to and exciting. It would help if you did not think you wasted your time looking at this person’s artwork.
Designhill: Has storytelling become a subconscious part of yours, or is it still a method?
I will come to the method part of it later. First, I will talk about the sort of subconscious. With this, though, I have a real issue. I either overthink or not think enough about the things. Usually, when overthinking, I would put out something so specific to what’s going on in my head that no one else can relate to easily. That is not meant to make me sound odd or the highest state of being, etc. There is a method, but some of it subconsciously. It just looks like you do a lot of practice to get to that point.
Designhill: Do you want to be any particular kind of storyteller and have a target or an ambition as an artist?
I say that, with everything that I do now, the goal would be to tell stories. That is why I look at social media accounts. When he or she posts every day that I look at, I think I can connect or draw some level of melancholy or happiness. I want to create my work that people can look at and think that my problems aren’t just isolated. Everyone shares the same issues. So, it should be able to be put into visuals or words, film, swats. Can’t you express? No, it’s a bit of an old idea that I still struggle to get my head around.
Designhill: Can you give us a brief structure of your storytelling process?
I was doing storytelling as a beginner from my experience. I have looked at inspiration from the movies I saw, the music I listen to, or any of the books that I read. We become like an observer of the worlds around you and expanding as many reference points as possible. I will sit down with a pencil and paper, and I am going to think of an idea. There is a lot of pressure on me with that. And what you want to do is take those points of reference and find individual characteristics.
For example, I don’t know if you have heard of the film Black Swan. It has Natalie Portman, which, for me, always helps to watch the film. It is a psychological thriller based around Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which was a black swan in the white swan. It’s free. Sexualized and seductive play is not the sort of film that you want to watch with your family, to be honest. And I broke that down into the romantic side of it, which is based on ballet and poses with the couples in very dynamic poses, as you can imagine, watching ballet, but also the psychological aspects.
Combine Different Characters
I think that when I am working with psychology, I might want to develop imagery that is associated with the brain or some of the work that I have done, which is like half the head and merging with more dynamic poses. For example, I have someone sitting in a yoga position or like reaching up into the sky. I want to say that you need to take certain characteristics from all of these points of reference. Then, combine the characteristics so that the message is clear to you and will ultimately relate to other people.
Designhill: What methods do you use to outline the content and how do you deliver this?
If you go to the Black Swan example, there are so many poses that you find on websites like Pinterest or Deviant Art or any website. I just type in dynamic figure poses, the couple poses. I would look at those poses, and search for a particular pose that I like the most. For example, I have taken poses where it is like a waltzing pose where there is a guy, and he has his arms around this girl who is some archetype in one way or another, but it’s not essential.
That pose will then be the center of the rest of the artwork. When building out from that, it goes like a romantic pose, I might combine that with imagery of the hearts or flowers in leaves to convey this as a natural idea.
Take Your Time To Tell A Story
I find it difficult now because of social media. When you are not writing a book or a film, you have a couple of seconds to produce a piece of art that people could potentially connect with the work. You will come up with many bad artworks before you come up with something that resonates with you and other people.
I created about 600 pieces before I came up with something that I was happy with, and other people responded to it. It is all sort of up and down about your ability to produce work that tells a story. This is because you only have a couple of seconds before people will be on you, and you think, okay, I want to show something that can connect people.
Make Characters Do Some Action
You take those different images together. But in terms of character design, for example, the characters that I have used in my work, you want to have them doing something. Instead, it is like hyper-realism, in which you have seen realistic portraits of people. You think about the amount of time that has gone into that. For example, I saw a picture of Will Smith. It is uncanny. And you respect the amount of time that has gone into creating this picture. But there is not a story there.
It is like a child’s artwork is so authentic because there is no holding back. It could be just two stick figures, but they will be doing something. And it is interesting because you will immediately formulate a story in your mind about what is going on.
Designhill: How to do storytelling from a commercial perspective and put a brand in the story?
Storytelling Runs Everything
I have had a lot of thoughts on this. Some of the work that I did at university, as I said, was crap. And then, I flipped my perspective on it. I think storytelling runs everything. It is always the story behind it. For example, let’s take high heels. I know it’s a particular example, but that is just telling a story as far away from as I can make it.
These heels are like an evil torture device as they are so painful. I have the utmost respect for anyone wearing high heeled shoes, whether it’s a guy or a girl because they look so painful. I knew this from experience when experimenting with dressing up and drag once it was a long night. It was about three in the morning, and there was a lot of alcohol involved. But I thought that there must be a reason why people wear high heels and it’s not for comfort because no, you could wear flats or slippers.
But people wear them because of how it makes them feel and the image that they have in their heads of how they look. He was of those stylish things they think okay, I will go and buy them. It will make me look stylish, attractive. You would not go in to buy anything without its associations with what you want.
Apple was a classic example. You don’t buy an Apple product just because it looks nice also as it is also associated with the working person when it was first introduced. But now it is associated with everyone. It is like the universal, simple to use technology. And it has become a symbol, not just a piece of technology. You have got the idea of cleanliness and sophistication surrounding this one piece of technology instead of the one that looks nice.
Take another example of selling houses as a real estate agent. You are selling the story of what you could do with a house. You go into a house and say the front door was made of oak woods, but you say this is a thick door, and you have the money to buy this house. Also, you want to be living somewhere, which suits your family and gives a good impression to your neighbors. So, you are always looking for the story behind it. There is subconscious involvement especially with branding, marketing, and any product you put out. It’s always the associations that you have in the back of your mind with what it means to you, what it will be, and how it will make you feel
Designhill: What makes the hero of a story, its main component, and what makes a story worth telling?
So, every story is made up of three parts. You have got the introduction, the controversy, and the solution. But then you look at a film like The Room by Tommy Wiseau. It is probably one of the worst films. I haven’t watched it because I know how bad it is. Ideally, that contains those three things: the introduction, the controversy, and the solution. The acting in the film is inherently crap.
Tell A Relatable Story
What matters the most is relatability. For example, Disney fans like Disney films, and those are for the hardcore fans. Most people couldn’t live without them. And it is because the story is relatable, whether it is that little old man traveling off into the sunset with balloons over the top or Simba dying in the Lion King, which, I am sure I can speak for all of us when tears were shed in that scene.
I would say relatability is the key aspect of it in everything. Otherwise, there will be a disconnect between what is going on in your head and the other person’s head. And if you imagine that in a Venn diagram, for example, you have your head, the other person’s head and where they cross will be ours. And what links them is empathy and the ability for people to relate to you and be able to relate to other people.
But I think there is a cutoff point when what you are trying to convey is so far removed and so specific to you that no one else gets it. I have loads of art which are always so specific to me. People do not find anything for them in those arts. I am harping back on my experience of traveling on buses, which is relatable. But the story where you start speaking to that old woman, a radical conservative politician, is not the sole conversation you have every day. Does that make sense? It is like within the art world that is too specific as opposed to family connections. Or, as I said before, Disney films are a perfect example of it.
Create Characters That Evoke Feelings
You connect with those characters and feelings immediately because they are about family, friendships, and loss of love. They are all of those emotions that everyone goes through, whether you are like five or 85, and that is why they always do so well. And, there has been plenty of times when I say chest up was the last film I watched that shed a tear. And that is just some old guy in this house going on a little adventure with a small chubby kid.
But break out of this cocoon to go into the unknown. It would help if you went on this hero’s journey of challenging yourself. It would help if you related to whoever knows that they will have to go out of their comfort zone and go on this adventure in the unknown. That is likely to give out their most exciting experiences from uncomfortable situations.
Designhill: Can you explain things about storytelling for a brand, and how can people start caring about your brand?
I will go on a tangent here. But people can smell something wrong when they hear, or they see it when your brand values do not match, what you think is very artificial. Young kids do not have any insecurities or inhibitions, and that is at the point of life where you are most authentic. But when you grow up, you grow out of that, and you need to start acting a certain way around certain people doing certain things.
It is one of those things that you then have to relearn as you get older. And it seems, For example, I went to a family gathering, which is like a school disco when you are in primary school except the panda curler is replaced with your whiskey and your bombs and that is, you know, just for my nan. Everyone comes out of the house. As soon as they have had a bit to drink, my 93-year-olds seconds, half removed on jiving, whereas at home should only be watching the countdown and doing circles in the paper.
I then saw my uncle a different side to him after it started drinking. Whereas during the day, he is an accountant. You know, it is just examples, but then you get a drink. Both in his authentic job, I would not recommend basing your brand around being intoxicated unless that is what you are trying to do.
Make Your Story Is Authentic
I want to point out that authenticity is going to matter if you can tell a story in a genuinely true way. Then, people are going to get behind that story and brand. So, you go with relatability, authenticity, and work with what your audience wants. You should research into what people are looking for, whether emotionally or physically, people naturally get behind that.
Find Out What Inspires People
It takes a while. But it will happen if you keep doing the work. Research, you keep, you know, seeing what is inspiring people. For example, I researched about what sorts of art people are emotionally responding to recently. There are two types of hormones released in the body when you see something positive: dopamine and oxytocin.
There is certain imagery that releases these hormones that increase motivation and focus, keeping you relaxed and generally upbeat. And these include natural imagery, lakes, mountains, trees, the sounds of birds, animals, and then you have other aspects of that like yoga and meditation. For example, there is nothing special about Van Gogh’s picture of bright sunflowers, but it is authentic. It captures what is in the world and expresses that in a way that is true to them.
Designhill: Do you have any tips for dealing with creative blocks, especially in regards to talent?
Keep Testing Your Ideas
You produce a stream of ideas, which pleases you. And you love doing whereas on you know, another day you do work that you do not like. I have wasted the last five hours doing something when I could be doing something else. But the way that I have dealt with the creative block is to keep testing ideas. Just putting pen to paper and seeing what comes out. I know that is vague and is something hard to get over.
But as soon as you get the ball rolling by just putting pen to paper, you will soon start coming up with one image, and then one after another. And finally, after a lot of crap, you end up coming up with something that starts the ball rolling again. With that in mind, I say that you never stop having creative blocks. When I have had them, I watch a film or read a book.
For example, a book that I am reading at the moment is called the Heartbreaker. It is the story of a rent boy in London in the 1990s. It depicts his journey from the top of the leisure industry to back on the streets as an alcoholic. Then, he turns to the new Christian church for some healing. We will now take inspiration from that by slightly darker aspects where there will be a lot more emotion in the image. The poses will be a lot more closed off. For example, I would search for a posture where the body language is quite close.
There will be, say, a hand with a heart being squeezed in the middle. It’s like sketching something out. You will keep rubbing out until you eventually come across something that you like.
And once you do, you start the ball rolling again. And you keep coming up with more ideas, instead of just sitting waiting for an idea to come. I mean, that is so much pressure on yourself. So, if you have a creative block, sometimes you need to think, okay, something is telling me something that I need to chill out, take a second and do something different. That gets the creative juices flowing again.
Designhill: How do you develop a mindset of storytelling?
I write down all the ideas and then go through the one and think about how I can take this? If I have an excellent idea here, then the issue is how I can take this up to another level and create something easy and more personal to me.
So you sit back and think, what can you do to make this better? Write down the rest of the ideas and come back to those another time. Otherwise, there would just be too many ideas going around in your head. At that point, you need to focus and hone in and get tunnel vision on that one idea. I have struggled with that before. When you have so many ideas, knocking around your head, and you can not focus on one without chasing after another.
Do Not Worry About The Audience’s Response
You need to sit back in bond, some relaxing music, and think how I can take this one idea up to another level? But it depends on the sort of artwork you are putting out if it is something for Instagram where you could post a couple a week, or you may be trying to choose between a lot of different ideas for one big project. I think you need to find a balance between what you enjoy doing the most, instead of what would get the best response from your audience and going by something that your gut is telling you to do.
Your Gut Feeling Matters
What I found is that when you switch off that thinking part of your mind, your gut kicks in and starts feeding you information. Your gut feeling says that this idea will be the most relatable and authentic, and I have got and then go with it instead of faking it. In hindsight, these ideas could have worked better, because there is no way in hell that you could have known that would be the case. But all you can do is run with that idea and make it the best possible.
Designhill: So how do you cross-check the fact that the story is resonating with the audience?
Pay Heed To Feedback
You get immediate feedback on what is working and what is not working. And that is just stuff that you need to look at and be honest with yourself about rolling out ideas. This is because some ideas get nowhere near as good a response. Other ideas that you like or dislike are always the luck of the draw. And a lot of the time, it always comes down to feedback.
Again, get someone else to check it because everyone has different tastes. And the whole point of art is that to some extent it is objective. That is why you get more not in a gallery that you think looks like trash, but it’s there for a reason. There is someone out there who looks at it subjectively and thinks he can find something out. Whereas throughout the process of going through the idea of forming ideas and creating an initial sketch and then at the end, you need to check back that you are grounded in an idea.
These are the valuable tips that Stephen Thomas gave to the graphic designers while creating their works for the target audience. Pay attention to the advice and follow it ardently to get the desired results.
If you are a graphic designer and looking for opportunities to create designs and earn, then visit Designhill, the leading creative marketplace. Here, you will find plenty of work in the form of design contests launched by business owners. You can apply the tips you learn from webinars like this one to create logos, etc designs and win contests.
Storytelling is a key element in reaching people and engaging them. This is true also for graphic designs. Stephen Thomas, the storyteller designer advises to first build an authentic and relatable story and then create a design or even a brand around it. That is a way to make the audience trust your design and brand.