It’s that time of year again when work starts to slow down as the holiday season begins. This is my favorite time to put my head down, review and plan for the new year. There is something exciting about prepping for a new year. There is a lot that goes into the process but, this article is about one of my favorite review tasks that are a part of the bigger picture.

I used to work with a photo agent to gather knowledge about the commercial photography industry. She once asked me how I would define my style and I had a really tough time answering it. Now, I am a Gemini, I have an appreciation for both ends of the spectrum when it comes to visual styles. But, like everyone else, I still have my own unique style I just didn’t understand it at the time. So, she asked me if I had ever created a visual tearsheet…

What is a visual tearsheet?

Back in the days of more printed content, you found the best inspiration images from magazines. It also gave you great insight into what was trending or what people were doing with their ads. So, you’d buy magazines and literally tear out the sheet to file with the rest of your inspiration. Through this process, you’d build a catalog of images that you liked for some reason or another. Once you’ve built this catalog, it would be time to analyze all the images together and ask yourself “Why do I like these?”. Sifting through all the images looking for similarities in composition, colors, textures, highlights, shadows, contrast, and any other detail that could come to mind. You’d research the $h!t out of these images as if you were trying to find the meaning of life! Which in a way you were, you were trying to find the meaning of why these visuals have an impact on your life.
Now, I have created the old-school version of this but, it’s harder nowadays because of the lack of quality content in magazines. It’s also a lot more expensive, time-consuming, and limited to go buy a bunch of magazines and tear them up. Thankfully, because of our digital universe, there are so many ways to go about this. My preferred solution…



Creating a Visual Tearsheet in a Digital Age

Pinterest has been known for this since day one. But, typically it is called a mood board, and for me, while they are similar, the title communicates a different objective. So here’s what you do… Go and create or log into your Pinterest account, create a secret board and call it Visual Tearsheet and give it a date. I like to do this specific to the genres I shoot so I have one for each of them and I do this annually so I just date it with the year.
After you have created the board, start saving images to it. Go all over the web, scan and upload your printed inspiration, look under every possible rock for the images you love. Don’t try to do it all in a day, you will do this regularly over the year. But, every time you do save a bunch of stuff to the board, set time aside to review it all. Like I said earlier, pick apart every detail to find connections as to why you loved the image. Over time, you will learn a lot about your creative self. You will generate more unique ideas and likely ignite the spark for more personal work. You will be able to review the growth of your creative eye year after year because once you have done this for 2 years, you now have the ability to compare those years.
Process Breakdown
  • Login/Create Pinterest Account
  • Create Board Called “Current Year – Genre – Visual Tearsheet)
  • Add images to board from around the web, scan, upload print inspiration
  • Brief review after each session – Look for similarities in the images – highlights, shadows, contrast, colors, textures, etc.
  • End of year review of the full collection to gain knowledge about your style and preferences.
  • For fun, compare your boards to the previous year and appreciate how much you have grown since the previous year.
This is a unique training method to strengthen your creative eye, mind, and passion. Most importantly, you will learn so much about yourself, what you love and why you love it. This will strengthen your skills in everything you do, help you better define yourself, your business… and of course, your clients will love you for it!

– Brandon