After a day of painting I often see designs when I close my eyes. That's one way I get ideas for designs, by either looking at other art or by working on my own. ART BEGETS ART.
Sometimes people come to me with their ideas; they will have a basic idea of what they want me to create. Sometimes people will be more particular and they will ask me to make something a very specific way. When they aren't familiar with the artform, the constraints they come up with can be challenging. Nonetheless, I work within the constraints and for the most part the collaboration is successful.
The carving below is an example of an order I recieved. The concept was "Sun Kisses Laughter" and the idea developed, actually, as I began carving and letting the wood dictate what I'd come up with. While it would have been easy to make a traditional Tlingit "sun," I like where the project took me. I embedded pyrite pieces to represent "Laughter."
Collaborations can be a little more difficult. They create constraints. Every year I design a logo that represents National Recovery Month's theme for the year, and I do this in a Northwest Coast form line style. Septermber is National Recovery Month. Keep an eye out for this year's logo. This year's theme is "Join the Voices of Recovery: Reach Out. Speak Up.
Having a theme to design is just another way of designing within a box. Collaboration is really just about making that "box" as big a possible.