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How to create a killer moodboard

The world of creatives is split into two camps; those who live to moodboard and those who loathe it. One of my best friends, Alia, is a fantastic stylist based in Paris and I often refer to her as the Queen of the Moodboard. Alia and I are constantly creating mini moodboards on Pinterest, sometimes for specific jobs and concepts and other times simply for general inspiration and aesthetics. 

There are other friends of mine who also work as creatives from illustrators to 3D animators and makeup artists who aren’t massive fans of moodboards and prefer to wait for inspiration to strike when briefed with a concept. They like to pull inspiration randomly from a specific Italian film they saw at the cinema in the summer of 2019. Or they’re major creatives who prefer to rarely reference and let the mood guide their brush if you will. 

While most moodboards are visual they can come in many forms and can be constructed at different stages of the creative process. As a music artist, when creating a moodboard for the styling of a music video, the moodboard is, of course, visual and created before the project begins so the stylist and I know what pieces to source.
However, when producing a song, I use playlists as a form of moodboarding. Once the song’s skeleton is written (chords, melody, lyrics and sometimes beat and tempo), I collect different inspirational songs into one playlist and note the reference. I might want to take inspiration specifically from the bassline alone of Rosalia’s “Motomami” and the synth sound from Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. Other references may be completely vague and I may note that I simply want to capture a similar essence to Grace Jone’s “Libertango” but the producer and I share this playlist moodboard and it helps us to construct a distinct sound. 

Moodboards are also great because they help to refine a concept. They take the shoot idea from a ‘vibe’ or ‘feeling’ to a specific look. Perhaps you are starting from a blank slate and you want to find inspiration. Perhaps you already have a strong idea but want to affirm to yourself that it comes together as you imagine and guide yourself through the many creative decisions ahead. In either case, a moodboard will give you the clarity you need before you start buying materials or building elements.

They’re also incredibly useful for communication. Usually, a creative professional like a graphic or interior designer will build a moodboard to present their ideas to a client. From there, the client will probably give feedback about the suitability of the overall idea or the strength of certain items on the moodboard over others. They might even choose between multiple moodboards the designer has used to present different options. A layperson planning their own event or design project won’t have clients, but they will probably also need to communicate their ideas to someone else at some point — a contractor, collaborator or, if it’s a wedding, their fiance/e.

Constructing a great moodboard can be carried out in three stages; 

Brainstorming
Brainstorm your theme. You probably have some ideas in mind from the get-go. Now brainstorm some keywords associated with these ideas — for an interior design project, you might zero in on the style (modernist, Scandinavian, tropical), materials (concrete, ash wood, rattan) or color (mustard yellow, blush pink, forest green). This will help you with online image searches — try Google but also Getty, Unsplash, Pinterest and Instagram. If you’re not drawn to a particular idea yet, just sit down with an industry magazine or book, let your eyes roam and take note of what resonates. You’ll soon find inspiration.

Collect the specific elements
Take your early sources of inspiration, then challenge yourself to think outside of the box to find more. Movie mise en scene, fashion editorial shoots, vintage illustrations, art works, fabric and colour swatches, architecture, objects and clothing can all be good moodboard fodder. Don’t disregard typography either — an old-style serif font will have very different connotations to a clean and contemporary sans-serif style, and this makes it a great tool for you to showcase some keywords or relevant quotes.

Present and Review
Odds are, you now have more material than is useful. Curate by choosing images and samples that come together harmoniously, building in some breadth to reflect your originality (or increase your chances of appealing to the client, if you’re working with one). A cohesive colour palette is important, so discard anything that clashes. If you’re making a digital board, consider eye-dropping five key colours from the images into swatches. If you’re making a physical board, obtain real paint and fabric swatches for the same effect.

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