Use generative AI as a creative starting point to make something your own.
My assignment was a request to create a welcome back to school postcard for my husband, who is a middle school science teacher.
My husband gave me free reign on the design with a couple of teacher postcard examples and his school’s website url as reference materials.
I have learned through my client work to always start my designs with a creative brief even when a client is open to whatever (like my husband).
After doing research checking out the school website and the reference postcards, I came up with the following design brief:
Create an inspirational postcard mailer for middle school kids that includes a cougar (school mascot) and uses the colors, purple, white and gray (school colors). Doesn’t have to say “Back to school.”
I was ready to begin.
Creating a reference image using generative AI
As a storytelling artist, I use a variety of resources to kick off my creative process.
One recent addition to my resource library of tools is generative AI image generation. I have written previously about using Midjourney AI as a creative starting point with its great features like blend mode.
For this postcard brief, I had an idea of showing a cougar giving a high five. The cougar would do double duty as an emotional touchpoint: one as a mascot and two as zoological reference.
Using the /imagine command in the Midjourney Discord bot, I prompted various iterations of white cougar, high five, and purple background.
The results I received doing about 10 minutes of prompting were interesting (see collage of design references). My prompts gave me a mix of aggressive to calm cougar/lion cats with human-like and over-digited cat paws.
I finally landed on a good starting point image that depicted an encouraging cat with a raised paw (see cover image).
NOTE: If you are prompting generative AI for animals and plants, do additional research to make sure the results are accurate. None of the generated images produced the correct cougar paw anatomy using Midjourney model V5.2.
Making my own design from a reference image
Depending on the design project/client, I may work directly with a stock photo, generated image or illustrate my own image. I always find a way to impart my style and my eye.
For this design brief, I wanted to create a flat, 2-D 4" X 6" design with a middle school feel in mind. The Midjourney starting point reference image is a beautiful rendering (see cover image) but not what I wanted for this project.
I pulled the Midjourney starting point reference image into Adobe Illustrator.
Illustrator happens to be the program I prefer, but Canva, Affinity design, Pxlr, etc. are all software platforms that can provide design customization.
I used the Midjourney image as a template to outline the basic shape of the design and customized the rest with my own rendering (see design progression).
Getting feedback from your client
Even though a client can give you freedom to create, always make them part of the iteration process.
I shared my initial designs with my husband, and learned he wanted a specific message on the back of the postcard. He also suggested changing “awesome” to “pawesome.” Finally, I added features to make the cat more cougar-like.
Creating digital designs for print means that colors should be in a CMYK format instead of RGB. You may notice the color changing in my design progression as I adapted the design to print the correct color.
The unique “Pawesome” outcome
One thing I know about generative AI design is that now anyone can prompt a fantastic image.
A harder thing to do is to create a tangible, personalized pawesome postcard inspired by an AI image.
Here are the final postcard design results IRL:
I hope this article inspires you to use generative AI not as an endpoint, but as a starting point to make something uniquely your own.
Machines are out there doing awesome stuff. Instead of worrying too much, make something pawesome of your own.
Please comment and let me know how you are using AI as a starting point for your creations.
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Julia Fletcher is founder of JEFS Storytelling Arts, a graphic design studio, where she uses her unique research skills and artistic talents to create custom visual stories that help clients’ increase engagement and promote the education of their audience.