5 Things...About Mood Boards

You have expectations for how your work should look, but it's all in your head. You're paralyzed by the thought of even starting to draw your ideal image. How would you even begin? A mood board can help.

What is a Mood Board?

  • A mood board is an arrangement of imagery that represents an idea. It is the brain-child that will grow into the beautiful adult known as your finished artwork. Details such as color palette, style, theme, etc. are all explored here.

Creating a mood board...

1. Shapes your brainstorming  

Brainstorming is a fun yet often chaotic part of creating. It's messy and can easily become overwhelming and distracting. In my research, I've unfortunately found myself ricochet into completely unrelated art ideas instead of exploring deeper, alternative forms of the same concept. 

The mood board provides a space for you to pluck relevant pieces from the chaos and place into a coherent collection.  Any piece that doesn't fit that coherency is simple left to float about.

For example, I'm working on brainstorming a series of astronaut illustrations. While engaged on search engine expeditions, I selectively pick images that embody the feel and style of my envisioned final art. These images are then saved to a Pinterest board I constantly reference. The imagery can range from art to photography. Some may capture only a part of the vision, but that's ok. The purpose of those parts is to summarize what you intend to communicate.

2. Serves as a checkpoint

I like to think of the mood board as a flag marker in a video game. Perhaps you lose your way in the game or die in a fight. While travelling the game's storyline, you'll encounter these flags, or checkpoints, you can activate along the way. Instead of starting at square one again, you can return to the last flag you activated.

The mood board is one such checkpoint in the illustration process. Referring back to the board's raw ideation will help keep your later work fresh. When you find yourself becoming lost in the details and forgetting the core structure of your initial vision, the mood board is there to serve as a solid, if not abstract, reminder.

3. Can be an oasis of inspiration

Sifting through the internet can be a drain. To support other creators, consider storing your reference in a place they can access. I do this board-ception thing where I create mood boards from the boards I've curated on Pinterest. You could save your reference in a folder on your computer, and that's perfectly fine. Keeping your collection public, however, can often serve as welcome reference for someone else's research. 

4. Initiates momentum

Creating a mood board moves the creative process forward. This is the brainstorming stage of illustration. Your vision needs a place to go. You either don’t have a cohesive idea for how the finished product is supposed to look, or you have such high expectations for the finished piece that it becomes self-paralyzing. This is normal. 

Instead of trying to envision the finished product at all, think about its atmosphere and style instead. Will it be energetic or peaceful? Saturated or limited color? The "general-to-specific" method works well here. Think in general categories first and go more specific later. Creating a mood board will help you begin the process of what you don’t want to find out and confirm what you do want.

5. Helps to free up your mind

Your mind can only hold so much information and shouldn't be used for storage, especially at this stage of creativity. Brainstorming is all about getting ideas out! When you find visual elements that capture facets of your envisioned art, your mind is freed from the burden of holding onto unexpressed ideas. 

Piecing together the mood board helps to unclutter your mind and gives you the ability to focus on the next part of the process. Instead of fighting with indecision on partially-considered ideas later, you are making decisions for the piece's overall tone now. This process of elimination makes the execution of the final piece a joy instead of a pain.