Creative Process

SCAMPER Your Way to Creative Excellence

Creative practice is pure problem solving. The process of taking an observation, thought or emotion and making it communicable to an audience is a problem to be solved. As visual artists we often lean into the intuitive to the detriment of process. This is a shame because there are so many great tools and techniques from other disciplines that can help. With a little bit of re-framing and adaptation many of these tools can be used to support our creative process. In this article we’ll look at how to fine tune the SCAMPER for visual artists practice and creative problem solving.   

“It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.”

Alex F Osborn

What exactly is SCAMPER? 

If you haven’t encountered SCAMPER before it is a technique refined and popularised by Bob Eberle and published in his book ‘Scamper: Games for Imagination Development’ (1971). The origin of the concept lies with American Marketing Guru Alex F. Osborn in his book ‘Applied imagination : principles and procedures of creative problem-solving’ (1957). It was Osborn himself who is described as the father of the brainstorming technique.  

What are the SCAMPER Prompts?

The idea when using the SCAMPER prompts is to consider a re-framing of your service or product using the questions associated with the prompt. Most often this is used to solve a problem, if the target product or service has an issue that needs ‘out of the box’ thinking then the SCAMPER prompts can help.

Imagine a meeting to discuss business process improvements after the business owner notices that customer complaints have been increasing. To address this they use the SCAMPER technique to brainstorm solutions  with their team. They ask questions like “Can we substitute the current customer service procedure with a more efficient one?” and “What if we eliminate the step that causes the most complaints?“. They also consider combining different approaches and reversing the order of the process to see if that would make a difference. In the end, they identify several ideas for improving the process and reducing customer complaints.

In this example SCAMPER helped to induce alternative thinking by applying methods like reversal of process. Sitting down with the list of prompts guided them out of familiar patterns of thinking about the business processes. This is the value of SCAMPER. Let’s look at what the prompts mean.

The SCAMPER Prompt List

To make this super memorable for you I’ve created a two nice wee infographics, the first one (below) covers the standard SCAMPER technique prompts. The second one is SCAMPER fine-tuned for visual artists (we’ll talk about this later).

The SCAMPER infographic designed by The Night Studio. Here is the original technique. Covers all of the sections of the process; substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate and rearrange.
The Night Studio SCAMPER infographic.


Substitution involves replacing a component, idea, or process with something else. It’s an effective way to evaluate and improve your product or process. Ask yourself, what if you substitute a project element? Can you replace it with better options? How will the substitution impact the overall outcome? Consider substituting time or location to improve the outcome. Evaluate the pros and cons of substituting each project element to make an informed decision.


Combining ideas or elements can lead to innovation and increase efficiency. Have you considered merging process steps to save time? Or, perhaps, applying multiple processes simultaneously to increase efficiency? You could partner with others to share resources and expertise, and mix existing components to create a new product.

Is it possible to combine different technologies to enhance existing product features? Identify opportunities to blend different elements or resources together in a new way to create something innovative. Although some ideas may seem unfeasible at first, they can often lead to the seeds of innovation. Let’s explore the potential of combining ideas and elements to drive innovation and efficiency.


Alter an existing idea or process to fit a different context or need and identify changes to improve results. If you’re looking at process; explore additional options for a specific task. Ask what you can do to adapt existing processes for better outcomes. Improve existing products or services by adapting what you have already to extend the range of application. Increase flexibility in the products or processes. Could an existing product or service be adapted to apply to a different problem? 

It’s likely a good time to be considering making adaptations to meet changing needs or goals. The emphasis on adaption is about using what you can access in a different way. Using an existing resource to cover a wider range of applications. This distinguishes it from the following set of prompts under the heading of…

Modify (Minify or Magnify)

Transform an element of the idea or process by making adjustments that either minimize or maximize its impact. Consider how modifying the process can improve outcomes and meet evolving requirements. Osborn’s original brainstorming method included categories for “minify” and “magnify,” which have been integrated into Eberle’s SCAMPER model under the heading of modification. This approach involves asking questions about increasing or decreasing the size, weight, quantity, or degree of an element, as well as exploring ways to combine or separate components. By considering these possibilities, you can unlock new and innovative solutions.

Put to another use

When applying the ‘Put to Another Use’ prompts, you want to consider how you can apply your idea or process in a different context or towards a different need. Consider if you can identify other areas within your market where your product can be used? Evaluate the benefits of using your product in other contexts, and explore potential opportunities for new and wider market applications.

You may also consider adding new process steps to increase the product’s use. Additionally, consider options for repurposing production waste. Think creatively and explore new possibilities for changing the definition of your service or product. See if you can identify innovative ways to promote your product or service under alternative uses.


During the eliminate part of the process you are focussing on what it means to remove a component or element from the idea or process. Start by identifying parts of the process that can be removed, and explore alternate methods for achieving the same output after this. Consider the necessity of the specific parts of the project and assess the impact of working with fewer resources. Eliminating resources can also increase innovation, so evaluate that potential. Additionally, eliminating unnecessary steps can free up more resources for creativity.


Consider the potential benefits of rearranging the elements of an idea or process in new and innovative ways. By exploring the potential of reversing the process or rearranging it altogether, you can identify opportunities for improved output and maybe even more novel solutions. To find new possibilities, try interchanging elements and experiment with different orders to achieve the desired outcome. Consider evaluating the benefits of reversing specific parts and looking at the process backwards to uncover innovative solutions.

By shifting the order or structure of elements, new insights and solutions might be discovered. Ask what would happen if the process steps were arranged differently? How could that help achieve better outcomes? Are there other roles and responsibilities that can be reassigned to improve the process? By taking a fresh look at the structure of the idea or process, new possibilities and opportunities for innovation can be uncovered.

SCAMPER for Visual Artists

Most often we see these problem solving tools applied in a business or organisational context but they have a lot of value for us as visual artists. Even in their original form there is a lot to learn here about process. The prompts are useful in many problem solving situations and remember that we have already agreed that the making of creative work is in essence pure problem solving.

What happens though if we make some adjustments to SCAMPER and adapt it for application to a specific field such as the creation of visual art? Does it still work? Well, let’s do just that and you can judge for yourself.

A new set of prompts for your creative problem solving

The following SCAMPER framework and prompts have been adapted to include points that are subject area specific. I’ve used this with my classes and they seem to find it useful, especially when they are stuck with a project. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Take a project or idea that you are working on currently that needs re-invigorated. Likely you are working on your own without a team to bounce ideas off of but that’s not a big problem. Creative practitioners are used to thinking on their own. The problem with that is that it is difficult to introduce elements of the ‘unexpected’ into to  your ideation.  This is exactly where a framework like SCAMPER can help. It forces you to think out with your usual patterns.  

An inforgraphic that explains the adapted version of SCAMPER for visual artists and visual art projects.
SCAMPER adapted for visual artists and visual art projects


As artists we likely do this a lot anyway. Substituting one element for another in a composition or trying different materials. Instead of substituting a component part of product, we can at a basic level consider substituting a medium or material.

For example consider changing the substrate you are working on and ask how that will affect the work. Maybe consider replacing the dark areas in a composition with lighter values or more intense hue. What would happen if you replace some areas of tone with collage or pattern? Random thoughts are good to explore options but try to return to the question; “does this still support my core concept?”. If not then maybe you can substitute components of the concept itself?

So instead of substituting a material or medium, consider if you can substitute a core concept or idea in the work. For example, you could substitute a traditional compositional element with something more abstract or conceptual, or substitute a literally represented element with a metaphorical one.

The visual art project prompts for substitute

  • What elements in the composition can be substituted?
  • If you swap the core idea of the work for another concept how does it change?
  • How would this work look on a different substrate, ground or scale?
  • What elements of the composition could be rendered in a very different style?  
  • Can elements be swapped for other media?
  • Could you swap the visual focus of the piece to improve the concept?  


Putting things together is another core element of what we do in the visual arts. Whether it is consciously or subconsciously, we are aggregating the material in our inner library to produce imagery. In this stage of SCAMPER for visual artists we acknowledge this but extend it. Think beyond that type of homogenising that you do every time you create. For this reframing exercise start by zooming out and looking at your work from a high altitude. Can this set of ideas be combined with another set of ideas that you have worked on? Is it possible that themes can be combined? Can this piece of work be combined with another piece of work to give it an alternative context?

You might also drill down to consider the combination of different individual ideas or concepts.  Identifying thematic clusters is very important for helping us develop a body of work that is coherent. Combining work together into clusters may help you to recognise what these clusters are. It might also help to clarify what you should eliminate when you get to this stage. If there is an outlying theme that does not fit with the others, it may be a new branch of exploration or a thematic dead end that you don’t want to end up investing time in.   

At a more fundamental level you might be considering the combination of different techniques, styles, or subjects. If you are at a stage where you haven’t found your style yet then maybe you can consider merging different styles or genres together.

The visual art project prompts for combine

  • Can this idea be combined with others in an over-arching concept?
  • How might the concept of the work change when combined with others?
  • Can the style of this work be defined by a combination of other styles?
  • What other themes might I merge into this concept?
  • Will the concept be diluted if I merge with other ideas?
  • Does this work support my own thematic clusters?


Again, at the risk of sounding repetitive, adaptation is a skill that our discipline develops within us. When we take inspiration from a source and bend it to our needs then we are adapting. To use adaptive thinking in the spirit of SCAMPER we can start by looking out with our process and concepts.

Of these process is potentially an easier place to start. I believe process to be of the utmost importance. Almost more important than any other aspect of practice. If you are not convinced of this read Atomic Habits by James Clear and I’m willing to bet you’ll feel differently.

Instead of modifying an existing process, look at other processes that work well and see how they can be adapted to your needs or integrated with your existing process. Examine the process of practitioners in your field and in others. Take what you think might work and adapt to fit your own process.

When it comes to your ideas and concepts; if you feel you have no traction then look for the kernel of an idea that you can adapt from older projects. Can the current project be adapted to another type of media or application?  If your problem is a technical one then maybe you can adapt the tools that you are using? Take a tool that has the potential to change the work and adapt its use to suit your project.

The visual art project prompts for adapt

  • What external processes can be adapted to improve your working method?
  • Are there previous concepts that can be adapted to improve this project?
  • How could this work be adapted to another media or medium?
  • What tools can be adapted to make the process or project better?
  • What parallels are there in other work of yours?
  • From what other similar work or artists might I adapt solutions?

Modify (Minify or Magnify)

What is the difference between adapting and modifying? We often adapt something by modifying it, right? For the SCAMPER model in this context think of modifying an existing element or idea. You could be modifying the core concept to give the piece of work a different emphasis or modifying the execution of that idea by a simple visual adjustment.

The further prompts of magnifying and minimising are particularly pertinent to our field of practice. Taking an element and giving it either magnified symbolic importance by modifying the nature of the work or actual increased visual importance by making it obviously more prominent in the composition. Ditto minifying, raise or lower the concept or element by reducing its significance. Often with a difficult composition I have found that a modification of emphasis is all that is required to ‘fix’ it.

The visual art project prompts for modify

  • How is the work changed if you modify the core concept?
  • What elements of the work can be visually or conceptually amplified?
  • What elements of the work can be visually or conceptually reduced?
  • How can you improve the work by changing emphasis?
  • How can you improve the work by reconceptualising it?
  • Is there a modification you can make to improve thematic grouping?

Put to another use

It’s easier to consider these prompts in terms of media and materials and ‘put to another use’ has an illustrious history in this respect.  

Instead of thinking about putting a material or medium to another use, think about how to put an existing idea or concept to a different use. Take a concept you’ve previously used in one project and apply it to a new context, or repurpose the idea to create a new meaning or message. You can of course also consider how to put a medium or material to a different use using household items or found objects as components or even painting tools.

There is a great strength of concept in the idea of ‘multiples’ for example. An object on its own may have a context that is hard to break out of. Place the same object alongside multiple versions of itself, adjust the context and you have the potential to imbue that object with an alternative meaning or context more easily.   

The visual art project prompts for put to another use

  • How could the entire project be successfully re-purposed?
  • How can the work be expanded upon to increase the potential for re-purposing?
  • Can the concept be simplified to increase the potential for re-purposing?  
  • Can you adapt objects from another context in the creation of the work?
  • How could the development process for this project be used again?
  • Could a practice such as the use of multiples strengthen the impact?


The best advice was I have ever been given for creative endeavours, has been to simplify the work to clarify the message. It was once suggested to me that creative ideas are like an onion. If you peel back the surface layers inside eventually you’ll get to the core of the idea and understand what it is about. Often this requires elimination of the extraneous details to remove anything that obscures the core idea.

Seek to eliminate unnecessary elements or ideas in order to focus on what’s essential. Strip your concept down to its bare essentials to create a more meaningful work. Remove elements that distract from the central idea. The problem with this is usually being emotionally attached to an element of an idea.

Try to be more incisive and less tolerant of the distracting side ideas that get in the way. We often try to cram too much into one piece of work. Let each idea breathe by eliminating the elements that are not required.  

The visual art project prompts for eliminate

  • What is at the core of the idea?
  • What elements of the project do not serve this core concept?
  • Are there too many competing concepts in this piece of work?  
  • What can be removed to increase the clarity of the concept?
  • What is the minimum you could include to convey the same idea ?
  • Are there steps in your process that should be removed?


Of all the prompts this one must come most naturally to us. Creating a piece of visual art is constant process of re-arranging elements to refine the clarity and impact of the idea. The material manifestation of this could be as straightforward as re-composing. A conceptual application of rearranging is not quite so straightforward to grasp.

Re-composing is fantastically fluid if you have access to digital tools and can use them competently. I’ll often hack a photograph of my current piece of work into pieces in Photoshop and then reassemble. I’m very grateful for the flexibility this affords over the days before I had access to these tools. In the old days an old rag and white spirit were my Photoshop.

The great thing about an non-destructive editing process is its tendency to embolden you. I’ll make much more radical changes to work digitally than I ever would have before. This does now filter through into the physical work as well and reminds me that physical re-arranging is more often good than not.     

Rearranging the elements of a piece of work to create a new conceptual dynamic is not so easy. Your Photoshop is your mind (and the minds of your audience) which does also make it mostly non-destructive. Try to experiment with recontextualisations of the project.

What would happen if you re-framed it as humour, as horror, as autobiographical? If you re-contextualise the work by placing it with a different collection of work? Imagine your work in a different time era, how would it be interpreted and received?  Placing a central idea or concept in a different context or perspective can be enlightening.

The visual art project prompts for rearrange

  • How can the hierarchy of ideas in the work be re-arranged?
  • What would happen if you reframed the work in another genre?
  • How might your work might be received in different eras?
  • How might different audiences perceive and react to the work?
  • Can the visual elements be re-arranged to improve clarity?
  • What can be learned from deconstructing the work and the process?

How to use SCAMPER for visual artists in your own work

When is it best to use SCAMPER for visual artists? The answer is anytime in the process when you pause for reflection. Use it at the start of a process? Absolutely! Take your core idea and run a session with yourself (or others) to kick the idea around in different formats. Of course you do this already when conceptualising but SCAMPER for visual artists gives you a framework to address the possibilities in a more ordered way than before. It allows you to leverage a more organised approach to idea initialisation.

If you feel backed into a corner with a bit of work and you are struggling to get bring it to a satisfying conclusion or feel like you’ve embarked on something that is ultimately unfulfilling? SCAMPER may well be what you need. Run the idea, and product if you have one, through these hoops and see what comes out.

Who to involve in this process

Whether or not you involve others in the process is a matter of personal choice. There is no right and wrong with that. Other perspectives are certainly useful and I advocate getting feedback from peers in my version of the creative process. Sometimes you just need to think it through yourself first. You certainly wouldn’t be alone if when doing this you end up reaching for any distraction to hand. This type of thinking is hard work and your brain just wants to take the path of least resistance until you train it do otherwise.

By adapting the SCAMPER technique in this way, you can approach your work with a more structured and systematic way of thinking. This will help you generate new ideas and assist in overcoming the challenges of creative block. My hope is that these modified SCAMPER prompts will help you focus more on the development of ideas and conceptual thinking earlier in your creative process, which may in turn lead to more unique, innovative and satisfying work.

Have fun.