So, a few ways to generate fresh concepts!
This article is written for artists who are interested in exploring and being exposed to new ideas; including art directors and lead artists, but anyone who wants to generate new ideas will find some value and inspiration. I will attempt to answer the following questions: How do I explore and find ideas myself? How do I make something original and distinct from what I and my colleagues have made before? At the very least, I hope to point you in the right direction.
1. The first point is don't be stuck inside your "box.” Working a lot will definitely affect your skills and increase your knowledge of tools and techniques, but if you spend all your time sitting in one chair, in one room, you never will generate any good ideas or find inspiration.
I've seen in many talented and famous studios and artists, and even art directors, that just copy and paste images from Google; so, the pictures are really controlling and inevitably limiting potential ideas. This is the wrong way of getting fresh ideas; so try to get out, I suggest it to art directors and lead artists as well.
For example, If you have project related to a subject like history, try to get visual inspiration from the closest place to you with your camera (or maybe not the closest - book some tickets, take a bike or train and get into the journey!) Real places energize you, give real scale and ideas of how people live there. You can even talk to local people about some features or little known facts of the place; the sorts of things you will never hear from BBC documentary.
My personal project. An environment concept art based on Indian mythology and inspired by my trips around India especially to the Himalayas
The light and atmosphere in some places is so different and singular, you will never experience it from Google images. Check some example photos from my journeys. (Fig.1 and Fig.2) I had never seen structures and rocks like that before, it inspired and fascinated me a lot, so I had to use them in my most recent concepts.
2. I've seen many people copying ideas of other artists and always getting stuck. One reason they find they can't progress any further is because they don't have access to the ideas and experiences that those original great artists had. Of course, you can extend someone's ideas, but it's better to find your own, from your own history; the events of your life, or maybe the environment that surrounded you when you were young.
I was really inspired by Indian mythology and culture, so when I married Indian girl it gave me a lot of inspiration, ideas and even things like real textures. If you open your eyes you'll realize you have ideas around you. See the image (Fig.3) of my wife in her wedding sari that I used as a texture for my concepts. Most of us remember a few interesting details of some aspect of our childhoods. These small details should go into your work; they will make your concepts more unique and separate the, from the work of other artists.
3. Moving on from the last tip, I also like to combine my subjects and mix things up to extend ideas; it often gives a fresh look to the concept. For example, the details in this piece are a combination of the authentic Indian accessories of my wife, laid on top of the space suit helmet from a photo reference from the Moscow History Of Space Museum (see Fig.4 and Fig.5) I will continue to experiment with this outfit style, combining it with other elements, and use it again in future designs.
A personal project, based on Indian mythology and inspired by my trips around India especially to the Himalayas
4. "Old is Gold!” I remember when I was reading about the making of Blade Runner; the production designer mentioned how they came to the idea of grotesque architecture. They made a "film set forty years hence, made in the style of forty years ago;” that's how they achieved that "metropolis” look. So never be ashamed to look back to the architecture or styles of previous generations, and then you can add your own details and features. It will give new and original look to your designs, but won't break the overall look and elegance.
5. Something that I remember from the ILM Star Wars challenge is that those simple, innocuous things that surround us (like a lamp or a stapler) could inspire fresh ideas and concepts; that was the advice of David Nakobayashi.
A concept art made for my personal project based on Indian mythology and culture, it took the weekend to make it finished. Initially I used 3D sketch at start and made a overpaint in PS after that.
So, I try to following that advice. You can see that the concepts and sketches in my portfolio are inspired by simple shapes (see Fig.6, Fig.7 and Fig.8). For one personal project I used Shiva Lingam stone as a simple shape reference for the Shiva Spaceship (see Fig.9 and 10).
So, try to think outside the box. Look at your designs or illustrations from a different angle; take a bicycle ride, do paragliding, talk to different people, make friends from different industries and fields, start some new hobbies; anything to get you out of yourself, and get your mind working. If you start to look at things from a side you've never considered before, and try to take a different perspective, you will discover new things and dream up fresh ideas.
A personal picture inspired by Indian mythology and my last trip to the Himalayas