Turning Words Into Art

January 13, 2019

Dave DeBaeremaeker

A Guest Blog Post by  veteran Scavenger Dave DeBaeremaeker


“Therefore, I get the list as soon as possible so I can start procrastination right way.”

Turning Words Into Art

So, you’ve just been given a list of 7 words, and you need to turn those words into photographs. Excited, you eagerly scan the list of words. As you do a mild panic sets in as the cold realization sets in. You have no idea how you can turn these words into photos.

As a long time Scavenger I have been in that situation many times. I’ve come up with a strategy that has proven to work for me. Lucky for you I am about to reveal my hard earned secrets so next hunt you can avoid the panic and get down to creating awesome photos.

Of course there are more than one way to do it (by my count there are 13, three of which are illegal), but this is the way I do it. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes, or mock me senselessly in the comments. It is a free country.


Get The List As Soon As Possible

Even tho there are no points for finishing early, I try to get as early a start on the process as possible. The list is typically released on the same day as sign-ups so I watch the community like a hawk for the list.  

I do this partly because of the excitement of a new creative adventure, but there are also scientific reasons for it. There are studies that show that procrastination breeds creativity. People who are given a task that requires creativity, then delay for a while, come up with more creative solutions than those that start on the task immediately. However this only works if the problem is known before the delay.

Therefore, I get the list as soon as possible so I can start procrastination right way.

I find this is true in my own creative experience. If I let a hunt word percolate in the back of my mind, over time I tend to cook up more creative interpretations. Therefore, I get the list as soon as possible so I can start procrastination right way.  Never delay productive laziness.

I Have The List, Now What?

As soon as I get the list I start brainstorming. This process can take weeks to finish, so I record ideas as I think of them in a paper notebook.  

I used to use a spreadsheet for keeping track of my ideas, but I have found writing down my ideas on paper works better.  I am not sure why, tho I suspect spending so much time on a computer as part of my day job, and my hobby as a photographer has something to do with it. Since I really only write with a pen and paper when I am being creative, it is easier to slip into that mindset.

Either way, I have taken up the habit of recording the list of words in a notebook. Specifically a notebook that fits into my pocket so I can carry it with me wherever I go.

So on page 1 I have the list, all in one place. Then I write one of the words on its own separate page in the notebook (so I use 8 pages in total).

Then, if I have any ideas right away I write them on the page assigned to the related word. If I can’t come up with ideas, I don’t worry about it for now.


To come up with ideas for a word I use a process called mind mapping. It works like this:

For a given word, I write down all of the things that I associate with that word. For example, the last hunt had the word trunk. At the top of the page I wrote down “trunk”, and underneath  it I wrote down the words associated with trunk, like “swim trunks”, “Elephant trunk”, “box”, “Locked In The Trunk Of A Car” (a song title), “tree trunk”, etc.

Then I’ll write words that I associate with the first list of words. So for “storage trunk” I would write “memories”, “heirlooms”, etc.

By writing out these words, I create a map of words and concepts related to “trunk”. Then I try to connect them together to see if they spark any ideas.

Building the map can take weeks. When I have a few minutes throughout my day, like waiting for my morning coffee to brew,  or waiting for someone to show up for a meeting, I pull the notebook out of my pocket, turn to a page and think of things to add to the map. In between these session I let the ideas percolate in the unconscious parts in the back of my brain.

There are several apps that folks use for mind mapping on phones or laptop. I don’t have any recommendations as I use a pen and paper, but if anyone has suggestions please drop them in the comments.

Over time the ideas will inevitably come. Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes it takes weeks, but eventually with enough persistence, the ideas will flow.

Occasionally multiple ideas will come for a given word. I tend to know which idea is the one I want to turn into an image because the idea makes me giddy and excited, and I have an irresistible urge to reach for my camera. That idea is the winner.

Finally, make the images

Once the idea fully realizes itself in my mind, I then make plans to shoot it.I’ll order props if needed, then create the image.This is basic photography, and changes depending on subject and style, so I’ll skip the details.   However the salient part is that I will shoot a word once I have the idea, and when its complete I cross the word off the list in my notebook.

There is a great sense of satisfaction crossing off things from a list.I also find that once a word is crossed off, I can start thinking about it, which leaves more cycles in my brain free to work on the other words on the list.

Then I rinse and repeat until all of the words have completed images.

The album is complete, now we wait some more!

I tend to finish my images with a couple of weeks to spare before the deadline. However I don’t submit them right away.  Remember, there are no points for submitting an album early. Instead I use that time to review my images.

I’ll pull my images up on my desktop in my home studio where I edit most of my photos. I’ll look at them on my laptop, and my phone, and my work computer. Normally about once a day. I do this as I find it takes time for some flaws to reveal themselves. It can take a few days to get detached enough from an image to notice things like dust spots, or crooked horizons, or other such little details that distract from an image. If I notice something, I’ll take the time to fix it.

Finally, submit the album

I normally submit the album during the last week of the hunt. This gives the Dream Team time to collect it before the big rush comes when the deadline hits.  

After that, it is an impatient wait for the reveals.

I have found this process works for me, and I’ve used it for the past 5-6 hunts with great success. Hopefully it will help you in the next round.
See you in the hunt!



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Leave a Comment


  1. Roger Chessell

    This is a brilliant insight into the workings of a true creative artist.

    Its no wonder I feel that my work is so shoddy when I produce images for a hunt, I am not creative!

    I take the list of words, carry them around in my head (often forgetting them and having to read the posted list again when I get home) and look for subjects that represents each and every word.

    Yes I process them afterwards, discarding some, until I whittle them down to one for each and I sit back and congratulate myself on having achieved the aim.

    I submit them and wait for the results to come out, and when they do I become despondent and concerned that I don’t really know what I am doing in the hunt as my work always appears to be so poor when I compare.

    I reflect, cogitate, get angry at myself and finally say to myself “what the heck, I like them and I don’t care if no one else does” and get on with my life.

    Am I bitter, hmm I have been but no its time to man up and keep on trying, so these words from Dave help me and challenge me not only to do better, but to see a different way to work in my scavenging.

    Thank you Dave I really appreciate your words.

    • Dave

      Thanks, Roger!

      Sounds like you do a lot of what I do, except you don’t seem to write it down – that about right? I found writing stuff down was the critical part – so I don’t have to keep everything in the foreground f my memory all the time – which can be exhausting.

      Good luck in the next round!

    • Lauri Novak

      Roger – we are all creative in our own way. Everyone is creative.

  2. Paul Howard

    NICELY done, buddy, what a great writeup!!
    I’ll admit to being a little concerned that you’ve written “memories” next to being locked in a trunk….. but y’know, whatever works. ROFL!

  3. Debbie

    Plus the required “ask the wifey” if she sees anything

  4. Sharon

    Thanks so much, Dave!!! I’ve gotten as far as putting each word on it’s own page, but not much further. I like carrying the list with you, I definitely will try that this time around! Thanks for all your help and support, it is very much appreciated 😀

  5. Shari D Seibold

    My process is very similar up to a point…we diverge at the writing down the ideas, other than jotting down something that comes to me in the middle of the night or when I’m not at computer! I create a folder on my desktop for each word. In that folder go screen shots or links to anything that jumps out to me as inspiration…be it a color or fruit or something that evokes a certain feeling for me. I then use those images to inspire my own creation. I’m a very visual creator. I’ve been a “concrete” learner all my life…have to see it, touch it, feel it. Once I have decided on a direction, I create a one page document with select images (a collage if you will) and inspirations to keep with me when I shop for props and wardrobe etc. I keep it on all of my devices. the process definitely takes on a life of it’s own during the “hunting season” 😉 I love hearing about other folks processes, so cool! Thanks for sharing yours!

  6. Chris Allen

    Dave, thanks for sharing your approach! And with the added input from others in the comments, this stream has really given me ideas and inspiration to use when we get underway with the hunts.

  7. Sandy S

    Carpe mora! (Seize the delay)

    I totally budget time for ideas to rattle around in my head. What Dave said, plus running lots of internet searches for each word, phrases the words might be in, etc.

  8. Dianne Maguire

    Great article! As soon as my newbie friend joins, I’m going to suggest she reads this. and seeing that there are going to be 26 words in this hunt!!! We are all going to need all the help we can get!

  9. Amy Benham

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Wade Brooks

    Just re-read this today, and it is still an awesome example of how to brainstorm! I love the procrastination part the best!


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