Artificial Imagination: AI Expands and Eases My Mind

Abbey Ley
5 min readJan 31, 2024
Illustration created in Midjourney with prompt: “Simple, modern graphic design. A brain amongst a calm and serene environment”

Creative work and juggling tasks can get incredibly overwhelming. I know it isn’t just me. Who hasn’t been intimidated by a blank page or empty canvas and a looming deadline? We all work differently, but working smarter and not harder is valuable to everyone.

I’ve been in an exploration phase of a design project. Concepts swirled around in my head along with possibilities of ways I could create. Luckily, I have plenty of creative freedom. Should I work with my hands to illustrate? Paint? Feature macro photography? Digitally collage elements? I hadn’t yet decided, but I had a pretty specific vision in mind. So I leveraged Midjourney to help with ideation. I’m guessing you probably know what it is, but — just in case! — it’s a wondrous “independent research lab exploring new mediums of thought and expanding the imaginative powers of the human species… A small self-funded team focused on design, human infrastructure, and AI.”

OH. This was THE MOVE! The exercise was joyful and really helped me work through a creative block. I’m paying just under $11/month and so far I haven’t run out of high quality images. Midjourney is an incredible tool, though it is wise to use it with caution. There are many legal concerns and lawsuits surrounding artwork and copyright infringement. For my project, I’m using it to generate custom ‘swipe,’ a term Creative / Art Directors use to describe a collection of sourced visual inspiration; “basically professional Pinterest.” That term originated from the idea that you’re essentially ‘swiping’ someone else’s work to convey your vision. “That’s really what they were after with this thing, wasn’t it!?” I pondered.

An empowering thought popped into my brain, delighted at the near-instant gratification of prompts-turned-marvelous images:

“Perhaps AI is here to help reduce my creative mental overload.”

I hadn’t really thought about it that way, beyond the quick (sometimes laughable) help from Alexa and Siri that many of us have become accustomed to. As a graphic designer and writer, I have so many forms of creative exploration. I’ve composed iPhone Notes for dayyys. I visualize concepts in my mind, often writing and sketching ideas on paper. I haven’t been too big on building mood boards, though sometimes I find it helpful.

“AI image generation tools are a new sketchpad of wonder!” I realized, with an exciting, yet calming sense of relief.

I’ve also been using Midjourney lately to up-level my mockups for my portfolio. One of my favorite types of projects is creating cover artwork for music releases and podcasts. I generated a bunch of photo-realistic scenes for my art to live in. I was a bit surprised by the pleasant realization that I had really honored these works of art by showcasing them in these elegant ways. I previously had some of these featured on my site, but as flat images. With this tool, I was able to simply evoke atmospheres and scenes I specifically described. I then Photoshopped my cover artwork into place. I’m pretty pleased with the way they turned out.

Image of records created with Midjourney, formatted with 3 covers I created for Ron Pope
Image of record player created with Midjourney, formatted with album cover and vinyl label artwork I designed for Crowd Company, a UK based funk band.

My, we’ve sure come a long way from Microsoft’s friendly and very persistent paperclip, Clippy! I grew curious about why Midjourney exists, so naturally I typed, “Why did the founder create Midjourney?” into Google search.

When asked about Midjourney’s mission for this Forbes piece, Founder David Holz said:

“We like to say we’re trying to expand the imaginative powers of the human species. The goal is to make humans more imaginative, not make imaginative machines, which I think is an important distinction.”

Goda Go, Co-Founder of AI Agency Synthminds and YouTube creator pondered the same question. She too turned to the internet for answers and found a rare interview with David on creating and testing Midjourney in Discord. The interactive server nature of the platform creates this cool, imaginative community and empowers people.

“Discord provides this unique social layer to collective creativity…” she explains, in her super fun investigative video, The Man Behind Midjourney (David Holz).

A still from A still from The Man Behind Midjourney (David Holz). The top half is from Midjourney’s website.

I just experienced the grand power of collective creativity myself, honestly mostly by accident. The “#daily-themes” channel piqued my curiosity, so I popped in. I was gleefully captivated by by a stunning flow of frogs flashing by. The day’s theme was amphibian and my desire to participate was immediate!

“A majestic amphibian queen relaxes luxuriously on a lilypad surrounded by a stunning oasis. Beautiful sunlight, sparkles and dew drops. Photorealistic. She has an elaborate crown on top of her head. Fluffy clouds in the daytime sky above her, but the moon is also in view,” I prompted the Midjourney Bot.

My prompt, participating in Midjourney’s #daily-themes channel on Discord

A few of my favorite amphibian queens:

Generated with varied prompts

All of this is just to say, go play! Whether or not you’re feeling stuck, unlocking your creativity is fun. Grab an IRL coloring book if you wish, or dream up unique prompts and let the machines do their thing. In this dystopia we’re all living in, at least we have art. It only makes sense that we can now generate it with artificial intelligence. AI is a pretty awesome collaborator — what you can generate with it is actually a reflection of your human creative capabilities! The AI still needs us humans to come up with prompts. I even popped into ChatGPT to give me some title ideas for this piece. Some of them are seriously excellent! I’m keeping “AIyurveda” in my back pocket. Some made me LOL. None of them were quite right for this, but, to my point– really helped me ideate in a quality, intellectual way.

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Abbey Ley

Hello! I'm an art director, motion designer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.