I carry notebooks with me everywhere I go. You never know when creative lightening will strike.
I have a stack of hijacked hotel note pads beside my bed just in case I have an idea or a terrific dream in the night. At the edge of sleep the mind is free with no limits or rules. They also work well as bookmarks. I can jot down notes about what I'm reading or as a reminder to look up something in the text I want to know more about.
For example, I was riding on the Seattle ferry some days ago and watching another ferry crossing in the other direction. As it passed, I was struck by the image of the smokestack - the form, the black trim, and thought: "That would make the coolest looking covered container." I made a quick sketch. Maybe one day the sketch will become a covered vessel.
I have several standard 3-ring binders. They travel back and forth from the house to the studio. They are for design ideas; doodles. I don't want to wait to get an idea down on paper that I've thought about in the house. By the time I get to the studio, it would be gone.
I created several template pages for the binder using a simple graphic program of large circles, rectangles with rounded corners and profiles of vessels. These are for working out designs for plates, trays and thrown bodies.
I never go into a museum without a camera and a sketchbook. Some museums won't let you take photos. I can always sketch what I want to. The notebook can also be used to make notes of the photos I do take. I export the jpgs to my desktop, stack them onto a blank page by using my old Pagemaker program, print them off, cut them out individually and file them in my image file folders.
I have maintained an image file system since college. It's 4 drawers of hanging folders labeled 'pitchers' or 'cups' or 'faces'. All my inspirations are located in one central place.
When I'm working on an idea, I can take an images out of the folder and push-pin it to the bulletin board in the studio. The arrangement is always changing. The pictures serve as springboards; inspirations for forms, handles, stands, etc. to get my mind in the groove. I also keep a folder of all my paper patterns.
I dismantle all the pottery magazines I get and put the photos or articles in the files too. The system is far more accessible than digging through a pile of magazines.
The rule is: If I look at something for more than 5 or 6 seconds, it goes in the image file. I have photos of fabric, perfume bottles, landscapes, insects, anything that catches and holds my eye. It may sound like a lot of work or that the files would become unmanageable, but I purge them every once in a while. I can also sub-divide into more detailed folders such as 'lids' or 'handles', but haven't needed to yet.
It's a system that works for me.