Posted 01 April 2021

Three exercises to help beat creative block

We’ve all been there. Creative block can come out of the blue, becoming a huge barrier to productivity; and when you’re in the thick of it, it can be tough to remember enjoying creating anything in the first place. In her recent book, aptly titled Creative Block, junior creative Gemma Lawrence is offering some practical help. A 2019 graduate of University of Brighton’s fine art painting course, Gemma wrote and designed the entire book in her spare time, and on her laptop at home. Here we find out what drove her to create a book, and we also have three exercises for you to try out.

A book of creative prompts
I was inspired to write Creative Block after about a year in the design industry, when I had just started volunteering for a kid’s art club. Their creativity is really inspiring – and I was captivated by how easily they could take a simple prompt, and run wild with it.

It almost made me a bit jealous; I’d often find myself a bit stuck on part of a brief, or simply lost for ideas, and I wanted someone to give me a prompt to go crazy with. I wished there was some sort of workbook that I could pick up, and get inspired by. And then thought – why don’t I just make one?

From zine to book
Originally Creative Block was just going to be a zine that I intended to hand around to different cafes. But after realising just how many ideas I’d accumulated for ‘tasks’, I knew that this was a bit more than just a zine.

I started with an image, and then come up with ways to add context to it. For example, I’d search for inspiration based on a theme, such as ‘typography’, and try to find as many different visual experiments as possible. I’d then figure out the techniques behind the images, explaining to the reader how and why they should create it themselves. Some exercises I also made up based on my own previous need for inspiration, as well as from teaching children at the art club – I genuinely want to encourage adults to tap into their childlike creativity more often.

“I’d often find myself a bit stuck on part of a brief, and wanted someone to give me a prompt to go crazy with.”

Advice on beating the block

I learnt loads by creating and publishing this book. Here are some of my top tips for beating the block.

⛔️ Give yourself restrictions
My top advice is always to strip back. Restricting yourself in your materials and resources forces you to problem-solve and be more innovative. Take certain aspects out of the equation: If you were tasked with creating a painting, and you have everything but paints – could you use mud and grass instead, or hold it up to a window and create with light instead?

🏋️‍♀️ Get some regular exercise in
Regularly exercise your creativity in little ways – a daily sketch, a short poem, or just noticing something interesting on a walk. This way, you’re already in the mindset to tackle big briefs, rather than forcing yourself into a creative space when you’re really not feeling it.

🎨 Change shapes, colours or the subject
Whether it’s a brief for a PR stunt for an advertising brief or a book illustration, changing simple things like the shapes, colours or the subject can spark your creativity. In Creative Block, every exercise is also explained at the back – so definitely use and reference these, as they may help you apply the tasks when working on real briefs.

Three exercises to try out

1. Create 18 different variations of the letter ‘A’
Grab some paper (this can be lined, or square) and try to create as many variations of the letter ‘A’ as possible.

When you’ve exhausted as many 'A’s’ as you can, try doing the same with two other letters you like.

This exercise is designed to help you work in a minimalist way, while understanding the construction of typographic letters.

2. Turn two circles into different things
Draw several pairs of circles on a piece of paper, and then try to turn them into as many other things you can think of. For example, could they be glasses, or a bike?

The purpose of this exercise if to help re-contextualise shapes such as circles under the pressure of quantity.

3. Create some basic object silhouettes
Draw out some boxes on a piece of paper. Then, fill them in by drawing the most basic silhouette of the object named in them. Only use straight lines.

This exercise is designed to help you experiment with image creation within tight, minimal restrictions.

With some help from a friend who guided her through the publishing and marketing process, Gemma found a dream partner in BIS Publishers, and Creative Block is now available in Waterstones, Counter-Print and Amazon. Find out more about the book here.

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention Gemma Lawrence