Advice — Four creative warm-ups to help you get projects off to a good start

Posted 20 November 2018 Written by Francesca Elisia
Interview by Marianne Hanoun

We all know what it's like to get in a creative rut. From simply being stuck on a project or struggling to come up with ideas, it can be an altogether frustrating process. But one thing's for sure: whether you're working alone or in a group – taking time to step back and loosen up can be proven to help. No one knows this better than Francesca Elisia. An artist and creative facilitator, Francesca leads workshops with both designers and non-creatives to help improve their creative process – strengthening collaboration, encouraging playfulness and new inspiration in their work. Here, she shares some creative warm-ups anyone can use to get any project off the ground.

There are many benefits to doing creative warm-ups. They can nurture creative behaviour, encourage open-mindedness, intuition, and playfulness. 

Whether you're looking to get comfortable with a new group or mixing things up with an experienced team, these kinds of exercises can help to expand your creative energy by getting you to think in different way. 

They can also bring a sense of adventure and exploration to your work. Looking outside of your medium or exploring new ways of looking at a problem or experience can lead to new inspiration. Plus, they can even help instil a sense of flow that means your'e not worrying so much about making mistakes. 

Here are a few of my favourites:

‘Alternative Uses’

What is it?
This classic creativity warm-up was developed by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1967 to rate a participant’s abilities in originality, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration.

What it’s good for:
This works well as a challenging warm-up that allows participants to challenge their perceptions and makes the next problem seem easier to solve.

What you’ll need:
• Large sheets of paper 
• Pens / markers

How to do it:
In a group, one person picks an object. Next, everyone in the group has two minutes to independently sketch all the different uses for a familiar object that they can think of. I usually use objects like a traffic cone, fork, and rubber tyre – but any familiar object will work. (In advance, it might help to sketch a 4 x 5 grid on a sheet of A3 paper. That means you can use each square for a unique use of the object.) Don’t worry about the quality of the drawing, just get something down! 

‘120 Rooms’

What is it?
A good creative warm-up that does not require drawing, this exercise works well with a group of eight or more people. Together, imagine you were given a house with 120 rooms to fill with anything, but each room must have its own unique purpose. 

What it’s good for:
The exercise taps into imagination and usually leads to laughter. 

What you’ll need:
• Post-its
• Pens / markers

How to do it:
Each participant is given a stack of Post-its. Each unique room gets written on a Post-it that gets put up on a wall / board. Someone is allocated to read the room names aloud and place them on a wall or board that can be seen by the room. The group completes the exercise when they've reached 120 unique uses. 

‘Bauhaus Drawing Exercise’

What is it?
This drawing exercise provides a series of cryptic clues that lead to a large drawing. I've developed a version of the exercise based on a description by artist Geroge Rush included in Draw It With Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment by Paper Monument. The book is a fantastic resource for art and design assignments. 

What it’s good for:
Following the exercise, participants are normally embarrassed by the strange thing they've made, but I absolutely love the unusual shapes and forms that typically emerge. The takeaways here are that each decision that is made becomes part of their own unique puzzle. To trust one's instinct, and to practice not being embarrassed by making strange marks. It's a good warm-up for a group that might be drawing or sketching together later. 

What you’ll need:
• Large sheets of paper
• Charcoal / pens

How to do it:
Each participant is given an A3 sheet of paper and some charcoal to draw with. Someone reads out the following directions, which the rest of the group must follow along with. The group can’t ask any questions, must work in silence, and they must reason their way through the problem on their own.

Instructions
1. Using one line only, draw one simple geometric shape, such as a square, triangle, or circle.
2. Without overlapping or intersecting, draw a different shape.
3. Now, draw another shape.
4. Choose your favourite shape.
5. Make the other 2 like your favourite.
6. Enlarge one of the shapes.
7. Reduce one of them.
8. Make one shape touch one edge of the page.
9. Make the other two touch each other.
10. Introduce a new shape that is different.
11. Make the original 3 shapes like the new shape.
12. Make one shape larger than all the others.

‘Recall’

What is it?
This activity is inspired by an exercise included in A Few Minutes of Design, 52 Activities to Spark Your Creativity by Emily Campbell. The objective is to remember and represent familiar things in your environment. 

What it’s good for:
The exercise inspires storytelling and sharing.

What you’ll need:
• Large sheets of paper
• Pens / markers

How to do it:
Working independently, each participant has three minutes to sketch or write about what they can remember about a series of items. This could be a favourite item of clothing, the front door of your home or the cover of the last book you’ve read. Or a favourite book.

Some things to think about: Consider how many parts or pieces make up the item, what is the shape, and how do you interact with the item? When was the last time you saw it, and what happened at that moment?

Following the sketching and writing, the group picks an item to share and takes a few minutes to show the work and describe it. 

...

Francesca is based on the ustwo Adventure floor in Shoreditch. You can find out more about her workshop, Activating Creativity here.

Posted 20 November 2018 Written by Francesca Elisia
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Illustration: Jiro Bevis
Collection: Advice
Mentions: ustwo Adventure
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