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Print Picks: Creative Workshop

by Taylor Slattery | May 24, 2021

The blank canvas. Every creative’s supposed worst nightmare. We’ve all experienced creative ruts before, and we know that they eventually pass. But still, for some, an irrational fear persists—the fear that one day you will sit down to work only to find that nothing comes to you. You’ve completely run out of ideas.

In the creative world, ideas are our lifeblood. Without them, we can’t function, so this fear isn’t unfounded. I imagine the root of this problem lies with the ecosystem itself. Clients come to us with problems and we trade answers for money. We’ve trained ourselves to be very good at solving problems, but not great at making them.

This is why I think that the blank canvas problem is experienced more frequently in the home setting rather than the professional. When working on projects for clients, the parameters are well-defined. We understand what we’re making, why we’re making it, and who it’s for. When we finally sit down to make work for ourselves, we’re left to answer these questions on our own and might find the answers don’t come as easily.

Who do you go to for this? Personally, I see creativity like a muscle. If you’ve got skills but find yourself scratching your head when deciding how to use them, then essentially, you’ve been skipping leg day. You need to hit the gym.

As far as I know, there isn’t 24 Hour Fitness for creatives, so the next best thing is a book. Creative Workshop, by designer and art director David Sherwin, is like a gym membership and a personal trainer combined. As the title suggests, Creative Workshop consists of a series of design exercises aimed to take designers outside of their comfort zones and challenge their way of thinking.

The challenges are presented like project briefs, with short introductions, some examples of deliverables, and any additional constraints on the medium or workflow to be used. What makes the challenges difficult—and in my opinion, more fun—is the inclusion of a time constraint. Durations range from 30 minutes up to 2 hours, and not only add to the excitement, but make them easier to schedule.

2 hours may seem like a long time, but once you get started, the allotted time will never feel like enough. The short time limits are a key feature of the exercises, though, as they help to manage expectations right from the start. They help designers to overcome perfectionism and just focus on the task at hand without being overly concerned with the outcome.

The challenges are organized into several different categories, with the overarching theme being design, but with sections dedicated to more specific disciplines such as product design, typography, advertising, and branding. They offer ample opportunity to expose yourself to areas of design you might have little experience with and provide some great jumping-off points for further exploration should you feel like it.

Whether you’re currently stuck in a creative rut, wanting to sharpen your skills, or just looking for something fun to do, I think this book is great for anyone. Particularly so if you’ve ever had a sneaking suspicion that maybe creativity is in fact a finite resource and that one day we may just run out. If that sounds like you, be sure to give this book a try. I’m sure it will convince you otherwise.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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