Now the school summer holidays have ended, it’s time to think about learning new skills, perhaps finding a new hobby or exploring different ways to be creative. A book or blog post often triggers an attempt at something new but it can be frustrating when a vital piece of information is missing or the instructions aren’t clear. Online courses like the excellent Incremental Photographer are fun and instructive but some are a complete waste of money.
Ultimately, nothing beats being in a class with a group of like-minded people with the teacher at your shoulder making suggestions for improvement, gently pushing you out of your comfort zone.
Before each class, there’s usually an email sent with directions, timings and hidden innocuously near the bottom an instruction to “bring along your sketchbook to work from.” I used to find this very daunting because I don’t keep a sketchbook and I didn’t know what sort of sketches were needed. Sometimes I wondered if they really meant it or if it was just to be a bit arty. Mainly, I suspected that I’d turn up with the wrong thing, totally under or over prepared. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only person who panics a little when they read this instruction and have noticed a great variation in the way people prepare for their class.
At one extreme are the people who turn up without anything. They arrive without a sketchbook, notes or even the vaguest of ideas. They’re usually either eternal optimists convinced that something will suddenly spring into their heads or they simply want to be given a template that they can copy.
At the other extreme are those who know exactly what they want to do and sometimes have already made a stencil or plate. Their minds are made up and even if their plans are totally inappropriate, they plough on oblivious to the advice of their tutor.
In between are those that come with a variety of ideas in different formats. They might be half-formed plans in their heads or scribbled notes, beautifully detailed sketchbooks or a jumbled collection of photos, pictures or objects. They’ve given some thought to the situation and have a range of ideas to choose from, which can be developed, simplified or manipulated.
It can be difficult to come up with these ideas in the first place. Where do you start? It’s a bit like packing for a holiday without knowing where you’re going, what you’re doing or for how long. Whereas, given a few guidelines, like you’re going to England for a weekend walking break and you immediately know to take some walking shoes and a rucksack packed with essentials. It’s easier to narrow down the possibilities to get started.
For many of us, a prompt or theme is an ideal way to kickstart our creative ideas. Sometimes, the class is themed around the scenery or cultural heritage of the place it’s taking place in or might use the resources of the surrounding area. If you have a passion for something, whether it’s architecture, food, dogs … then you probably have enough material to start you off. If not, you need to find a theme or prompt to set you on your way. And guess what? That’s what we’re going to provide.
Use the prompts in any way you choose. You could:
Work through the list to create a daily habit of sketching, writing, collecting, photographing or whatever creative activity you favour, though you’ll have to come up with a few of your own words if you want a new one daily (this is supposed to be about being creative after all).
Choose one or two words as a theme to explore and develop in detail.
With luck, you can use them to produce a bank of ideas for your creative process so that you no longer panic at the words “Bring your sketchbook along to work from”.
Here are twenty prompts for September: