8 min read

Staying Inspired: 40 Creative Assignments to Rid Brain-stasis

Sometimes when our minds are wrapped in 10 different projects at once, it’s difficult to maintain a level of “freshness”. To be fresh, means you’re invigorated, sweet, untainted, and clear. Your capacity for creativity is filled to the max and you are open to whatever challenge that comes your way. This state is not a lasting one, and it’s often like a temperamental child.

Dan Bowen

Dan Bowen

Founder + CEO
Published: August 05, 2014
Last Updated: April 22, 2024
Staying Inspired: 40 Creative Assignments to Rid Brain-stasis

Feeding it and babying it, is part of what is required and necessary. Every artist/designer has experienced “burn-out”. To be in this state means your experiencing complete depletion and you’ve exhausted your brain to the last synapse. 

If you are in a funk, don’t beat yourself up. Experiencing “burn-out” is often a result of hard work and dedication. Desensitization and repetition play major roles too. We become so used to doing whatever we are doing, we lose the sense of why we started  in the first place. 

Maintaining “freshness” is necessary for anyone in any creative field. Being a good designer requires constant upkeep and curiosity. When you are catering to the needs and wants of clients, your own creative juices are left in the shadows and as a result, that sense of novelty you started with starts to decay.

If you are at this point, it’s time to bandage up your battle wounds and take the necessary steps to get out of it. I know this, because by my last year in art school, I was so “creatively spent” if I even looked at a paintbrush, I wanted to throw-up.  Being a creative person and experiencing that degree of stagnation is not a place you want to be, especially when being creative is a big part of who you are.

Here’s what you can do to start: return to your roots. Tap into that forgotten well of curiosity. It’s time to return to the beginning when it was just you and your crayons and your mother’s white walls. 

Here is a list of 40 creative assignments to stimulate some of those severed neurotransmitters and help alleviate the funk you’ve acquired so you can return back to your old you. 

  1. An increased use of infographics in our daily lives presents an opportunity to create much more engaging and interactive ways to display information. Create an infographic of how something works. It can be an object or an activity. Be creative. 

  2. People walk out into busy roads without looking because they are texting, chatting on their mobiles, or half-engaged in conversations with friends while reading tweets. We are depriving ourselves of being in the “here and now”. Design something to encourage people to engage more with the world around them and not just those little screens that hypnotize them into submission. If “shocking” the audience is a factor, go for it. 

  3. Research a political event or occurrence and make a statement through a poster,—propaganda. Part of being a designer/artist is that it can give you power. Take advantage of that voice and be outspoken. 

  4. Create a logo that represents you and your world. 

  5. Grab a pen or pencil and a large sheet of paper, close your eyes and start drawing. Think about anything you like but keep that pen moving at all times. Perhaps play some music and marry the feel of the sounds to the gestures of your mark-making. Don’t open your eyes until you’re finished with that drawing. Scan in the drawing, chop it up, add more to it, whatever you like, don’t be precious. Surprise yourself by creating something you didn’t really know you would create. 

  6. Take some minutes to look around your environment. Take in the details: people who work or live with you. There’s always something special within your environment. Make a drawing or design from what you observe. Try to represent everything in a single piece – it can be text-based, a drawing or a 3D object. The idea is to show the DNA of everything that surrounds you, somehow. 

  7. World events often bring to our attention the disparity between different classes within our society and their frustrations. Design can successfully communicate some of the complicated issues of this disparity. Create a drawing that voices some of the concerns surrounding an unfortunate event, preferably in a constructive way. Hint: Just watch the news for 15 minutes. 

  8. Narrative-based illustration requires an understanding of how graphic images are used to communicate a message or simply to tell a story. By applying imagination and developing an interesting layout within your own personal style and skill set, illustrate a personal narrative that depicts a journey from start to finish. It has to involve a person – how you interpret that is up to you. 

  9. Write a letter to yourself in the future, including some graphics/illustrations. Focus on the present. Goal: Communicate about where you are now, and where you want to be in the future. Figure out a way to receive the letter on that exact date. 

  10. Create 20 icons of 20 verbs: Choose your medium, then choose 20 verbs and create something by following the actions of the verbs. Ex: To twist, to wrap, to bend, to skew, to overlap, to break, to fold, to crumple and so on.

  11. Global protests are now a reality; ordinary people are standing up and demanding democracy and fairness. Imagine if every one of these protests united under a single graphic flag – a clear and defiant visual device, held high to display unity and pride no matter where you are. Design a flag and, in so doing, subvert the device used by armies to signify power, strength into numbers and unity.

  12. Find several color combinations you respond to in public. Document them using swatches, write where you found them and create 3 designs from these color illustrating the location they were found in a much more interesting way. You can transform the space if you’d like.

  13. Style: Vintage. Create an old school poster for a resistance movement to totalitarian ideologies. It should feature an original slogan and a simple image, and must be something you can stencil on a wall –  simplicity is key. Utilize only 2 colors. 

  14. Spend a day creating graphics of only red things. 

  15. Maps: We make maps for everything and they are everywhere. Think of their purpose and their significance. Create a map. Be creative. You can create a map of your favorite spots in your town/city, a room, your daily routine etc. 

  16. We are undeniably part of the universe but we tend to forget it. Create a series of drawings that remind the viewer about the incomprehensible vastness of space and the ultimate futility of life. We are ultimately insignificant in comparison. How can you convey this? 

  17. Speed & Interpretation: Make a 5 sec drawing, a 5 min drawing and a 5-hour drawing of the same thing 

  18. Create instructions for a simple everyday task, then create a funny/quirky how-to book. Example: Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

  19. Create a file of all your favorite colors and create a series of illustrations with each color exclusively and then a final illustration using all the colors. Final step: Piece them all together in an interesting way. 

  20. Photograph an object you like. Create 10 graphics exploring the specific characteristics of this object. 

  21. Take 15 minutes to eat an orange. 

  22. Surrealism: Create something that makes no sense whatsoever 

  23. Think of words we use frequently and somehow not truly grasp the real meaning of these words. Find a word, discover and understand its depth and create a drawing from or about it. Examples: slake, wayfarer, contiguous, coxcomb, etc. 

  24. Scaffolding/Architecture/Learning to see through objects/Thinking 3-dimensionally: Attach yourself to a particular interior or building and copy it through an illustration from 3 different perspectives/angles. 

  25. Layers: Create 5 different (unrelated/opposite) designs in separate files then combine them 

  26. Repetition & Pattern: Create a design using only small circles. Color them in. Choose several variations of color swatches first. 

  27. Brands are omnipresent and can represent products, people, organizations, towns and cities, countries and even religions. At what point does a brand become unnecessary and impractical? Taking this to its ultimate conclusion, how would you brand the largest thing we can experience – the Earth? 

  28. Movement: Create 3 designs that convey some form of action.

  29. Create an abstract or figurative image using dots only. 

  30. Create an illustration(s) about your relationship with an object you encounter on a daily basis ex. Car, washing machine, chair etc. 

  31. The problem with Preciousness: Destroy a design and re-create it or find a photo then alter it by drawing over it. 

  32. Draw the same object every day for a week. 

  33. Make something defined by its ugliness into something beautiful. 

  34. Over-saturation: Create an illustration/graphic that makes your eyeballs hurt. 

  35. Typography: Write out 10 moods and convey each mood with type.  Esoteric rhetoric design…create a design purely with words. 

  36. Doodling: Unconscious scribbling we often do when we are idle. There’s a beauty to unintention. Create a series of doodle drawings.

  37. Weight vs. Weightlessness: Create this relationship visually. 

  38. Create a graph/s documenting or measuring something in your life. Use humor. 

  39. Found Images: Create a collage of random searches on Google. Be creative. Take advantage of the fact that we are confounded with visual diarrhea on a daily basis. 

  40. Illustrate the concept of simplicity by taking complex forms and turning them into icons/buttons.

"Relaxing brings weakness, when done by a muscle; but brings strength, when done by a person."
Mokokoma Mokhonoana
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