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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Give Yourself a Whack on the Head

The summer offers a great opportunity for us to spend time working on ourselves, exploring creative endeavors and honing our skills.  It is an excellent time to work on enhancing our creativity and add to our creative problem solving toolbox.  As arts practitioners we are continually working on our art and refining our talents.  But even we get “blocked” sometimes and need ways to dig deeper into that creative well that exists within so that our work does not stagnate. 
Exercising our creative muscles gives us more options, keeps our work fresh and allows us to be better arts facilitators because we have creative tools at our disposal.The best overall approach to creative gymnastics is to visit the website of creativity guru Roger Von Oech, creator of the Whack Pack- deck of cards designed to break paradigms, shift thinking and improve your creative problem solving skills. Each card lists a method, exercise or idea designed to “whack” conventional thinking. I used the deck over fifteen years ago to design a curriculum for creativity development for students as part of a masters thesis project and I use the techniques and curriculum in my classes today.  Von Oech has recently developed a Whack Pack for iphones application that is available at There are countless ways to enhance creative thinking and as artists we tend to use our favorites to explore new ideas for our own work. Here are some that I use for myself and my students when things get stale.


1. Leave it unfinished. As an artist growing up I often heard, “You never finish anything!  When are you going to get (that painting, this drawing, that project, etc.) finished??”  I always felt there was something wrong with me because I left so many things undone.  It wasn’t till much later into adulthood that I realized that was just how artists worked.  It’s OKAY to leave something unfinished- provided that you don’t need to get a grade for it or a client isn’t waiting for it.  I tell my students that school doesn’t afford artists an ideal way to operate.  School is linear, art and creativity are not.  None of art history’s greatest talents ever worked on one piece at time, finishing one project before starting another.  Too often, while working on another project or problem altogether we find an approach that works for finishing one that we were blocked on. Walk away, and leave it alone.  Part of being creative is being able to embrace ambiguity.
2. What would (Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollock, insert any artist) do? Sometimes imagining how another artist would perceive a problem helps you to solve yours. See your situation with new eyes by looking through the lens of another creator.  How would he see it?  What would he do to it?  What things might he try? Add?  Subtract?  How would he experience it?  Visually?  By listening?  Take a perspective from an artist who is completely out of your discipline- if you are painter ask yourself how Beethovan would interpret your work.
3. Don’t force it. Take a lesson from the Zen masters- let it be. Look around at nature- the world’s greatest creator. Some of the finest natural masterpieces have evolved from situations that were unavoidable. The Grand Canyon was not designed, it happened. And it happened according to the natural laws of erosion.  No one forced it.  No one rushed it. Let what is supposed to happen, happen.  Artists are lucky because we tend to have a well developed intuition. We need to listen to our inner voice and be able to recognize when we are trying to force something that just needs to be left alone.


4. Turn to another art form.  If you are a dancer, paint.  If you are a sculptor, pick up a guitar.  Engaging in another form of art is freeing because we are not vested in creating a finished product, we are just fully present in the experience of creating art.  Creating just for creation’s sake is when we really get in touch with our soul. Enjoy and lose yourself in the experience.
5. Sleep on it. Draw your dreams. Or at least record them.  Our subconscious is a form of communication with ourselves that we pay too little attention to.  Salvador Dali would set up a canvas near his bed so that he could wake up and paint what he had just dreamed.  Pay attention to the details.  Who is in your dream?  What is taking place?  What objects?  Where?  How does this relate to your creative dilemma?


6. Always ask ‘what if…? The two most important words in the human language- what if……? They unlock imagination and allow us to dream, to wonder to create. Incorprate the phrase into your daily vocabulary and use it everywhere you go- sitting in traffic (what if cars could fly?) in the grocery store line (what if there was an easier way to check out?) at the gym (what if we could take a pill to make us fit and healthy?) Our imagination is limitless but we need to exercise it daily so that accessability becomes effortless.
This summer buy yourself a Whack Pack or the Whack Pack app.  On Von Oech’s site there is even a Whack of the Day that you can access.  But take advantage of the time off to incorporate new creativity tools into your own work and into the toolbox that you use to help inspire the work of your students!
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