One of the creative warm-up exercises I often do with small groups is to gather everyone around a collection of random objects. We each take turns picking up an object, identifying it as something it is not, and then stating what we can do with it. A sheet of toilet paper might become a magic carpet upon which a mouse could ride; a brass candlestick held upside down might be “rung” in a silent bell choir; a TV remote control might send special coded messages to an alien spacecraft. The group responds positively and encouragingly. At first, everyone is a little hesitant. But within a few minutes, we're laughing and having a good time. The point is to loosen up, have some fun and open our minds for the real creative assignments of the day.
Sometimes I find myself doing this almost subconsciously on my own. Last week, for instance, I wanted to photograph this dried allium seed head. It reminded me of a head of hair—though not just any head of hair. It was a wild woman with long, wavy hair. She was running, with abandon, and with the hair flowing behind her. Before I knew it, I was posing “her” for photographs and shooting away. In the process, I began looking at the allium in different ways and seeing things I’d never noticed before, such as the underside of the dried flower blossoms.
If this process sounds like child's play, it is. We were all born curious, uninhibited and imaginative. Most of us lost at lest some of that somewhere along the way to becoming adults. Taking a bit of time to play, imagine and lose those inhibitions helps us tap our creativity. Warming up our minds before creating is really no different than stretching our muscles before a run or singing scales before a vocal performance. It can help us establish the right mood, shift our focus, and fire a few neurons in our brain.
What did you imagine when you were a kid? Was there a character or role you liked to play? A special game or activity in which you liked to engage? How might you tap that youthful energy or attitude again?