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28 Daily Creative Exercises for Building Better Habits

by Brooks Chambers
art & design, featured

creative-exercises-28-to-make

Getting in a creative rut is unfortunate – staying in one is a choice. These 28 creative exercises are designed to get you back in the habit of making cool stuff. Get 28 free daily creative projects in your inbox: sign up for #28toMake today.

We often lapse into unproductive habits because we don’t know what else to do. Even for creative professionals, the daily grind can get the best of us and, before you know it, we can’t remember the last time we made something that was truly inspired. The team at CreativeLive felt like this would be a good time to put a stake in the ground and commit to getting back in the habit of making cool stuff again – and we want you to join us.

What is 28 to Make?

28 to Make is a free 28-day series of habit-forming creative exercises delivered to your inbox. It’s designed to help you get back in the habit of making cool stuff. It features 28 short video prompts (2-5 minutes each) from some of the best designers, illustrators, typographers, and all-around makers we know. The videos give you all the direction and inspiration you need to make something every day. 28 to Make is launching February 1-28th, but it will be permanently available – and always free.

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How does it work?

1. Sign up for free. On February 1st, you’ll receive an email with your first video.
2. Watch the free daily video prompts you get in your inbox.
3. Make! The projects can all be completed in 20 minutes, but you can take as long as you like. Also – do it your way. If the project calls for a drawing, but you’ve got some modeling clay on hand, feel free to sculpt instead.
4. Reflect on your work for a few minutes after each project. Did you love it? Hate it? Do you wish you could make one of these every day instead of doing the other projects? Do it!
5. Share what you made with the world on Instagram using #28toMake. We really want to see what you come up with, and we’re not alone.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 for 28 days, or until you stumble upon that thing really gets you going. If you find yourself getting stale again, you can always come back.

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What kinds of creative exercises?

There’s a pretty wide range of creative exercises included in 28 to Make, and we don’t want to give them all away just yet, but we can tell you there will be drawing, hand lettering, tangram-ing, postcard-making, people watching and more. We’ll be filling in the details right here, so be sure to check back each week in February. Also, be sure to explore what other people are making!

Week One with Kate Bingaman-Burt

During the first week, you’ll celebrate everyday objects by drawing them with Kate Bingaman Burt. Kate’s endearing style will inspire you to take in your surroundings in a whole new light.

1. Draw Your Beverage

To start things off, Kate Bingaman-Burt is going to have you draw whatever you happen to be drinking. If you’re attempting this in the morning, we really hope this is coffee. This is a wonderful go-to mini-project that you can do whenever you have a few minutes of down time. Have some fun with it; feel free to include details like how many drinks you’ve had that day or who you were with when you were drinking it. Do you use the same cup most of the time? Maybe let that take center stage: Watch the Free Video

#28tomake #davidlynchcoffee @sesamedonuts

A photo posted by Harrison Freeman (@harrisonefff) on

2. Draw a Houseplant

Spend a few minutes drawing one of your leafy housemates. A simple portrait is a nice way to say “Thanks for all that oxygen you exhaled, little buddy.” Maybe include some notes about when/how you got this plant.  Don’t feel like you have to perfectly draw every single leaf. Notice the plant’s personality, story and context, not just its appearance. What sort of movement do its leaves and stems exhibit as they sprout and grow? Are they kinda exploding out of the pot or is it more like they’re flowing out and down to the table? Watch the Free Video

3. Draw Some of Your Favorite Album Art

Try drawing the cover from one of your favorite CD’s, LP’s, or Cassettes. Most of us have memories that map to different songs, artists, and albums (even if we haven’t purchased a physical copy in a few years). Share your drawing with someone who shares that musical memory with you. One great thing about this exercise is that you get to learn from another artist (namely, the one who designed the album art you’re drawing). As you’re drawing, pay attention to all the decisions the artist made. How did they put the frame together? What did they include or exclude from the composition that surprised you? Bonus: since most album art includes typography, this is a great chance to draw a new typeface for the first time. Watch the Free Video

4. Draw What’s In Your Bag

Grab your backpack, purse, or fanny pack and lay it all out there – time to doodle what’s in your caboodle. This is a great exercise in rediscovery of the mundane. You’ll be drawing some of the things that you interact with more than any other things on the planet. Let that sink in as you lovingly follow the contours of that Altoids tin. This project will give you a chance to represent lots of different textures, colors, and forms. Don’t confine yourself to any particular scale or hierarchy. Maybe try drawing the items largest to smallest in order of which you use most (perhaps that hand sanitizer is actually triple the size of your umbrella), or arrange them chronologically – in what order do you normally use them in a day? You can draw as many or as few things from your bag as you like, just have fun: Watch the Free Video

What’s in your bag day 4 #28tomake #creativelive #watercolor #sketching #sketchbook #creativelifehappylife

A photo posted by Christie Drahnak (@christiedrahnak) on

5. Draw A Receipt

Our day-to-day purchases are extremely personal, meaningful things that often get forgotten. Drawing one of your receipts (or almost any other scrap of paper in your pocket, purse, wallet, or bag) is a fun way to commemorate lunch with a friend, a first date, or a moment of poor self control. This might not seem very exciting to you at first, but this kind of stuff is really fun for others to see. Share it with the world and invite them into the little things with you: Watch the Free Video

Kate Bingaman­-Burt makes work about the things we buy and the feelings we feel. The building blocks of her work include: bright colors, hand lettering, inventories of illustrated objects, and input and interaction from the communities of awesome people who contribute to her crowd-­sourced projects. Her dual roles as commercial illustrator, full-­time educator, and project-based artist overlap inform an intricate creative practice. She is the Associate Director of the School of Art+Design at Portland State University and an Associate Professor of Graphic Design. Her role as both leader and collaborator with her students is an integral part of her creative practice.

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Weekends with Brooks Chambers

We think the weekends should be a bit more laid back. These two exercises aimed at observation, rest & reflection, will be the same each weekend.

6. People-Watching Mad Lib

Today you’re going to do some people-watching. You’ll document your observations with a collection of four words that will make sense only to you. Your four words will be:

1. Adjective – Pick a descriptive word that applies to a specific object or person around you. Try to identify a characteristic that’s unique to your subject. For instance, if you see a barista who seems really cheerful, try to pick a word that touches on why they’re cheerful. For instance, your adjective for the cheerful barista might be “caffeinated” if you think their good mood is coming from all the coffee they drank on the job.

2. Noun – Move on to another subject. For instance, if your adjective was describing that barista’s mood, try picking your noun based on their customer. This noun can be something you see a person using (backpack, comb, glasses) or a noun that sorta classifies a person (nephew, ex-wife, hero). Really any noun will do, but try to dig a little to pick an interpretive word. For this rushed, tired, impatient customer at the coffee shop, let’s go with “victim,” since their circumstances seem to be getting the better of them.

3. Adverb – If it’s been a while since grammar school, here’s a reminder for you: Adverbs usually end in “ly” and explain how the verbs do what they do. Take notice of something someone is doing, and pick a word that captures how they’re doing it. Going with our coffee shop example, you could switch gears and pick this one based on the espresso machine. Since it seems to be steaming the milk with lots of noise, you might say it steams it “furiously.”

4. Verb – Move on to your fourth subject. What are they doing that’s unique to them in that moment? Once again, try to go a level deeper than the surface. Let’s say a foodservice delivery person shows up with the coffee shop’s order. You could say they “carried” the produce in, but maybe you notice they have a knee brace on. Are they fighting through some pain to get their job done? Maybe “overcame” would be the best choice for them. This is a fun way to add your own imaginative spin to the lives of strangers. We recommend using a past tense verb for this part; it’ll make your sentence a little easier to read.

Put it together: Now that you’ve got your 4 words, put the word “The” in front of them and write them out together. In our example, the sentence would read: “The caffeinated victim furiously overcame.” What’s fun about this is that only we know what it means, but it captures lots of really special details about a specific place & time that only you noticed. You can do part of this any time a project feels flat or boring. Take unique details from the world around you and apply them to the subject of your work: Watch the Free Video

Day 6 of #28tomake – Mad Lib outside the grocery store. Ok gonna go write a book with this as the main character.

A photo posted by Casey Chambers (@casey_chambers) on

7. Take the Day Off

Knowing how to slow down is crucial to productivity and personal health. Go somewhere lovely with someone lovely and take it easy! This is also a great time to reflect on what you’ve made this week. Is there something you made that you were especially proud of? What was it and what you made you so proud? Which project really felt like pulling teeth for you and why? Is there something about it you wish you were better at, or is it something you just really never want to do again? Think about your work this week and take those insights into next week’s projects: Watch the Free Video

Brooks Chambers is an excitable design advocate, writer, and marketer at CreativeLive.

Week 2 with Ryan Putnam

During week 2, you’ll play with line, form, and texture alongside Ryan Putnam. Ryan has a knack for connecting the physical and digital worlds with his art, and his projects will help you do the same.

8. Thirty Circles

You are full of great ideas – probably more than you realize. For this exercise, you’ll turn 30 different circles into 30 different drawings as fast as you can. Grab your sharpie, ball point pen, nail polish, watercolors or whatever and just let it happen. The main benefit of this project is that you’re exercising your ability to rapidly iterate different solutions to the same problem. Try not to focus on making 30 perfect drawings, but rather to create 30 unique approaches to filling the same space – just draw with enough detail to get the concept across. If one of the concepts really excites you, come back to it later and flesh it out into its own stand-alone piece: Watch the Free Video

Day 8: 30 Circles. This was so much fun, I could have done another 30! ?

A photo posted by Jantine Zandbergen (@thequietcold) on

9. Scribbles & Shapes

For this project, you’re going to take some scribbles (like crazy little kid scribbles) and find something new in them. You’ll look for shapes formed by the zigs and zags and bring them together into a fresh composition. Long story short, you’re gonna bring order to chaos. You can get the scribbles from a number of different places. If you have kids, that’s a great place to start. If not, ask a friend or co-worker to help you out. Another fun option would be to get your pet’s feet dirty and then let them walk all over your paper (this would work with your dirty shoes, too): Watch the Free Video

10. Blind Contour Self-Portrait

We know you were just dying for a selfie assignment, so here it is. Thing is, you’re going to draw this one. Oh, and you can’t look at the paper while you’re drawing. Oh yeah, and you can’t lift your pen/pencil from the paper. Sound good? Ready to see what your hands think your face looks like? Sit down in front of a mirror, put your pen or pencil to the paper, and start drawing: Watch the Free Video

Day 10 of #28tomake a blind self-portrait. Apparently I look like a bald grumpy old man. Cool. #creativelive

A photo posted by Sarah Nee (@nee_sarah) on

11. Photo Doodle

Today, you’ll need a photo. You can take it with your phone, grab it from a photo album, or cut it out of a magazine – doesn’t matter. You’re going to make it yours by doodling on it! You can doodle something to accentuate the focus of the photo, or something to totally turn the focus on its head. Have fun with it: Watch the Free Video

Day 11 of #28tomake … The Photo is super-trashy, but with the bus I drew, I actually kinda like it. A photo posted by Sebastian (@seb.as.ti.an) on

12. Exquisite Corpse

It’s a freaky name, we know, but this collaborative artist’s parlor game has been around for almost 100 years. Find a couple of people (maybe even strangers) to join you in drawing a really weird-looking person in 3 parts. Fold a piece of paper in thirds. One person starts by drawing the head on the topmost section of the paper. Extend the bottom lines of your drawing across the crease a little bit so that the next artist knows where to start. Then, fold the paper so that the second section of paper is showing, but the first drawing is hidden. Repeat for the second and third artists, then unfold the paper to reveal your collective creation: Watch the Free Video

Putnam’s approach to his work is fun, personal, and always forward-looking. His goal is to combine craft functionality with fine art integrity and the exacting principles of design. What he begins with his pencil and moleskine, he brings to life in forms ranging from letterpress to musical instruments, textiles to stickers, logos to coffee cups.

13. People-Watching Mad Lib

This exercise is slated for every Saturday, but the core aim is to get you out in the wild with your eyes open. If you don’t feel like doing the Mad Lib, try drawing a scene you see: Watch the Free Video

14. Take the Day Off

Building rest into your rhythm is essential, so you’ll see this one repeated each Sunday. This isn’t the only way to build rest into your rhythm, but it’s a great start: Watch the Free Video

Day 14 of #28tomake – take a breather, take 2. Finding the way to McWay Falls, Big Sur. #nofilter

A photo posted by Eimie P (@eimie_art) on

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Week 3 with Lara McCormick

Lara McCormick will take you through 5 exercises aimed at hacking visual language and creative thinking during week 3.

15. Mindmap

Today, you’re going to make a mind map. Join Lara as she helps you explore ideas verbally and visually. This is the halfway point and you might be feeling a little bit of drag. Today’s exercise will help you focus by opening yourself up to possibilities. Start with a central topic you want to explore. For instance, you could explore creative side project ideas, your next vacation destination, or what you would do if you won the Powerball. Write this central topic in the center of your paper and circle it. From here, start down sub-topics that come to mind as you think about your central topic. Circle these and draw lines to connect them to related ideas. Continue this process as long as you like. You’ll start to notice patterns in your thinking and get some insight into your priorities that you mightn’t have had otherwise: Watch the Free Video

#28ToMake day 15: mind maps // it feels weird to do this // #noprivacy

A photo posted by Alejandro Alarcon B (@eyelessboy) on

16. Blackout Poetry

Never considered yourself a poet? Today that all changes when you discover the possibilities of blackout poetry. Join Lara as she demonstrates how to use subtraction and extraction to give new meaning to an existing newspaper article. You’ll start with any piece of printed material. This can be a newspaper or magazine article, an email you printed out, a museum brochure – anything! Using a marker (or a tool of your choice) you’ll black out all of the words except for a few. Choose carefully which words you want to preserve. Try to string them together around a common theme or story. Don’t overthink it, but have fun noticing how many underlying messages are just waiting to be discovered in every paragraph in the world. Grab your marker and let’s get to it: Watch the Free Video

Blackout poetry for #28tomake #michaelscott #creativelive

A photo posted by Morgan Gesell (@morgangesellart) on

17. Playing with Tangrams

The tangram is an ancient Chinese puzzle game using 7 simple shapes. In today’s project, move, rotate, and flip these shapes to make anything you like! Make sure the shapes don’t overlap and that every shape is touching at least one other shape. This is a great way to practice the art of the abstract. You can download a free tangram template on the 28 to Make course page and, of course, Watch the Free Video

Butterfly flap your wings tangram for #28tomake. Thanks @creativelive for the fun daily projects.

A video posted by Jason @ CompulsiveCreative.com (@compulsivecreative) on

18. Visualizing Sound

What would sounds look like if you could see them? What shape would they be? What color? Today, you’ll visualize 4 different sounds through drawing. You can use the sounds provided in the video, or choose your own. Create a visual piece that captures the essence of the sound you’ve chosen. Try not to illustrate the object making the sound, but focus on the impression that the sounds create in your mind. Use any media you like – have fun with with it: Watch the Free Video

#28tomake Assignment 18: Visualize Sound – Jackhammer

A photo posted by Beatrice Yaxley (@bpyaxley) on

Lara is a nationally recognized designer and educator, and currently Head of Design Education at CreativeLive in San Francisco,CA. She is the author of ‘Playing with Type: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Typographic Design Principles’ published by Rockport Press. She received her Masters of Fine Art in Design from the School of Visual Arts, and a postgraduate degree in typography from Cooper Union.

20. People-Watching Mad Lib

This exercise is slated for every Saturday, but the core aim is to get you out in the wild with your eyes open. If you don’t feel like doing the Mad Lib, try drawing a scene you see: Watch the Free Video

21. Take the Day Off

Building rest into your rhythm is essential, so you’ll see this one repeated each Sunday. This isn’t the only way to build rest into your rhythm, but it’s a great start: Watch the Free Video

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Week 4 with Erik Marinovich

In week 4, Erik Marinovich will walk you through 5 exercises that will help you find inspiration in your tools, your neighborhood, and your loved ones.

22. Shiny Objects

For this exercise, your task is to observe what’s going on around you and share what stands out. We call these ‘shiny objects,’ though we don’t mean they’re literally shiny. You’re looking for the little things that stand out to you for some reason. Ideally, this is something reminds you of someone else. Share it with them along with a little note about what made you think of them. It’s a simple exercise, but there are lots of ways to expand on it. For instance, you could turn it into a photo doodle (see #11) or, if possible, send the object in the mail to someone and hand letter their address in a really fun way: Watch the Free Video

23. Make Your Marker

Today is about getting out of your comfort zone. Take something that is unconventional and turn it into a new mark-making tool. You can use a paper towel dipped in ink, a palm frond laced with watercolors, or a french fry dipped in ketchup. The only rule is that it can’t be… well, a marker. Watch the Free Video

24. Make a Postcard

When was the last time you sent someone a postcard? Today you’ll be doing just that. Make one from scratch or use an existing card, and spread some love. Normally, we send postcards that draw inspiration from the place where we bought it, which is usually some semi-exotic vacation destination. Since you’re making your own, you can play with that theme and take it in a fresh direction. If you’re sending it to an old friend, try making the card about a specific place where you used to hang out. You could also give it a message only they would understand – this is fertile soil for inside jokes. Have fun with it. This is likely something the recipient will keep for years to come – wouldn’t you? Watch the Free Video

25. Address an Envelope

Envelopes are a forgotten art form, and in this exercise, Erik will show you how he celebrates them. Have fun addressing any size envelope with fun, ornate letterforms and numerals. One fun application of this project would be to use your elaborate envelope for a really mundane purpose. Send your rent check or utility bill in style this month and brighten someone’s day in the process: Watch the Free Video

26. Hand Lettered Quote

Drawing letters by hand is an age-old art form that also happens to be a lot of fun. Today, Erik invites you to hand-letter a very simple phrase: “Keep Smiling.” You can employ any style you like to do this and use any tools at your disposal (even the marker you made a few days ago). Have fun: Watch the Free Video

Erik Marinovich is a San Francisco based lettering artist and designer, and is a co-founder of Friends of Type. Since 2009 he has drawn letters, logos and type for nice folks like: Nike, Target, Google, Hilton, Facebook, Sonos, Sharpie, The Criterion Collection, Air Canada, Gap, Ford Motor Company. In 2012 he co-founded Title Case, a creative work space that conducts workshops and lectures. Between client work, teaching and side-projects, you’ll find him on the road promoting Keep Fresh Stay Rad and Let’s Go Letter Hunting, two new releases from Friends of Type published by Princeton Architectural Press.

27. People-Watching Mad Lib

This exercise is slated for every Saturday, but the core aim is to get you out in the wild with your eyes open. If you don’t feel like doing the Mad Lib, try drawing a scene you see: Watch the Free Video

28. Take the Day Off

Building rest into your rhythm is essential, so you’ll see this one repeated each Sunday. This isn’t the only way to build rest into your rhythm, but it’s a great start: Watch the Free Video

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Is 28 to Make for me?

Yes! It’s been gently optimized for designers, illustrators, and typographers, but it’s for anyone who wants give traction to their desire to create. These creative exercises are great for crafters, kids, entrepreneurs, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

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The #28toMake Giveaway

We’ve partnered with Fonts.com, Creative Market, Field Notes, Tattly to sweeten the deal in a big way. Participants of 28 to Make can enter to win some really great stuff from these brands by following these simple steps…

1. Sign up for 28 to Make

2. Take photos of the things you make each week.

3. Share your photos on Instagram with #28toMake.

That’s it! We’ll be randomly selecting 5 winners each week in February 2016. We’ll be releasing more details about what you can win this week, so stay tuned. For contest rules and guidelines, click here.

The 28 to Make Playlist

The CreativeLive Audio Channel has been putting together a list of 28 tunes to make to. The playlist features songs by CreativeLive employees, instructors, and partners. Enjoy! If this isn’t your style, let us know what songs get you in the making mood


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Brooks Chambers

Brooks Chambers is an excitable design advocate and writer at CreativeLive. He loves people and the stuff they make.