Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Creative Workout: Building Creative Muscle Power

Post by Mari Boyle

On February 6th, 2021, SCBWI Japan members gathered around their screens for our first meeting of the year: Creative Workout: Building Creative Muscle Power. Holly Thompson, our Co-regional Advisor, led the session and highlighted the main aims of the event which were to “build our creative muscles and tone our imagination.”

Holly challenged us with a series of prompts, many of them utilizing the fabulous illustrations submitted by our members. Setting up the screen with an illustration and a prompt, Holly gave us five minutes to sketch or write. The prompts included things like draw/write about what happened before/ after this scene; focus on one character in the illustration and write/ draw what that character is feeling; consider the illustration as if it occurs in different points in a story–beginning, middle, end. We were also given word lists and challenged to use as many of them as possible in a piece of writing or a sketch.

Once our five minutes were up, we came back on camera to share our ideas, writing, and sketches. As always it was fascinating to see and hear the multiplicity of creative thought from our diverse group of illustrators and writers. No two people had the same ideas, allowing further opportunity for us to expand our own creativity. Holly noted, “This makes me realize how my thinking is very narrow and I need to broaden it and think bigger … so I really like hearing other people’s ideas and seeing them visually.”

While the majority of participants on this occasion were illustrators, using illustrations as prompts I found, as a writer, to be an interesting turnaround. In the creation of a picture book, the manuscript usually comes first, then the illustrations. In these exercises, being asked to study the artwork and find a storyline was a good reminder of how key illustrations are in picture books. Aimed as they are at an audience who may not yet be able to read the text, children learn to read pictures to understand the story, and I suspect they read them differently, if not more keenly, than most adults.

Two hours and seven prompts later our zoom session came to an end. It was, as all good workouts should be, stimulating, fun, challenging and tiring. Holly passed along some links and further prompts to practice stretching and toning our creative muscles on our own, but there is something special about doing these exercises as a group. The camaraderie sparks ideas, encourages you to get out of your comfort zone, and opens your mind to different ways of thinking. Other attendees clearly felt the same way as one of our group asked at the end, “Can we do it again?” Holly assured us there will be further opportunities later in the year.

If you would like to exercise your creative muscles, please checkout the SCBWI Japan calendar to find out upcoming events , and also the main SCBWI site for online events in other parts of the world that are open to all members.

To learn more about the illustrators whose work is featured in this post, please visit the SCBWI Japan Illustrator Gallery.

Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.