10 tips for exploring materials creatively with your students

Artist Varjack-Lowry recommend ideas & activities for teachers

10 March 2022

by Paula Varjack and Chuck Blue Lowry

As makers, facilitators, and teachers we are constantly having to find ways to inspire ourselves and others to generate ideas and artworks from those ideas

Our practices combine experience and interest across disciplines, so we constantly play with how we create. By jumping between forms, we find it helps to keep our ideas dynamic and engaging. Here’s a list of our top ten tips for creatively exploring material with your students, that can work across a broad range of themes and focuses. 

1. Physical warm-ups

Though we do a lot of work that is screen-based and visual, we feel you can never underestimate the impact of a physical warm-up, regardless of the shape or form of what we make. Even online (especially online!) it’s important to get out of our heads and into our bodies. Doing this can really shift your thinking and literally let new ideas flow. Stretching, tapping, jumping, shaking out the body and walks, are all great ways to start before writing, drawing, filming, talking, but also good to do mid-session (and after lunch breaks). 

2. Free Writing

Varjack-Lowry are very big fans of freewriting, a practice of stream of conscious writing where you let yourself write whatever comes to mind (or whatever comes to mind in response to a theme). We find it works best when it is handwritten rather than typed. We use it when we’re making and often use it in workshops. When we get stuck, we’ll often write “I don’t know what to write” until suddenly a new idea comes onto the page. 

3. Free Drawing

As above but also just as a way of sketching ideas that come to us visually. Chuck went to art school and Paula can just about doodle :-), but her film school training means she often makes storyboards. We especially love encouraging people to draw who don’t think they’re good at it. We feel it’s useful for everybody. By mixing it with writing and movement tasks you can get into a more dynamic generating space. 

4. Timers

Varjack-Lowry love a tight timeframe to get us in a ‘make now, critique later’ headspace. By setting a timer for a task, there’s a straightforward pressure to finish it, and we often find we make much more than we might have otherwise without the timer. 

5. Playlists

By creating a soundtrack for a creative task you can find another way into thinking about the material, while also introducing pace and tone. You can create your own playlist for a task or invite your students to create their own. 

6. Tag-teaming

As a creative duo, we love taking turns when working on a piece. By letting one person make a pass on creating and then the other picking up, different energies can flow into work than when solo, while also allowing for a different kind of collaboration than when working together at the same time. 

7. Workshops

As much as we are often facilitating, we also love to keep training and learn from other practitioners. A non-exhaustive list of artists whose workshops have inspired us include Sue Mayo, Louise Orwin, Byrony Kimmings, Rachel Mars, Rhiannon Armstrong, JayJay Revlon, Stacy Makishi, and Joshua Sofaer. 

8. Allow for diversions, digressions, and distractions

Sometimes the best way to allow space to create is to take a break. Sometimes this is about fully stopping and walking away from something until the next day, other times planning to watch something or do something totally different can be far more helpful than pushing on through and can even find its way into the work in surprising ways.

9. Reminder - We are still in a Global Pandemic

We include this as it can be surprisingly easy to forget. Sometimes it’s harder to create and collaborate because the times we are going through can be strange and strained. Reminding ourselves of this at times can be helpful as a way of going easy on ourselves. The fact that you are making and supporting others to do so is a big achievement in itself! 

10. Find the joy

What is fun about the theme, the approach, or the dynamics of those you are working with or supporting? How can you lean into that more? Can you find a playful way into a big theme? Or after exploring something heavier can you introduce a playful task as a palette cleanser?

Find out more about Varjack-Lowry here.

Photo credit: Amalie Mourichon (via Unsplash)