Draw Your Way Forward

By Rachel Marsden

Sometimes when we have a challenge we can get stuck in trying to ‘think’ our way out of it. Using image-making and metaphor as a form of problem-solving can help us step out of our default way of thinking and open up new creative solutions.

Drawing your challenge slows down your cognitive processes. It helps you externalize it, creating a playful distance from it so it can be experimented with, disrupted, cut-out, colored-in, reshaped or erased.

This exercise is useful for creative people of all kinds. You do not need to have any drawing or painting abilities to do this, as the exercise relies on the process of turning your challenge into abstract shapes, forms or metaphors, reflecting on them and then transforming them visually. You won’t be creating a finished ‘product’ for anyone else to look at.

This method can be used for all kinds of challenges. Perhaps you feel creatively blocked and have no ideas. Using pen and paper, you could draw what that block looks like. How tall is it? How wide? Is it a brick wall or a barbed wire fence? Then: how would you visually get past that block? You could draw a ladder, a bridge, some steps, or dynamite. Can you add things around it that symbolize life unblocked? Through being playful you let your brain relax and create space for epiphanies to occur.

Perhaps you’re a novelist and your characters are getting stale. You don’t know where to take them next. You could draw them on the page, cut them out and stick them in different situations, further apart, closer together, upside down. Sounds silly, but it will have you thinking differently.

This exercise is especially good for perfectionism or persistent self-doubts. You can see the internal ‘thing’ from the outside and experiment with being imperfect. If you are a visual artist I recommend you use materials that are not your usual media. Children’s crayons or torn-up pieces of a magazine can be very freeing.


+ Paper of any sort
+ Colored drawing or painting materials of any sort, e.g., pencils, crayons, felt pens. You’ll enjoy having a minimum of three different available colors to use.


+ Magazine pages, scissors and glue.

Consider that different mediums allow you to express yourself in different ways.


Before you begin, it can be helpful to take a few deep inhales and exhales to bring yourself into a relaxed state.

Draw your challenge in abstract form using color, line, shape, form or metaphor.

What are the different elements? Consider how large each element would be in relation to the other elements. Would different parts cross over each other?

If abstract imagery proves tricky: draw the challenge as a metaphor. For example, if your challenge was a tree, animal or landscape, what would it look like?

You may find that as you are drawing epiphanies start to occur as to how to shift this block. If this doesn’t happen for you, don’t be concerned, simply enjoy the process.


Once you have created the image of your challenge, take out a pen and paper, or work on a computer, and ‘ask’ your image some questions. It’s important to physically write down your answers.

You can make up your own questions or use the following questions and prompts to generate insight. Describe what you see literally, as though you were looking at it for the first time. Let your imagination free-associate on what each element might mean to you.

+ What does this image have to say about your challenge or block?

+ Are there elements in your image that you weren’t expecting when you first began drawing?

+ If you turn your image upside down and look for a solution from this angle, what does the image have to tell you?

+ Look at it from all angles. What do you see?

+ What positive messages can you take from this image and/or what needs to be acknowledged?


Now that you have generated some insight around your challenge, it’s time to find a possible solution or solutions.
There are two main ways you can go about doing this:

1. Change your current image in some way. This might mean adding new elements, cutting something out or turning it in a new direction and spontaneously drawing over the top of it.


2. Create a new image that depicts how you would like it to be, perhaps by using elements from the original image or by letting yourself freely draw what you would like it to be.

As a further step, you can create a ‘bridge’ image that takes you from the first image to the second. Work only with the elements that exist in both images. Don’t ‘think’ about the challenge itself when creating the image, instead work with the visual elements.
You may want to do some writing to reflect on these images once you’ve completed them and/or let yourself live with the images for a few days and see if any new ideas emerge.

This exercise works not only for creative challenges but for personal challenges. Working with an empathetic and trained coach can further help as they can ask additional questions about your images that will open up new doorways.

The most important aspect of this exercise is to let yourself play!

About Rachel Marsden

Rachel Marsden is an Australian artist coach living in Berlin, Germany. She works with creative professionals across the spectrum of the creative industries, helping them thrive, prosper and find fulfillment. More about her coaching and creative work can be found at www.thegreatcreativelife.com

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