The Creativity Workshop

Using the Tools of Creative Writing, Memoir, Art, Photography, Storytelling and Mindfulness

Creativity is flying like a bird

Creativity is flying like a bird

By Fahri Karakas,
Creativity Workshop past participant

This article is about my recent creativity trip — I have been flying across New York’s dazzling skyline and immersing myself into Manhattan’s maze of attractions throughout one week. Here are my diary notes after attending The Creativity Workshop in New York.

As part of my job at University of East Anglia, Norwich Business School, I am encouraged to learn about and keep up with the latest global trends and skills on creativity (since I am teaching modules on Creativity, Employability, and Personal Development). That is why I have attended The Creativity Workshop in Manhattan, New York between the dates of 7–10 June 2019. It has been a wonderful creativity retreat for me. In this article, I would like to share my experience and my trip notes with you.

Shelley Berc and Alejandro Fogel — both artists known worldwide for their creative outputs as well as their teaching experiences in practicing creativity — initiated The Creativity Workshop in 1993. This was the result of a happy accident where some bureaucrats in Italy somehow booked them just one room for delivering two workshops to two different groups: screenwriters and painters. Shelley and Alejandro decided to go ahead by creatively integrating and combining their teaching materials across domains. It was the start of a very special journey and partnership that has continued for 26 years. They ended up offering more than a thousand workshops in tens of countries. Their creativity workshop has inspired thousands of people — teachers, business leaders, artists, designers, professionals — across the world.

We started each day with a routine of deep breathing, tensing and relaxing various parts of our bodies, visualizing, navigating to a safe and relaxing place in our minds, and immersing ourselves into that place. I am normally a very restless person and I have found this practice awkward at first. However, it felt more and more natural. I think I can now incorporate a similar routine into my everyday life.

After the morning routines, Shelley and Alejandro navigated us into a series of creative journeys and adventures of imagination. For example, we would be prompted to imagine going out from the window, flying across Manhattan skyscrapers, diving into the Atlantic Ocean and traveling under the ocean. We would be able to breathe under the ocean and observe our surroundings. After some undersea travel, we would come across an old house — the house of our very own grandmother.

Write a letter to your Grandmother

Our grandmother would ask us:

“What on Earth have you been doing all these years?”

We would then write a letter to our grandmother telling her the stories and journeys of our life. I loved such personal meaningful exercises. I continued writing my letter after the day session was over. It turned out to be a very emotional and cathartic experience full of love and tears. You can see this letter below:

Letter to my Grandmother

Exercise in point: What would your letter look like? You can write your own letter in about 10 minutes.

The Magic Object

Then, our trainers went on with the next exercise: Your grandmother gives you a ‘magic object’ she has been saving for you for a long time. It is a magic object that will keep you safe no matter where you go. What would that magic object be?

I have chosen an open blank notebook that never finishes up and a pencil that never runs out of the lead. My grandmother tells me: “With these magical objects, you can now always dream, create, write, draw, doodle, explore, learn, play and experiment with ideas, create stories, reflect, go deep.. do all the things that matter to you.”

Exercise in point: What would your magic object(s) be? Draw these objects on a blank page. What would you do with these?

The Gigantic Monster

In the next chapter of our journey, our trainers prompted us an encounter with a gigantic monster. How would this monster look like? They wanted to draw it on the next blank page.

They also inspired us with the following words:

“Whenever you are imagining, creating, or drawing; let your hands move faster than your mind. Imagine that your hands have their own intelligence and their own creativity. Trust your hands and let them move and carry you to places you have never planned or imagined before.”

I have found this approach extremely liberating. I have written the following notes to myself (based on what we have been taught during the creativity workshop).

Practice automatic drawing and doodling. Do this when your eyes are closed. Just let your hand do the job. Do not worry about the end product. Attend to the creative process.
Creativity emerges from chaos. Embrace that chaos. You can then look for patterns among the chaos and start from those patterns to create something new and exciting.
You can trick yourself into imagination. In order to do it, you need to refrain from listening to your inner voice that is constantly criticizing everything you are in the process of creating.
Your creativity is shy and gentle. You need to provide your inner child and creativity ample opportunities and space to thrive. You need to be gentle, generous, and patient with it. Like plants, your creativity needs time to grow up. How dare you expect it to emerge, develop, and grow suddenly?
Imagination lets you travel to places you have never been to. Imagination opens up doors that only open to you.

If we come back to our exercise, here is how my monster looked like:

Our monsters were supposed to be 'scary', but mine ended up being quite adorable:

Exercise in point: Visualise and imagine the giant monster that faces you. Draw that monster on a blank page.

Our educators continued to the next phase of our journey. The monster that we face tells us:

“You give me that magic object of yours or I will kill you!”

How would you escape from the monster?

So, on the next page, we think of a scenario where we trick this monster and escape from it to protect our cherished magic object(s).

We drew scenarios and visualized these scripts; creating a dynamic comic story (or storyboard).

Exercise in point: Write or draw your script of how you will escape from the monster and keep your magic object.

We have completed all the exercises above in about 20–25 minutes. I remember feeling extremely accomplished. We were on a roll. Throughout these exercises, we have kept creating, imagining, writing, drawing, playing, interacting, laughing, crying, and more.

Our trainers then pointed out to what we have already created in such short periods of time. They told us:

“You do not need to create perfect conditions in your life for creativity. All you need is a blank paper, a pencil, and 15 minutes. You can easily incorporate creative practice into your daily routine. Think how much you can create on your own.”

We have practiced many more exercises throughout the Creativity Workshop. I will not be sharing them all — I want to keep the mystery alive and I suggest you attend the Creativity Workshop and experience the process yourself. You can register here if you are interested. There is an option of choosing among beautiful locations such as New York, Prague, Florence, and Barcelona.

One of the unusual features of this workshop is that it takes only about 3–3.5 hours of your time every day. The process is very relaxing/soothing and exciting/inspirational at the same time. Yet, after the workshop, you still have plenty of time to discover the city and experiment with additional creative exercises.

After the workshop sessions, we went around and immersed ourselves into a series of adventures in and across the city. Some of these were ‘inspirational treasure hunts’.

For example, our trainers encouraged us to take photographs of the doors we have encountered around the streets of New York.

I looked at all the doors much more carefully after this prompt. Everything was about doors. I have realized a ton of details about each door. I have looked at different doors and how they differed from one another. I have organized them into different colors, shapes, architectural styles, and categories. It is amazing how much you learn simply by noticing small details and by applying ‘selective attention’ to the phenomena you care about.

The Creative Treasure Hunt: A Walking Tour around West Manhattan

In just one day and evening, I have taken a long walk and come across the following locations and events around the Upper West Side:

Hudson River Dance Festival; where families gathered in Hudson River Park and were enjoying performances of leading NY dance groups. The sunset was beautiful. The atmosphere was funky, peaceful, and entertaining.

Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex; where young New Yorkers were practicing, learning, and playing various individual and team-based sports throughout the evening.

Hudson Yards; which was New York’s trendy new neighborhood and home to many iconic artworks, public art, and dynamic cultural institutions such as The Shed (a shape-shifting building supporting emerging performance artists ranging from hip hop to opera).

The Vessel, by Hudson Yards, New York

The Vessel; an interconnected spiral staircase, which I climbed with the curiosity and joy of a child. I love architecture that is playful and encourages you to immerse in it and experience it in multiple ways. I loved testing different heights and angles, enjoying diverse views of the Hudson River and the city around me.

Crowdriff Media, Hudson Yards New York

The High Line; which I have designated as the coolest public park on Manhattan’s West Side. It was built on an old railway elevated above the streets of New York—between 34th and 10th streets. I thought this was such a cool idea—it was a truly innovative public space. There were many art and design works, diverse plants, as well as historical landmarks along the path. I have become fascinated, so walked through all of it. Walking the High Line provided me endless inspiration, tens of colorful photos, and a stream of creative ideas. You can indeed transform industrial infrastructure into multifunctional and beautiful public spaces.

Chelsea Market; where vendors were selling fresh sea produce and diverse food to thousands of visitors in a historical indoor food hall occupying one block at the Meatpacking District.

Feeling exhausted, I went back to my hotel. However, the explorer child inside me wanted to continue the journey of exploration.

I wanted to explore Museum of Modern Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Museum of the Moving Image, Museum of Arts and Design, and more. I wanted to hang around the Central Park and Bryant Park. I wanted to go over Brooklyn Bridge and explore around Dumbo.

On my way back, it was almost midnight, yet all shops and restaurants were open. Construction workers were still working in the middle of the city! Indeed, this city was never sleeping.

I looked up nearby events on Eventbrite. There were at least three improvisational NY comedy nights, more than 40 Broadway musicals and shows, two writing workshops, three festivals, a fashion show, Puerto Rican Day Parade, and Tony Awards show in the upcoming weekend. I was dazzled and overwhelmed by the sheer volume and diversity of events, shows, and attractions around several dozens of blocks.

Although I am a long time London fan, the city of New York sparked my imagination and child-like curiosity in ways that I have never experienced before.

A page from my cities diary

I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep —I ended up doing less than 10% of the activities I have planned for New York.

Still, the Creativity Workshop in New York and this wonderful Manhattan trip will stay with me and my inner child forever.

If you would like to continue your creative journey, what follows is a series of articles and resources that could guide you in your journey:

15 Easy Ways to Live a Creative Life, by Shelley Berc

The Creative Academic, by Janelle Ward

Professional Development for Professors, by The Creativity Workshop

Fahri Karakas is the author of Self-making Studio. You can explore more here.

Tamir Greenberg
Tamir Greenberg, Award Winning Poet and Playwright, Tel Aviv, Israel
“The Creativity Workshop in New York went beyond my expectations both times I took it. It really helped me to listen to my instincts and emotions ag...
Patricia Lancaster
Ph.D. Dean Emerita of the Hamilton Holt School and Professor Emerita of French, Rollins College, FL
“A perfect blend of relaxation and stimulation. The assignments fostered discovery and creativity, yet left us plenty of time to enjoy the wonders o...
Elvy Pang
Lecturer in the Business School, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong
“The Creativity Workshop is brilliant! One of the most life-impacting learning experiences I have ever had.”