Beach Meets: Gemma Lawrence

Grab your copy of Creative Block here!

Designer, teacher and a friend of Beach, Gemma Lawrence has been busy creating her first book – Creative Block. Filled with 196 pages of wickedly fun and off-the-wall tasks, Creative Block is the book you need to help get you out of those creative slumps and inspire you to look, think and do differently.

We caught up with Gemma on the ins and outs of her new book and how it feels being a first time author. Be sure to grab your copy of Creative Block from our store too!

Hey Gemma, how are you doing today – anything creative you’re up to?

I’m good thank you! I’m working on a few things – graphically, I’m doing the odd freelance job here and there, mostly logos. I’m also going back to my painting and drawing practice, something which I haven’t really done much since graduating from uni. Lastly, I’m teaching – virtually, of course – so a lot of my time and creativity is going into making lessons, workshops and examples for the students.

So, what has made you decide to make a book?
Really, the idea came to me in multiple parts that ended up just fitting together. Initially, at the time, I working for a creative studio, and was feeling particularly stumped on a project. I sat back one day and just wondered why there wasn’t some sort of guide book or visual reference for adults, to help boost creativity. I wanted something especially for creatives, just to expand our ideas and inspiration, so that I wouldn’t get this horrible feeling of really not knowing where to take a project.
I started researching different tasks and they accumulated enough for me to consider a zine. One day I was swimming, where weirdly a lot of ideas seemed to come to me, and just thought – why not a whole book? I love projects, I pretty much make a point of keeping myself busy – so it felt like a suitable challenge to really sink my teeth into.

What is the concept behind Creative Block, and did you have any inspirations before writing the book?
So yeah, the concept was a combo of the above and the idea that as adult creatives, I think sometimes we forget to be experimental and a bit weird & wonderful. Like we’re just churning out ideas and making a sale.
I was also volunteering for a kid’s art club, which I honestly put down as the biggest inspiration for two main reasons. Firstly, the kids themselves and their boundless, sub-conscious creativity. They didn’t worry, they didn’t think, they just did. And I thought that was really cool. It tapped me back into a mindset I hadn’t really been in for a good 15 years or so. It was also the format of the club – the setting a task, giving an example, and letting the kids make of it whatever they wanted. That was cool and that was something I missed. I felt like I wanted that in my life a little bit, but in small chunks, and accessible whenever I wanted. Thus Creative Block was born.

Being a first time author, how did you go about getting published?
I did it the only way I know how – created some initial designs, put together a small deck and a brief description, and sent it to every publisher I thought was suitable.
I researched lots of different publishing houses, going to the lengths of looking up books I loved and finding out who published them. Trawling through book websites and looking up the publishers. Tracking down their emails. It got to a point where I was even taking it to Linkedin and trying to connect with someone, ANYONE, who worked there.
I got rejections, and I got emails that weren’t very helpful. I got mostly no responses though. Until, around November (and I had submitted in October – so actually fairly soon, to be fair) when Bionda from BIS Publishers got back. She said she was interested in the concept, and the project went from there really. I do feel very lucky that she replied. And they are such a lovely publishers – I’m not even being bias. They genuinely care and are real people that really want to see anyone get their ideas published. Which is really cool.

It’s cool to see an author write and also design the book as well. Were there any challenges you encountered when creating the book?
Thank you! That’s really kind. Hmm. That’s actually quite tricky to answer, I feel like it was so long ago and my brain is a bit of a sieve. I suppose it was just intense, but I did most of the ‘writing’ (if you could even call it that, it’s just a few words really) before I moved on to the design, which was the chunky part really. I wrote up the tasks very early on and then formatted them to fit in to whatever idea I had for the design of the page. I was doing most of the designing at the weekends – and doing a minimum of 10 tasks (so, 20 pages) each time. This was really the only big challenge – I was actually doing a lot of the tasks myself, for examples which I used in the designs, so it was hard work for a little while.
When it came to actually publishing, the main challenge I had was getting it print ready. I’m not a trained print designer, I’m not even a trained graphic designer. I studied painting at university, so that was a shock to the system solo. I didn’t have much clue about formats or bleeds or anything. But again, I was very lucky – BIS were very patient with me and explained A LOT to me over phone calls and emails. I am also lucky to have experienced friends who were always super willing to help and explain things to me, shout out once again for my lovely friend Becca. LIFESAVER!

Going through Creative Block one thing that stands out for us, are the eye catching and unique page designs. What was your working process like for making each page as cool as the next and then bringing the book together?
Thank you very much again! I established a colour palette very early on (pale pink, pale green, coral-red) and used this as my mantra for the whole entire thing. It’s mad I’m not completely sick of them yet, either. I used both my own images and images from unsplash.com, which is a website with high quality, royalty free images, and then edited them to fit the colour palette. That quite often meant using the duotone tool on Photoshop, which gave them a bit of a riso-printed look. Otherwise, it literally was a case of whatever I felt looked best and suited the task – using shapes and layouts that worked with the materials and ideas on the page.

With over 100 tasks to complete in the book, which one is your favourite?
Oh gosh! I don’t know. I really don’t. If I really had to pick… It’s shallow, but probably my favourite tasks are the ones I like the design of the most. I am a creative after-all, I’m a sucker for aesthetics. Maybe 20, the restricted shape poster… I was just chuffed with the outcome. Or 65, I love the double page spread of the city scape.

Now the book is out there, is there anything you would do differently, or are you satisfied with how it has all turned out?
I don’t think so! I was so happy with how it came out. It still felt real surreal for absolute weeks afterwards. I love the paper, the thickness of the book, the way it feels to flick through – the colours came out just how I’d hoped too. I don’t think I’d do it differently design-wise, but maybe it would have been good to get others to submit ideas to the book, and maybe add a collaborative spirit. I think I can be a bit of a project-hog or a hermit so I would have liked to open the book up a bit more to other people, see what they’d have put in. And maybe some results for the tasks!

For worse or better, Covid19 has affected a lot of creative people’s practice and working routine. Did the pandemic hinder or benefit Creative Block in anyway?
In terms of designing the book, I’d say benefit! I had more time on my hands and living alone at the time meant I really needed something to focus on. Tragic right. But I did, and it saved a few weekends for me. It meant I could really throw myself into it and I think that’s why it wasn’t a completely 100% stressful process. COVID did, however, hinder the selling and promotion of the book. I think the main issue was things like museums and bookshops being constantly in and out of lockdowns, so they got hesitant to buy in as much as usual, understandably. I wasn’t able to run the amount of workshops I’d have liked to, and even those which did get briefly set up, got cancelled due to restrictions. But it did mean for more creative ways to go about this – including virtual workshops and Instagram lives, which have been so much fun and I’d say more relaxed too.

And finally, what’s next for you? Do you have any up and coming projects in the works, you can share a little with us?
What’s next for me is cracking virtual teaching and Teams and actually being able to function on it. I give myself a few months at least.
I have ideas of things I’d like to pursue but I am very secretive and I don’t really tell anyone anything. I didn’t tell anyone about Creative Block until only about a week before it got published! So we’ll see, but I definitely hope to be back!