When I was in art college we practiced a variety of interesting exercises to loosen up and use our entire bodies when we were creating and others to help us to see and draw better. I like to use them when I work with kids as they always have fun with it, but it is also good for me, not only to loosen up but also to trust myself a little more when I work...it also helps the old hand-eye coordination which is vital as an artist.
1. Draw Eggs
Our profs often told us if we could draw an egg realistically, including all the values of highlights, shading, shadows, cast shadows and reflected light, then we could draw anything. It's really not as easy as it sounds.
We would often tape 4 large sheets of newsprint together and, with charcoal or paint, we would crawl around the paper and using our whole arm & body we would draw or paint. Lots of eggs, but flowers, fabric and skeletons, too.
3. Left Hand
Or right if you are left-handed. This allows you to focus on the object you are drawing rather than on repeating patterns from your past. The piece above (yes, eggs) was painted with my non-dominant hand in gouache and is the only piece I have left from school (my final portfolio was stolen...which was actually a compliment).
If you work with other artists, sometimes it's a good idea to set up a still life and work for 10 minutes, then switch with your partner (or if more than one, move from piece to piece) for two reasons. The first is to gain a different perspective of the object to help you understand the form more fully and the second is that it forces you to work in a slightly different manner based on someone else's beginning.
There are two ways of performing contour drawing, one is by looking at an object and then only drawing its outline (contour) while being able to look at the paper...the second is blind contour, so no looking at the paper. In both cases do not lift your pen/pencil from the page. It's a great exercise to see how the form (positive space) interacts with the negative space around it.
This is one form of creativity that has been practiced by artists throughout time. It's best to use a mirror and draw, paint, collage, etc. A great way to learn that everything is made up of shapes and how different shapes interact with one another as well as how much space there is between each shape.
7. Mirror Image
One of the neatest tricks I learned was to turn my work to a mirror. There is something about a new perspective that helps to see the problem areas. I find it works well with colour as well...to see those parts that aren't working cohesively.
8. Shade First
This one is interesting...shade in your image before adding the drawing lines. Certainly helps to push the boundaries a little more and forces you to pay attention how the shapes of your object sit in proportion to one another.
9. Don't Look
Look at an item intensely for fifteen minutes and then turn away from it to draw (or paint) it. When you're stuck close your eyes and envision it. It's interesting to see how much we can remember if we really pay attention.
10. Draw EVERY Day
It doesn't matter what you draw, the physical act of drawing is important. You'll improve your hand-eye coordination, your shapes, values, lines, proportion, perspective and composition...all the basic elements of design.