Monday, February 16, 2015

An Exercise in Creative Constraint

I owe a lot of things to the Seanwes Podcast, the main one being the fact that I'm completely inspired to get myself back on track creatively. 

If you know me, then you know that I grew up an artist. I loved to draw. I wasn't one of those kids who carried their sketchbook around with them, though. I liked too many other things for art to be all-encompassing, but, when it came time to draw, I excelled at it. Drawing allowed me to be who I was, fully, and I never remember a time when I wasn't thinking about the next thing I would create.

Over the years, the time I committed to creating diminished, and I became less and less 'interested'. My brain, now stronger in other areas such as customer service, project management, and business, made the thought of doing something creative (or what is typically considered creative) completely overwhelming to me. I missed that part of me, though. I still had the muscle, it was just greatly underused. I hadn't lost the craving to be an artist, I just lost the strength. I felt so far removed from it, that I had lost my way back.

In Sean's most recent episode, cleverly titled "6 Ways to Stay Motivated (and How to Find Drive in the First Place", he talked about the importance of setting aside specific time to be creative. That means actually scheduling it on the calendar, so that it holds just as much weight as anything and everything else. In a prior episode, "Boosting Creativity by Reducing Choice", he stressed the importance of creating constraints to work within. 

This notion of creating limitation stuck me at my core. I had never approached creativity this way before, but it's so true. When we're given constraints, we can't help but be creative. I know this to be true in other areas of my life, like living on a written budget, since I don't use credit cards, or eating off of a plant-based diet. There are natural limitations with both, and I seem to have no problem living within them.

But when it came to producing artwork, I always assumed that more choice meant more creativity, but that left me creating next to nothing. In the rare occurrence when I was called upon to draw or paint something, however, you bet your breeches that what I produced was awesome. Not because I had a stroke of genius, heck no! It was simply because there were restrictions and guidelines in place that naturally sparked creative problem solving.

So that brings me to my new personal challenge. I wanted to test this theory for myself. I wanted to see if creating constraints actually worked in this area of my life. I started brainstorming projects I could work on. What if I only had 4x4 inches of workspace? What if my tool was a marker? What if...? 

I then decided that maybe I would post a picture on Instagram, and then later that night, do a painting of that picture. Interesting. Then I realized that I've already taken hundreds of Instagram photos, many of which I'd like to turn into paintings. So why start taking more? Why not go back and retrieve ones that have been long forgotten? 

It was settled, then. I'd set my restrictions. Here they are:

1. I have to use an Instagram photo (that I had already taken) as inspiration.
2. I can only use watercolor (although, I might switch up the medium later).
3. I can only use a 4x4 inch surface area.
4. I will only give myself an hour to paint the image.
5. I must carve out time (on my calendar) on Sunday and Wednesday evenings to do the painting, posting it on my blog the following morning.
6. I will produce 2 paintings a week, for a year. GULP! But I have over 100 images in my 'favorites' folder, that are just dying to get out onto the page, so I might as well go big!

My goal with this challenge is to get me past my creative block and to build momentum. By intentionally dedicating time during the week to paint, I can already tell that I'll feel more inclined to carve out other chunks of time for other endeavors, like writing or animating. It's a snowball effect, really. And by making my creativity a priority, it's going to open up the channels in ways I have yet to imagine.

Here is painting #1: 

Bonsai Tree at the Huntington (4"x4"; watercolor)

Original Instagram photo:

I took this photo during a recent visit to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA in November, 2014. There are so many areas of the grounds to explore, one being an amazing Bonsai tree exhibit in the 'Japanese Gardens'. This particular tree was positioned at the entrance to the exhibit. It was a warm afternoon, and the haze of the sky was settling in. The peacefulness of the garden was both enchanting and grounding. I chose this photograph to be the first one I painted, primarily because of its balance and zen-like simplicity, as well as it's representation of exercising constraint. The trees used in these types of exhibits naturally grow to be massive, but are instead formed into a truly unique works of art. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of this. I hope you tag along!


Images Copyright ® 2015 by Samantha Samuels