Monday, March 11, 2013

Creating With Limits: Part Two

I blogged a few days ago about how awesome self-imposed limits can be when it comes to creativity.  So what happens when the limits aren't self-imposed?  It's one thing to choose to work with 1" square pieces of paper; it's another thing entirely to be forced to work with 1" squares because it's all we've got.

The limit can be money, or time, or space, or materials.   No money to buy any good brushes.  Only ten minutes a day to make stuff.  My "studio" is a folding table my bedroom. Can't find the shade of blue I always use.

Last year, to deal with chronic health problems, I was given some limits regarding what I could eat:

No gluten.
No grains - yeah, no corn, no oats.
No dairy.
No soy.
No processed sugar and minimal natural sugars.
No legumes, no beans, no peanuts.
No oils from processed grains or grasses - canola, safflower, out.
Minimal alcohol and caffeine.

What did that leave?

Nuts and seeds.
Fruits and vegetables.
Oils from fruits and nuts (olive oil, coconut oil)
Lean, unprocessed meat.
Herbal tea.

Oh yeah.  I put up a fuss.  And then . . . something shifted.

It started to be fun.  I was exploring books on eating Paleo, searching grain-free recipes on line, finding ways to eat more vegetables, adapting recipes, using my food processor like a madwoman, discovering new Portland restaurants with me-friendly menus . . . in short, I took on cooking and eating as a creative challenge.

Most of my creative energy last year went into learning how to cook - and eat - all over again. And yeah, my health is better now.  I still have chronic challenges with fatigue, but the symptoms are way more manageable now and I've identified and cut out a lot of the things that triggered the problems in the first place.  Generally, I've even been able to stick with it.

I don't share this because I'm looking for dietary solutions and health fixes (there are plenty of other folks blogging about that!).  

I share this story because it proved to me that it really is possible to re-frame the limits not as excuses, but as questions, questions that lead to creative thinking.  The limits - whether they're self-imposed or thrust upon us by necessity - can serve as a starting point rather than a stop sign.

Consider any of the limits that keep you from creating or making art - how might you change those limits into a question that challenges your creativity instead?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creating With Limits: Part One

I taught a collage class on February 24th, and I was really struck by one thing:  Unlimited options can be utterly overwhelming.  When you can do anything, what do you do?  When you can go anywhere, what direction do you start moving in?

Sometimes, stepping into my own studio is overwhelming.  I have tools and materials to do jewelry-making, found-object sculpture, acrylic painting, encaustic painting, printmaking, sewing and more.  In many ways, my studio is a mixed media artist's fairytale wonderland, full of options. I have had plenty of times in my life when I felt restricted by external limitations, and my current studio certainly reflects that.

But having a studio like this doesn't mean it's always easier to make things.  

Sometimes, I sit out here and surf Facebook on my phone.  Because there are just too many possibilities.

"Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."   -Twyla Tharp

Artmaking is all about making decisions, hundreds of tiny decisions that add up to a solution to one of the world's most vague and poorly defined problems:  "In what ways might I meaningfully fill this empty space?"

Sometimes, I need limits.  

I need a structure.  I need a place to start, something to narrow down the problem a bit and knock it down to a manageable size. 

Putting limits on an artist usually sounds like a bad thing.  And yet history is full of artists using self-imposed limits to push their creativity:  The haikuMondrian's use of a limited palette and straight lines during the 20's and 30's. Even Rodin's focus on the human form in sculpture and Shakespeare's endless sonnets. 

As I rebuild my own creative practice, one of the things I've been doing is giving myself some limits.  A favorite?  The square paper punch.  I punch squares out of scrap paper, out of junk mail, out of magazines and catalogs and the bits of paper that my students toss in the recycling bin.  And then I arrange the squares and glue them down, almost like paper quilts. I've been doing it for about a year, and I find it to be amazingly creatively satisfying.

I'm the one deciding whether or not to accept the limitations, and that makes all the difference.