Home Drawing The Energy of Limits to Improve Creativity

The Energy of Limits to Improve Creativity


Channel your efforts—and strengthen your influence.

by Susan Abbott

Contemporary out of artwork faculty, I used to be on the hunt for a gallery. I put collectively a portfolio exhibiting the whole lot I might do as a younger painter: expressive charcoal determine drawings, unfastened plein air oil landscapes, detailed watercolor nonetheless lifes. I believed gallery house owners could be impressed by my big selection of kinds and topics. In any case, my mother was!

As an alternative of reward, nevertheless, I used to be met with puzzled appears to be like. “What are you attempting to say together with your work?” the sellers requested. “What, precisely, is it that you just do?” I retreated to my studio to consider my solutions, and many years later, I’m nonetheless figuring this out. For an artist, there are not any harder questions, and every of us should discover our personal response.

The minimalist grasp Agnes Martin (American, 1912– 2004) searched till she came across a visible concept that felt like hers alone to discover. In describing her breakthrough second, she mentioned, “Then a grid got here into my thoughts … and so I painted it after which I used to be happy. I believed, That is my imaginative and prescient.” A whole bunch of gorgeous grids later, we are able to see the prolific fruit born of that very particular concept.

Cultivation of Limits

The general public typically has the impression that making artwork is about freedom, however from an artist’s perspective, the work is extra about narrowing potentialities than about having countless decisions. Newcomers experiment enthusiastically with many media and strategies, and so they fortunately check out the wildly various kinds of their academics. Later, as they transfer on from instruction and start the journey to changing into impartial artists, they need to determine what they wish to say and learn how to say it.

Defining the boundaries of our artistic observe takes extra time than making just a few fast selections. It’s an natural course of that begins as we seed concepts, weed out the unworkable, after which winnow the countless potentialities that artwork presents to us. We obtain sturdy approach in a medium or two, develop a recognizable type and discover deeply private topics. As we do this stuff, we develop our limits, selection by selection, portray by portray.

Once we attain our purpose of constructing knowledgeable life, our title turns into related to our imagery. We’re “Jane Doe, who makes colourful acrylic abstractions” or “John Smith, the photorealist watercolor panorama painter.” We proceed down these chosen paths till it feels as if our creativity is stifled by the principles we’ve created for ourselves. Then it’s time to begin experimenting once more.

Components of Panorama: Roads (oil on 4 panels, 12×12 every)
Centered Explorations

If limits can typically inhibit us as artists, why do in addition they assist us? One motive is that when we now have no limits on the best way we work, experience turns into troublesome. Growing the abilities we have to state our imaginative and prescient takes time and repetition. With 10,000 hours of observe underneath our belts, we are able to obtain proficiency in just a few media—in pastel and oil, for instance, or in printmaking and watercolor. However to realize experience in 4 or 5 media? That’s a frightening problem.

Too some ways of seeing may decelerate our efforts to develop a person imaginative and prescient. We stay in a time when the web and print media give us entry to the complete historical past of artwork, in addition to to an infinite amount of up to date paintings. It’s simple to be influenced by the hundreds of photos that flash by as we scroll Fb and Instagram posts and browse YouTube movies. Amid all this noise, how does an artist discover an separate, identifiable voice?

A superb start line is to set pointers to your work, slightly than searching for an excessive amount of steerage from others. This may imply committing to exploring only one small nook of your personal large pursuits. Let’s say, for instance, you wish to paint nonetheless lifes. Slim down that concept even additional and check out a sequence utilizing the identical medium, the identical canvas dimension or the identical few props. Experiment with completely different compositions inside these limits and see how far and in what course this one path can lead you.

Components of Panorama: Fields (oil on 4 panels, 12×12 every)
Distinctive Creations

It appears paradoxical that our powers as artists develop from the very limits we impose on ourselves, however think about this thought experiment: Think about a portray by van Gogh. Chances are high which you could instantly envision his colourful, textured, daring paintings in your thoughts’s eye. Now, think about placing the work of one other painter—say, Degas—beside that of van Gogh. You instantly sense how completely different Degas’ portray, with its delicate colours, clean brushwork and urbane Parisian figures, is from van Gogh’s Provençal sunflowers. Each started with paint and canvas, so how did they find yourself in such completely different locations?

The reply is that they every, over time, restricted their topics, colours, brushwork and composition. They experimented, however inside boundaries they set for themselves. Narrowing their decisions allowed these artists to create portray after portray that expresses a novel imaginative and prescient and genuine voice.

So, should you’re battling uncertainty in your work, strive giving up the concept of infinite potentialities and as an alternative dive deeper into just a few of your most fun concepts. To get began, strive the challenges introduced right here. You could discover new artistic freedom if you uncover the facility of limits.



Restrict Your Topic: Choose a topic that pursuits you after which slender that selection additional. Relatively than pondering, I’ll paint plein air landscapes, suppose, For the subsequent few months, I’ll paint plein air landscapes on the similar place and the identical time of day. For my sequence proven right here, I did simply that, returning each week to a close-by farm with 12×12 panels for a day of oil portray. By the top of the yr, I felt my means to watch colour within the panorama had significantly improved. By including the additional limitations of medium and canvas dimension, I had fewer selections to make, and I created a visually unified sequence.


Restrict Medium and Measurement: Create a sequence that limits the paper, panel or canvas you utilize to the identical dimension and form. Discover how this format (sq., rectangle, diptych—and even circle) influences the best way you design your portray. Examine how different artists have used this format and what you possibly can study from their design decisions. On this sequence of oils, for instance, I explored the probabilities of making narratives about landscapes with a polyptych (multi-panel) format. Every four-panel set addresses a special panorama component—including one other layer of limitation.


Restrict Your Palette: Working with the identical three pigments for a sequence of work is an efficient technique to develop a extra particular person colour strategy. Choose simply three main colours, for instance, and do a sequence of work that discover the big selection of colour compositions accessible from a triad. Listed here are two choices you possibly can strive. The cool-triad colours are based mostly on lemon yellow, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue. The nice and cozy-triad colours are based mostly on cadmium yellow pale, cadmium purple and Prussian blue.

Take a look at the total article with extra photos within the March/April 2023 version of Artists Journal.

Susan B. Abbott earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute, Faculty of Artwork, and reveals her work broadly in galleries and museums. To see extra of her work plus her class schedule, go to susanabbott.com. Comply with her on Instagram @susanabbott_art. Additionally be at liberty to take a look at a further tutorial from her right here and Susan Abbott: Anatomy of a Portray.


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