"The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane.
It starts from the ground of particular observation;
it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization;
and it again lands for renewed observation
rendered acute by rational interpretation."
~Alfred North Whitehead
"magical" 5x8" watercolor moleskine, pitt pen, watercolor
Constraints, aka rules, limits, challenges, deadlines, reduce the number of alternatives. I find that creating within a constraint focuses my mind and sparks new ideas and creative problem solving.
⊕ Self-imposed challenges
These are the constraints I find most useful. I create ad hoc design challenges as I draw. I think it's my analytical side having fun? Above, a page from my current 5x8" moleskine journal. This is my drawing journal filled with doodles and mandalas. Adding watercolor technically makes this mixed media.
You can see what happened when I dared myself to create a mandala with different styles in each layer. I'll start to draw and gradually a challenge just pops into my mind. Maybe I'm trying to draw parallel lines and realize that I need to practice parallel lines and they are cool and why not use them in this or that way.
⊕ External constraints, including rules + deadlines
I just participated in a postcard mail swap and the swap rules dictated the constraints in terms of size and completion deadline. The fact that they would go out into the world also influenced my choices. Swaps, competitions, displays, published challenges and workshops can provide limits in terms of the rules or time constraints.
Creative Therapy posts catalysts and a group of artists interpret in the form of art. Catalyst #49 was "Pick a photo that brings up some emotions and create your art around it." That would center your thoughts and put you on track searching for a photograph and considering alternatives for using that image. And the catalysts make fantastic art journaling + writing prompts.
⊕ "Found" challenges and dares
Art journaling prompts, writing prompts and creative challenges add soft fluffy boundaries. Prompts are typically flexible and open to loose interpretation. Hopping around sites with prompts can get you going on tangents that will destroy creative blocks. See The Official Guide to Daisy Yellow Creative Prompts.
⊕ Physical limits, including the medium, your capabilities, space
Anything from physical workspace, lack of privacy, your abilities, chemical sensitivities, over-use injuries, lack of money to buy a tool, available time. Art materials have limits. i.e., watercoloring on a shiny surface. We don't usually see these as constraints in the same way as those above.
In Constraints + Creative Work Part 2, thoughts on how to design constraints for your creative work and make the most of a creative challenge.