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    Constraints + Creative Work (Part 2)

    "Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. Telling the truth when the truth matters most is almost always a frightening prospect. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach, and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."
    ~ Michael Chabon

    Creating freely is a joy. But the mind can be a blank chalkboard, spinning in circles. What works for me is to think of some way to limit the possibilites. This acts as a dare! If you haven't read Constraints + Creative Work (Part 1), pop over and back.

    Here are some thoughts on how to develop effective constraints to spark creative and analytical thinking...

    #1. Focus on One Objective and Develop a Constraint or Challenge

    The idea is to have fun! So what do you want to work on today? Do you want to add a sub-plot to your story? Journal on top of a collage? Draw a design for an eraser stamp? Just pick one.

    Now it's time to come up with a rule or constraint to work within. Something to narrow your possibilities. A balance between the obvious and the impossible! I know when I find a an effective challenge because I'm energized and ready to get rolling.

    If you are a writer, you could develop a sub-plot based on a random vintage photograph you pull from a stack (the photograph is the constraint). Dare yourself to invent a machine that will resolve a problem in your story. The constraint is that it must be a machine. Write a short story using only one adjective per sentence. Outline your next article using verbs starting with the letter E. You may be surprised to know that this post started in just that way (energize, exercise, extend...). Once I developed the ideas, I moved forward without the alliteration.

    Art journalists, collage and mixed media artists, try working within a shape or designing a particular look, like a sunflower or map. Use color as a constraint by using black gesso instead of white or art journal in neutrals if you are drawn to saturated color.

    It reminds of a line from 3 Days of the Condor.
    After Joubert unexpectedly kills someone, Turner (Redford)
    asks why and Joubert responds, "I don't interest myself in why.
    I think more often in terms of when,
    sometimes where; always... how much."

    Sketch artists and doodlers can draw in a different direction. In Wonderland, I drew the design from the outside-in instead of inside-out as usual. If you add details last, try adding them as you go. Limit yourself to shade only with cross-hatching. Something challenging.

    Artists can try a new method. Try to create a doodle with watercolor paint, or create a font concept using only charcoal. Create your next art journal page without adhesives, using only staples to attach things. Try working within a format that provides a constraint. Art in the form of a postcard provides a look and size to work within.

    Photographers can join a 365 challenge, taking a photo a day. The constraint is to represent something about a specific day. Or go out today with a 'focus' only on patterns.

    #2. Develop a Strategy to Complete Your Objective Within the Constraint 

    These are the stepping stones to get you from point A to point Z. The how can be harder than the what! This is where my brain usually gets the most exercise. The strategy is what goes through your mind as you devise a way to achieve your goal within your constraint. This is the mental challenge!

    If you've got to get a pattern to go around the edge of your work... how do you need to draw the corners to get that to happen?  If your curve cannot intersect that line, how must you draw it? If Janie's Jeep has to crash through the garage door, what does Janie say to her husband after the crash?

    To get the pattern to work, where do you need to place a straight line, and what lines have to be parallel? In your mandala, you want each layer to appear lighter, but how do you actually draw that? You've decided what has to happen for the scene to move forward, but what type of weather would make it work? You want your painting to look like a map, so should you let the watercolors blend together or paint with a fairly dry brush?

    So the idea is to pick an objective for today, pick a constraint to work within, and develop a strategy for getting to your goal within the constraint. At Innovation Tools, you'll find a spin on this concept at Look for the Solution Inside the Problem and Making the Most of Constraints.

    How could you add a challenge to a creative project? Define art + creativity as you wish, whether it's cooking, writing, quilting, singing, gardening, sculpting, doodling, photography... you choose.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    we really do think along the same lines (or out of the same ones, anyway!) i'm a big champion of constraints - time or materials - otherwise i get overwhelmed by the possibilities and don't even start! great post!

    04.19.2010 | Unregistered Commenteraimee

    These are wonderful ideas for any creative project I do! Sometimes money is the constraint (don't want to
    buy that object, cuz I think I can make one myself in my colors) and sometimes time is the constraint (I want to finish this NOW!). I love all the other suggestions too! I do find I'm less overwhelmed if I have some limits!
    Great post!

    04.19.2010 | Unregistered CommenterEden

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