This is a card in Dave's Virtual Box of Cards.

Creativity and Constraints

Created: 2022-07-22

So "everybody knows" that constraints are great for creativity. And I completely agree. My own experience has lead me to this conclusion. Figuring out "what I can get away with" in a system of rules brings out the best of my creativity sometimes.

But I’m also finding that there are limits.

I love doing monthly "art prompts" on Instagram where people are prompted to create some artwork for a given prompt (often a single word) every single day for a month. As far as I know, the granddaddy of these is Inktober:

These are an awesome way to kick-start myself into high gear in my sketchbook.

But it’s really tough to keep up with them some months. I’m doing a watercolor-based challenge and while I love it, it’s been frustrating on more than one occasion to turn in pretty lousy paintings that I know could have been much better if I’d had more time to work on them.

The point is that coming up with a creative solution to the constraint, it’s got to be watercolor and it’s gotta be a painting I can render fairly quickly and still have a cool-looking image and it’s gotta be something that matches the prompt, is a whole creative act of its own! After that, it’s another act to create the image. Some nights, I’ve got just an hour for both activities. It’s too much.

All of this dawned on me when I did a frustrating watercolor (the thing I was "supposed to be working on") and a quite nice little pen drawing in my pocket notebook (while waiting in the dentist office) on the same day.

In short: creative constraints are great when you have time and energy, you’re just out of ideas.