Creativity and Constraints

Peony & Gardenia Paintings

These two paintings are a striking illustration of the contrast between painting with specific constraints and strictures and painting with complete creative freedom. You can probably tell at a glance which painting had the most restrictions placed upon it.

The peony on the left was the final painting for my book about how to paint flowers in acrylics. The publisher had a series of specific requirements which were not altogether easy to reconcile with my own vision. This particular painting also had to be photographed at nine different stages of painting, plus three detail shots.

I had grown accustomed to four stages of photography per painting after doing nearly 50 paintings in that manner for the book. Nine stages required careful consideration as to where and when I should stop the painting for photography. I definitely found it challenging to produce the peony painting under those constraints.

The first painting I did upon completion of the book was the gardenia on the right. I sometimes found myself hesitating to correct a color I wanted to change, thinking I should wait for photography. I quickly overcame that patterned manner of working and freely painted the flowing colors and forms of this gardenia. It was a great pleasure to paint the entire work without photography until the end.

Disciplined constraints have their place in art for many reasons, not the least of which is to refine the techniques being used. Mastery over any medium is never achieved without discipline. Working with specific restrictions is an excellent way to focus and refine painting techniques and processes.

This has its corollary in pottery making where a potter may throw dozens or even hundreds of pots with equal amounts of clay and essentially the same shape, over and over again. Of those pots, a few will really sing, the indicator mastery has appeared.

In painting, a series of works with carefully selected constraints can be followed by a series of paintings done with flowing creative freedom. At that time, the distillation of the processes used in the restricted paintings can emerge into a new expression that sings in a wholly different way.

Note about Lexi Sundell’s paintings: “Morning Peony” is acrylic on canvas 30″ wide by 36″ high. “Creation” is acrylic on canvas 36″ wide by 40″ high. These and other original paintings and prints are available at RiverStone Gallery.

This post appears in the Arts & Stuff Carnival, which has an interesting collection of creative articles.



Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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6 thoughts on “Creativity and Constraints

  1. Susan Borgas

    Lexi thanks so much for linking your article back to my Carnival. Your blog is a delight to visit and now have you listed in my RSS reader. The beauty of these carnivals is the people that you meet on the internet that we may never have met and I encourage anyone reading this to give them a go!

    Cheers, Susan

  2. Lexi Sundell

    Thank you for the kind words. I am so enjoying the carnivals myself for the same reasons. You put together such a nice one and I suggest that everyone go read the articles!

  3. Lexi Sundell

    Glad you enjoyed the explanation. The processes of creating endlessly fascinate me in all their variations.

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