Some months ago I had an interesting conversation with a landscape designer while at an artist reception.  With me being a painter and more likely to be called an artist, a landscape designer must be equally creative and artistic to accomplish his or her task and thus, a wonderful bit of note comparing went on that I think may help all artists.

This is a topic of “Creative Constraint”, which applies to endless obstructive possibilities, which in this case, means one cannot accomplish an end result because of physical or possibly natural limitations.  Not necessarily human physical limitations, but rather everything but.  Certainly the human factor can be one of the greatest reaches we can make creatively. However, there are many more, and the training and techniques needed to overcome such limitations can be that which separates the beginner and the experienced.

As artists it’s important to not only have an idea and visual approach to accomplishing a successful form of expression, but properly understanding the challenge before you, and then having the foresight and techniques to avoid barriers.

In a landscape designer’s case, their medium is a natural one, as nothing is more natural than things that grow.  Where we might see a nice patch of land, they see topography, available sun, climate zone, seasonal change, soil type, erosion and drainage or lack there of, the location of all structures, trees and roots, and then they need to be able to visualize this ever maturing art form, 1, 5, 10, or even 20 years out.  A tree that goes in small, may eventually block a shrub robbing it of essential light.

These things have nothing to do with a creative choice of color, texture and scale and yet, they have everything to do with it. In essence, you can’t do whatever you want creatively without considering not only the end result, but the future end result. This is a form of creative constraint and in this case, I’m sure almost every project encountered has its own set of creative constraint characteristics. Experience is the ultimate teacher of adaptation.

Being a painter, I think of the old polar bear in the snow challenge. White on white with little black eyes and a nose. But experience tells me with this monochromatic subject matter that a polar bear’s fur is a dirty or warm white and can be affected by light differently than snow.  It also tells me that compositionally using water, the sky, a setting sun or even eating its catch, can help differentiate the painting’s overall white syndrome while supporting the narrative aspect.

A pottery artist may make many things, but must deal with scale.  Not the scale of the piece of art, as much as the scale of the kiln.  No part can be bigger than the kiln’s size and thus, anything larger needs to be made in pieces, and those pieces then need to be able to go together. This may then create additional design constraints which require experimentation, but leading to greater experience overall.

A painter could be commissioned or desire to do a work of art that is both bigger than their studio and their car for delivery as well.  There can be conservation constraints with respect to desired materials and there can also be financial constraints too.

It’s important as you are confronted with an idea or concept, that you think it through.  I’ve always been a “to hit the moon, shoot for the stars”  type thinker, but I try to be a planner too.  Thinking big is great and so is spontaneity, but results are predictably better with practicing like it counts when it doesn’t and banking lessons from every creative endeavor to have for future experiences.

Live An Artful Life, Tom

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