Creativity With Constraints

I’ve Always Been a Maker

I have always loved creating. I have always loved writing, drawing, painting, decorating, making outfits, working with clay, projects, PowerPoint slideshows, scrap-booking. My favorite things to do are writing and drawing, however. When I was a little girl I drew pictures of girls with arms coming out of their head. When I was a preteen I drew… cholas. (Hey, I lived in South San Jose in the 90’s, what can I say?) When I was a teenager, I drew fantasy characters and anime. I would draw all the time. I drew more than 500 pictures in one summer (and yes, I took the time to count.) So yeah, as you see I enjoy creating.

Star War fan art I made in high school.

What I realized recently, though, is just how resourceful I’ve been when it comes to creating. And recently I was listening to a podcast and the gentleman was talking about how his best work gets done under time constraints. This was an “a-ha” moment for me. In my life, I’ve never had the budget where I could just go out and buy the exact thing I wanted, or the materials I wanted to create with. Most of the time, I had to use what I had around the house. And this was a great gift. Just because you don’t have the money doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your creative itch.

What Are Constraints?

Google Dictionary defines a constraint as:

con·straint (kənˈstrānt)

nounplural noun: constraints

  1. a limitation or restriction.”time constraints make it impossible to do everything”

As you see, constraints are things that limit you. Like not having enough time or money or some other kind of resource. I think these conditions create our best work. Like it said in the podcast, when you constantly stay late at work, and don’t have the constraint of a time to go home, you aren’t going to get as much done nor are you going to produce as high quality of work. The reason why is because you mistakenly believe that you can get to things later. Boundaries of time and resources can be very freeing.

Our Overwhelming World

In our modern world we are bombarded with possibility. Our supermarket has 500 types of pasta sauce, 20 kinds of peanut butter, 200 types of yogurt. You get the picture. When we shop for clothes online, we could make it our part-time job. The possibilities are endless, and I don’t think it’s a good thing. It causes us to get confused, overwhelmed and it wastes our precious time. and energy. (Decision fatigue, anyone?) Constraints are the answer to this.

How I Use Constraints

In my adult life, I’ve applied this to my style in regard to what I wear, and how I decorate. For example, I have some basic pieces that I mix and match with all kinds of necklaces and scarves and other accessories. With my makeup, I will use lipstick as a blush from time to time. With my home, I have decorated with books, records, greeting cards, etc. We have been given most of our decor and therefore much of it doesn’t match, But that didn’t stop me! I identified common elements and put things together in a way that I find pleasing. Here are some ideas for being creative with constraints:

  • Save interesting jars and bottle for flower vases.
  • Pick wildflowers and put them everywhere.
  • Use records in decor vignettes.
  • Find pieces of artwork that have similar colors/frames and create a wall gallery. Lay it out on the floor or table and play around with it.
  • Hanging up unexpected items like greeting cards, and wooden spoons

As you see, my constraint is using the things I have instead of going out and buying more things, and therefore spending money we don’t have (or money that should be invested elsewhere) and creating more clutter. The result is, in my opinion, a unique work of art.

In this piece I used old type writer key stickers. Some fell off so I had to fill in the letters with sharpie but you get the idea.
My mother-in-law gave me this frame. I decided to fill it with clippings from a beautiful calendar that I wasn’t using anymore.


How to Use the Power of Constraints to Focus Faster

Free to Focus: An Interview with Michael Hyatt

The Liberation of Limitations: How Entrepreneurs, Artists, and Leaders use Constraints to be More Productive

Constraints Bring Freedom

The constraints of time and money create the perfect mix of a sense of urgency and limit your choices which helps you to focus. It’s actually in your best interest to know you don’t have all the time and resources in the world. It puts pressure on you to put what you to have to its best use. Otherwise, you would become lazy and continually procrastinate and be overwhelmed by possibility. Having constraints narrows everything down and helps you to be free to focus.

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