The Freedom of Constraint
Considering my artistic background, the question only makes sense. “Why do you draw stick figures?” After supporting myself as a portrait artist, it can seem like a huge step backward for me to focus on drawing only stick figures.
- There are a few different reasons that I draw stick figures.
- I’ve been drawing them for years. The more you draw something, the better you know it and learn its abilities and limitations as a subject.
- Everyone recognizes stick figures. I don’t have to try and explain what they represent or what they are doing. More people can enjoy my work for that reason.
- To create a recognizable body of work. Due to my curious nature I tend to find myself being pulled in numerous directions and frequently working on un-related projects. Focusing on a particular subject matter allows me to build something greater than the individual pieces of art that is recognizable as a whole.
- By limiting myself I am actually freeing my art. The self-imposed limits help my work become even more creative, easier to create, and more fun to do!
Limitations provide freedom
As contradictory as it might sound, being limited to a particular subject, set of materials, size constraints, or anything else actually allows you to become more creative. When you have unlimited options your mind is overwhelmed with the possibilities and struggles to narrow down ideas – which actually looks like having less ideas to start with. By limiting yourself your imagination can go wild, coming up with combinations that you would have never otherwise even considered.
Shall we cook?
Let’s look at food as an example. Perhaps you are planning on cooking supper tonight. You can make anything that you want. What will it be? Unless you only have a couple of recipes that you know how to make (a constraint) then you just had so many ideas that you basically went blank. Pork or chicken or beef or vegetables or pasta or…. ?!
Now let’s narrow down your options. You look in the fridge and see that you have some chicken thawed out and ready to use. Suddenly you have lots of recipe ideas: chicken soup or chicken and dumplings or baked chicken or fried chicken strips…
Still too many ideas to choose from, though. So you look in the pantry and see potatoes and onions and a can of green beans. With that list of ingredients you still have a lot of options – crock pot BBQ chicken with sides, baked chicken and veggies – but you can confidently pick a recipe that sounds good for tonight’s supper and begin cooking.
A limited list of ingredients helped you narrow down the options for tonight’s meal while still giving you options. By changing the spices, cooking method, and other variables you can prepare a variety of delicious meals while still having the freedom to choose something that appeals to you at the same time.
Stick Figures as artistic freedom
I have often found myself drawing stick figures throughout the years. While figuring out composition, showing a quick concept, or as the skeleton basis of a figure drawing. And, of course, as finished works. It seems to me that by drawing stick figures I am joining a long, rich history of stick figures – whether from cave drawings, Egyptian tomb artwork, or modern children’s family portraits.
My interests are many and varied. Not only do I enjoy drawing and painting, but also leather work, wood carving, sculpture, digital media, and more. Many subjects catch my attention, including art, business, relationships, travel, motorcycles, backpacking, minimalism, adventure and games.
For some time I struggled with how to cover all of my interests and project ideas in my art without it seeming like a disparate collection of random projects, tied together only because I was the one who made them. Ultimately it occurred to me that the one common thread among all of my interests is the fact that I collect quotes that resonate with me from each of them. And all of the different media that I enjoy working with can be used to create stick figures.
Once I limited myself to stick figures and quotes the ideas began to pour in. I have lists upon lists of project ideas. All of my interests are included, so I can express whatever catches my attention at the moment. And without a materials limit I can use whatever is available or I feel like using.
While stick figures can be limiting, those limits allow me to be artistically daring and creatively adventurous.
Yes, I can do more than draw stick figures. But I have consciously chosen to focus on them as my subject in order to release my creative freedom while building a recognizable body of work that continues to improve over time. All while having fun.