The Joy of Boundaries

Posted: February 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

I’ve decided to do a three day series on boundaries, because they are so important to creatives.

I was talking to my preschool teaching loved one the other day and they were talking about how their school prefers to just give students the materials and allow them to create with no instructions. Just create whatever you want. I know a lot of my creative friends would think that was panacea. I too love to just free create and before I go any further, I want to say that there is a place for that and it can be a lot of fun, but we need to remember something. It’s not like that for everyone. For some folks, having no starting point is crippling. They stare at an empty page and not having any sort of parameters produces great amounts of anxiety. Boundaries are not really a bad thing as a matter of fact they can be very beneficial. 

I know some of you may want to kick against this. You love artistic freedom and think boundaries are just a way to stifle your creativity. Respectfully, I think you’re wrong. Boundaries don’t stifle creativity, they focus it. Let’s start with the basics. Boundaries are a reality. If I hand you an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and tell you create whatever you want, you still have the natural 8.5 x 11 boundary to be dealt with. Secondly all the media have inherent limitations and we all have finite resources, hence another boundary. These don’t have to stifle your creativity. Instead they teach one of the most useful aspects of creativity there is, making the most of what you have, which is a lesson that carries over into all aspects of life. 

Secondly, in commercial work, no boundaries is a nightmare. The worst clients to deal with were the ones who would just say create something and show it to me. They have no opinion and they are a blank slate. Now on the surface that looks like the ultimate creative experience. Here’s the problem. The client is lying to you. Maybe not intentionally but they are lying to you. 

Somewhere in the back of their mind they have an idea and what they are really looking for you to do is read their mind to figure it out. If you get a client like this, do yourself a favor. Ask as many questions as you can and mine them for information. 

Let me give you an example. Say I’m your client. If I say, draw anything, what are you going to draw. Oh you could probably come up with something that will make you happy, but in this case, it’s not your job to make you happy, it’s your job to make me happy. Now if I say “I want you to draw a dog.” Your focus narrows slightly, and most of us can draw a dog. Now the question becomes “What dog?” You were raised with Rottweilers, my dad bred beagles my whole life. What do you think a dog looks like to me? Because the only thing that matters in a relationship with a client is how it looks to me. Now suppose you know about the beagles, and so you decide to draw a beagle. The thing is even in knowing the breed, the possibilities are endless. What medium? What style? Very importantly, how will the piece be used? You decided to do the beagle in a cartoon style that would be very appropriate for a children’s book or perhaps a logo. Unfortunately, your client wanted to use the piece in a scientific journal about the breed and needs photorealism. The point is, in a world where your job is to make me happy, the more you know about what I want, the better. Even knowing all the boundaries possible, there is still an infinite amount of creativity involved in rolling out the finished project. In essence what the boundaries have done is lower the threshold for frustration and disappointment.

There is a certain joy in knowing the boundaries.

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