Three ‘Secret’ Ways to Gain Creative Freedom by Setting Yourself Limits

Being clear in my mind at seven years old that I would be an artist, I drew and painted all the time. Sketched everything and anything I saw or imagined. Not until my career as a professional artist was well underway did I begin to narrow my focus. The first and most important focus was…

Being clear in my mind at seven years old that I would be an artist, I drew and painted all the time. Sketched everything and anything I saw or imagined. Not until my career as a professional artist was well underway did I begin to narrow my focus.

The first and most important focus was on the subject matter of my paintings. People were clearly my main interest – they figured in a majority of sketches and watercolours made in childhood right through to the oil paintings of my first gallery shows. People, their behavior, their emotions, their stories. My subject matter was now set but it was still too random, too vast a field to give my work coherence. What I needed was a linking narrative

It had to be something of such passionate interest to me that I would stick with it for a reasonable time. It also had to be something onto which I could apply my own interpretations, add variations out of my own perspective, not simply provide a painted description of the writer's words. You will no doubt share that impuls – to speak with your own 'voice' as an artist.

History shows that the Masters of painting did just this. They drew inspiration from a Book, an epic collection of human stories. My own choice was close in both time and place. I chose the stories of Australia's pioneers as told by Andrew Barton Paterson in poems and tales that have become part of our national sense of identity. The 'Banjo' inspiration kept me fueled with material for three major series of paintings. Published in three hardcover books, they accompanied my compilation of ABPaterson poems.

The second limit I decided on concern the color range I would choose from to use in my paintings. To develop a 'signature' palette, I restricted my choice to just nine pigments. They are two Whites, a Black, two each of Yellow, Blue and Red.

The third limit was on the sizes of my canvases. You may think this a trivial point but it had intense benefits for my work and my career. Here's why: By 'standardising' my canvas sizes, I developed a habit of visualizing a new work along compositional lines that fit those sizes. For me, it's a standard three, plus an occasional extra-large and an extra-small.

Important here is that, like me, you need to recognize the dimensions that suit your style. This is easy to do. Just look at the sizes common to most of the paintings you've made. (Oh, you do keep records, do not you?) Another great advantage is that with standard sizes, you can order frames in bulk, knowing you'll produce works to fit them. Not least, standard sizes help you and your gallery to set a benchmark for pricing of your works.