Monday, January 12th, 2009
In the architecture studio I teach we talk alot about constraints and limits. I’ve talked about this here before as well (right now I’m too lazy to go find the link….). I think in all work setting limits to what you are examining is a good idea as it allows you to focus and explore issues in more depth. In a beginning design studio though, it’s especially important as too many ideas and issues can be overwhelming. The students often start out thinking that the constraints we’ve set are too limiting, but by the end realize how freeing having those limits can be.
I was thinking about this issue of process recently as my 4 year old son and I embarked on a painting project. We are redoing his bedroom and as he loves art, and painting in particular I wanted to have a special piece to hang up. I also wanted to begin to teach him about art and design in a way a 4 year old could understand.
I knew that talking about technique or composition or ways of seeing would be way over his head, but that he could start to learn about these things through the process of putting paint on canvas and seeing the result. This is where the idea of limits and constraints comes in:
- I decided to give him a large canvas so that he would have to take more time than he normally would. The large canvas also gave him a different perspective and made it necessary to move his whole body around the piece.
- Because of the large size, large brushes were also necessary, which had to be held differently and forced him to paint in a new way.
- Lastly, and most importantly I limited the number of paints he used. I chose two neutrals, grey and black, and allowed him to choose two colors. I had 3 gesso brushes of graduating size, and I put the larger two in the neutrals and the smaller was used for the bright colors. I knew this would automatically impose more limits on his use of color without me having to verbalize anything.
Typicallly when faced with a full box of crayons or paint palette, my son will make a drawing or painting by choosing each color one by one until he’s used all or most of the colors. Then the piece will be “done”. This makes for some beautiful and colorful work, but it seems to be more of an exercise in using all the colors than in making a picture.
It was quite interesting for me to see how he concentrated and carefully thought about the placement of the 4 paints he had. Early in the process, when he had some grey, black and a bit of yellow on the canvas, I realized how beautiful it was in combination with the white. Both his older brother and I commented on it, and I encouraged him to leave some white showing. Lately though he is very interested in filling the whole page with color or the work isn’t “done”. So in the end the canvas was filled except for a 1″ dot that he “left white” for me. I am proud of myself for not saying anything else during the process, instead letting the limits I imposed do the work of teaching.
In retrospect I think it would have been better to give him just one color choice and talk more about the white of the canvas as the fourth color prior to him starting. I feel like he learned alot about color and compostition though, and he had a blast through the entire process. And while for me the final product isn’t as important as the process, he absolutely loves his painting and was so excited for me to hang it on his wall. And I have to say that I love it too:)