Time Limits


John Jacobsen
Saturday, April 25, 2015

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Earlier post Lazy Physics code clojure physics

Later post Macro-writing Macros code clojure

Picking up the art blogging again after a long hiatus.

Recently I’ve been thinking about constraints a lot, and finding out how helpful they are. I think they are especially helpful for artists.

For example, since I started my new job last year, I am in the habit of taking photos on the way to or from work. I use the following constraints:

  • Use only the iPhone with no extra lenses (digital filters/manipulation OK, but only on the iPhone itself).
  • Picture must be taken on the way to or from work, or near the office.
  • Post the ones I like on Facebook, to this album (“Views from the Commute”).

The pictures are not always awesome, but the practice itself is most satisfying. It’s a way to stay creative and visually-focused despite the demands of a “real” job. And I find the instant feedback I get from friends and family on Facebook more satisfying than many a gallery show has been.


Figure 1: Image from “Views from the Commute”

Another way I’ve been exploring constraints in the last few years is by painting outside. This practice has a number of constraints more or less built in: you can’t carry too much stuff around; it’s only light out for so long; and you typically paint the stuff you find in front of you (rather than stuff you make up).

Lately I’ve been redoing my Web sites and thinking about some old art projects as I sift through blog posts. I really enjoyed working with SketchUp awhile back and have been itching to return to that. So I’ve been wondering what sort of constraints might be helpful, similar to the ones I get “for free” by painting outside.

I decided on the following formula:

  • Four hour limit per painting:
    • Hour one: make an image using SketchUp
    • Hour two: transfer to panel and work on the drawing
    • Third hour: underpainting
    • Fourth hour: top layers / final painting.
  • Fifteen minute break in between hours
  • Use a Clojure program I wrote to help with the gridding of the drawing.


Figure 2: First stage, after one hour: exported from SketchUp and gridded


Figure 3: After second hour: drawing


Figure 4: After third hour: underpainting


Figure 5: Final image


Figure 6: Detail 1


Figure 7: Detail 2


  • Constraints help. I ordinarily have trouble finishing paintings. Though there were a few points when I thought things were totally off the rails and the work was going to be a disaster, overall I had a lot more focus (and fun!) than I often do while painting.
  • I originally planned hour three (underpainting) to be in acrylics; but I found I wanted to just jump in with oils, and it worked fairly well. Being flexible about the plan in this regard was good.
  • Having painting supports ready in advance was helpful; NOT having a concept or content queued up (for the SketchUp part) was also good, I think, though I might experiment with brainstorming content as a (timed) stage in the process.
  • SketchUp is a total rabbit hole. I could have burned the entire time just fooling around in SketchUp alone. Warning: dragons dwell there!

Earlier post Lazy Physics code clojure physics

Later post Macro-writing Macros code clojure

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