Jean Croker Petke



Most of us don’t want limitations or restrictions. “It hampers my style,” we say. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do,” we protest. “I’ll do it my way.”

Too many choices can actually prevent us from making any choice at all. We walk away because it’s too difficult to decide. For example:

If you want to create visual art, the possibilities are unlimited: oils, acrylics, watercolor, pastels, ink, pencil, charcoal, fingerpaint, etc., etc.

If you want to relocate and can live any where in the U.S. — or in the world — how does one choose?

If you want to plan and prepare dinner for company, the grocery store and your cookbooks provide endless possibilities.

If you want to write, there’s a myriad of options: poetry, drama, short story, fiction nonfiction, memoir, mystery, romance, etc., etc.

The process is further complicated by our thoughts: what’s the best way, what will others think, how can I be successful.

I want to suggest that limitations are a good thing, when it comes to our creativity. Fewer choices actually increases our creativity. 

A few years ago I decided to try a totally new venture: painting. My parameters were (1) the paint could not smell and leave an odor in my house, (2) the paint had to dry quickly, and (3) it could not be too messy. Oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, and fingerpaint were immediately eliminated. Watercolor remained. At the art supply store I picked two tubes of paint from the hundreds available: blue and yellow — my two favorite colors. I also chose a tube of black and a tube of white. The idea of using only two colors came from my daughter. In her college art class she was required to create a painting using only two colors. Her wonderful work hangs on my wall.

I discovered I could create a wide range of colors with only blue and yellow, way more than I thought possible. I painted my favorite tree that stands outside my window. I painted the pear on my kitchen counter. I painted the collection of items on my hutch shelves.


Here are some other examples of how I’ve used limitations to spur my own creativity:

Inviting friends for dinner and using only what’s available in my pantry, fridge and freezer. No grocery trip allowed.

Writing haiku. A Japanese poetry form that allows only 17 syllables and 3 lines.

Painting only what fits on a tiny piece of paper.

Finding a creative outlet when I had small children and a very busy life, without disrupting the family. I took calligraphy in adult ed at night.

Writing a complete story in only 500 words.

We don’t have to have everything. We just have to have something. We have to begin with what we already have on hand and work within the restrictions and limitations that confront us, or the limitations and restrictions we choose. Having limitations sometimes makes life a lot easier.

Limitations cause us to look closely and choose wisely. They allow space and opportunity for creativity to step into our life and take us to a new place.

Until next Tuesday . . .