How limitations catalyse creativity

Illustrator and artist Phil Hansen certainly knows a thing or two about creative ways to overcome adversity.

Bruce Lee  karate chopped painting 2007
Bruce Lee karate chopped painting 2007

However, as he delineates in his talk at the Adobe MAX conference, he has come to view limitations as a catalyst, rather than a hindrance to his creativity.

After years of painting dots to work in a pointillist style, Hansen developed a severe shake in his hand, forcing him to give up his art for three years.

Feeling hugely creatively frustrated, to return to his passion he forced himself to find other avenues outside hand-drawing. He began experimenting with what he terms ‘squiggle pictures’, painting on the floor using his feet, mark-making using karate chops and even creating images from spat-out food or worms.

While some methods may be unpleasant, they’re startlingly effective.

In perhaps his boldest project, Goodbye Art, Hansen set himself the task of creating artworks to be destroyed. 

Each intricate, time-consuming piece was formed from impermanent materials, meaning as soon as they existed, they were on their way to being eradicated.

Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro Suzuki

Pieces included a chalk drawing of baseball player Ichiro Suzuki, which was washed away, and the stunning Candle Boy, formed from carefully positioned tea lights, which were ignited and systematically blown out.

Candle Boy
Candle Boy

This idea that the work was being created only be destroyed, he says was the biggest limitation of all. His hard work would only exist in its documentation.

‘Embracing limitation can drive creativity’, he says. ‘We need to first be limited to become limitless. Limitations may be one of the best ways to get self out of a rut and challenge accepted norms – instead of seize the day we can remind ourselves every day to seize the limitation.’

To see more of Hansen’s work visit

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