The Beauty of Structure

On Saturday my youngest daughter turned fifteen and I wanted to make her a card or some sort of collage. I had a three-hour window while she was out so I went to the art space in our basement and started rooting around in my supplies without any idea in mind. A couple of silver triangle boxes caught my eye. I covered each with a layer of gesso and kept going through all my paper and ephemera. After half an hour I found myself getting frustrated and a little impatient that nothing was coming together. My whole art process is usually very intuitive. Even when I don’t start with anything particular in mind, I trust that a vision will emerge through the process of creating. It always has. Only that day I had a small window and it was closing fast. So, I texted my daughter, asking her what her favorite colors were. Answer? Blue, green and orange. As I combed through all my supplies again, this time with a particular palette in mind, I began to accumulate a whole stack of paper and images. Within an hour I had a finished collage that I loved.

The lesson? That structure is a beautiful thing. A necessary thing. Structure. It sounds so hard and counterintuitive to the soft swirly world of creativity. But structure is the container that holds and shapes your ideas, giving them space to materialize instead of just floating in your head. When I first started my daughter’s collage, I had infinite possibilities which sounds rather freeing but, in fact, it can be just the opposite. Too much freedom can leave me flailing. Once I had a color palette, that became my structure and I began to see my materials through the prism of that structure. Just as children need boundaries, so does our writer/artist. The trick is finding the appropriate structure for each project whether it’s a color palette, a certain image or material or technique. For writing it could be a genre, word count, prompt, timeframe, the use of chapters or not. One teacher had us write a story using the each letter of the alphabet, in order, to start each sentence. Talk about a structure! The point is, structure, while it sounds like it should be confining is actually freeing.

Let me know how structure figures into your own work. I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and here’s the finished piece:

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8 thoughts on “The Beauty of Structure

  1. Beautiful!

    I have a difficult time with structure: implementing it in housework, exercise, pretty much anything. I go through cycles where I try to to get myself organized, but I only last so long. I’m trying this year, however, to get some sort of structure going, and to practice some semblance of consistency. Structure DOES make everything easier, and more doable. I know you’re referring to structure with art, but I think your message is pretty much applicable to everything.

  2. You’re so right — limits are critical to the creative process. To me, limits are the gateway through which an idea flows. Until it finds a specific portal, it’s just nebulous potential. Great post!

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