The Blank Canvas Part 2 – Breaking the Rules

The Blank Canvas Breaking Rules by Leah Jay

Last month I wrote about getting creatively “unstuck” by introducing a little bit of organic randomness into your creative work.  Sometimes it’s all about getting out of your comfort zone, in whatever way that might be.

Are you a rule-follower?  Do you always do things a certain way, in a certain chronological order, or use mental checklists or written guides?  Have you taken formal art classes? How closely do you stick to what you learned in school or from teachers?  If you’re self-taught, what are the traditions and conventions in your little corner of the art world?  What can you let go of?

In order to “think outside the box” you need to define the limits of “the box”.  And then give yourself permission to SMASH IT.  (Don’t worry, there are no art cops.  Trust me, if there were, I would have been arrested by now!)

The Blank Canvas Breaking Rules by Leah Jay

  1. It’s good to know the rules of good composition and design, as well as have a decent command of classical drawing and rendering techniques. Ironically, if you start from a place grounded in some rule-based structure, you can create convincing rule-breaking work.

Picasso Mother Child Dream

  1. As long as you’re going to break the rules, really commit to breaking them. GO ALL THE WAY. For example, if you’re going to use paint colors that your art teacher told you to never use because they are gaudy and unnatural – use all the fluorescent, eye-searing colors you can find.   Just once.
  2. If you enjoyed breaking that rule — Do it over and over again. Work in series. See how far you can go down this path.  Give yourself permission to continue.

Blue Dog George Rodrigue

Look at it this way.  What is expected of you?  (Of any artist?)  Actually, you’re kind of expected to break the rules at some point.  If you like what you end up making, then great!  You’re on a new adventure and creatively moving forward.  If you don’t like the results, then you can turn right back around with newly defined boundaries.  At the very least, you’ll have something to talk about in your artist’s statement or on your social media channels…

So be a rule-breaker!  Go for it.  It will be worth it.


Leah JLeah Jay (Jakusovszky) has been an artist and illustrator in San Jose for 25 years. She creates using a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage. Her illustrative work has been featured in many books, and highlights from her career include directing 2001’s WTC Memorial Art Project to facilitate artist’s responses to 9/11 and successfully crowdfunding her artbook “Amphibian Love” to benefit Save the Frogs in 2015.

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