In a gorgeous “diary entry” of Emil Ferris’ astonishing graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, the young heroine describes her brother teaching her to draw in their kitchen using whatever was around. Cut a beet in half and DRAW! Beautiful!

Ferris wove many details of her own life into her novel. In her website’s only blog postWhy Constraints Can Be Good Thingswe found a self-portrait she drew using sliced beets, bee pollen and ink made from walnuts. She writes eloquently about the hackneyed, rather misunderstood notion of thinking outside the box. (We’ve excerpted her longer piece.) Ferris knows what she’s talking about; she’s navigated extraordinary constraints and challenges with aplomb. (We wrote about them here.)

Emil Ferris for Chicago Magazine

You might be wondering why anyone would want to draw with sliced beets, bee pollen and an ink made from walnuts. To clarify – I’ve found that the practice of using only those things that are at hand – although limiting – can force experimentation and discovery…

Consequently I feel that the term ‘to think outside the box’ might be a bit misunderstood.

Although thinking in an unconfined mode is a very valuable ability, this aptitude should in no way cast a cloud on the value of inhabiting the box itself. (By the ‘box,’ I’m eluding to the often limiting circumstances common to adult life.) 

The box (provided that it is combined with a few tools or ‘elements’) may turn out to be a very positively challenging place to get stuck. Being forced to explore the full range of possibilities of just a few select elements without the distraction of extraneous possibility might harvest a number of unexpectedly engaging outcomes.

As we grow older the places in which we find ourselves as artists aren’t always ideal and sometimes it’s necessary to assess and repurpose the tools we’re allotted…

But accepting the reality that limiting circumstances may always be at play within our lives, needn’t be the depressing realization some creatives seem to fear. It can be freeing and energizing to realize that we can initiate change from within whatever ‘box’ in which we’re stuck, by employing whatever tools are within our reach….

….So the challenge of boxhood requires that although we allow our minds to exceed the box’s boundaries, we accept that we’re constrained by circumstances, and we USE the constraint as if it were a tool for our benefit….



Hreinn Fridfinnsson/Serptentine Gallery


Box painted pink inside: Floor Piece by Hreinn Fridfinnsson via Serpentine Gallery

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *