Insider Secrets into Chuck Close’s Artistic Processes

It is always fascinating to watch an artist at work, or to hear about how they go about their process. Thanks to the Turnaround Arts Initiative, I was able to participate in a conversation recently with seven other art teachers and the artist Chuck Close. We chatted on several arts education topics, but when he got into his own artistic process, I was truly fascinated. The whole thing really got me thinking!


Mr. Close has been a teacher himself and is an advocate for arts education. In our conversations he talked about struggling with a teacher who insisted it was her way or the highway. He spoke about choosing schools for his own children that included art and music classes. And, he talked about being a teacher himself, not wanting his students to make art that was like his own. This guy knows so many angles of art education!

Known for his gridded and thumbprinted photorealist portraits, Mr. Close is continually pushing himself creatively. Right now he is working on a painstaking process of creating a full range of color in his work by limiting his palette to the primary colors, one color per layer. He says that it is driving him nuts (I can only imagine) and that it is painfully slow. But, he believes that giving yourself or your students limits and then asking them to work creatively within those limits is completely freeing. Do you hear that whirring? It is my mind spinning!


As expected, I have a thousand more questions after this very surreal conversation.This discussion made me think about the limits we impose on our students and their art. Are we asking ourselves about the purpose of those limitations? Are we insisting on art being done one way? Or do we take the opposite track and make their art limitless? What are the benefits of both strategies? Do the students know why we are asking them to use, say, complimentary colors only? Are we sharing our own processes with them? What are we doing to inspire students to keep going through artistic struggles? So much food for thought!

How do you use limits to free up creativity in your classroom?

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


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  • Erica

    Limits all the time! My favorite one today was “No, you cannot use word bubbles in this project. You must express the feeling or thought through your picture.” I love mom, tete, grandmom doesn’t belong on every art piece. Reason is… your mom will feel the love when she gets a beautiful painting. It’s the end of the year!