Lean into Your Limits: A Q&A with Artist Phil Hansen

Artist Phil Hansen has had one hell of a journey.

His art, which is as bizarre as it is creative, is made out of materials you wouldn’t normally associate with an artist, such as coffee cups, dollar bills, and even live worms. And when he does use a more expected medium like paint, he still finds a way to differentiate his work.

Take Influencefor example, a five-minute video of Phil painting 30 different pictures on his torso, one on top of the other. Each painting reflects something he’s been influenced by. Some images are of people, others are animals and plants. At the end of the video, Phil neatly pulls the accumulated paint off of his torso and carves a silhouetted self-portrait out of it.

And then there’s Expressionsin which Phil uses a shoe as a paintbrush and ink pads as paint to create a big, animated self-portrait.

Phil’s pieces are large and oftentimes even destructed upon completion. But his art hasn’t always been this way. He got his start as an artist practicing pointillism, which consists of thousands of tiny dots. He was enamored with this art form and spent years focusing solely on this style.

To his detriment, that focus ended up giving Phil a career-ending tremor. He then dropped out of art school. He abandoned art and tried to never look back.

A few years after his tremor slashed his dreams of becoming an artist, Phil saw a neurologist and learned that his time practicing pointillism gave him not just a tremor, but permanent nerve damage. This new understanding sparked something incredible within Phil. He began to find new ways to create. Instead of thousands of tiny dots, Phil looked to bigger materials which gave him more wiggle room to be less precise. Instead of running away from his tremor, he learned to embrace his shake.

Today, Phil credits his limitation as a catalyst to creativity. When given restrictions, you have to get creative, and that led Phil to art he never knew he had inside of him. He reframed his former limiting belief of being unable to practice his art, and in doing so he found limitless potential.

“When you change your belief, you change your life.”

– Phil Hansen

Phil’s story is one of devastation, hope, and renewal. It’s a story we are so inspired by that we reached out to Phil to see if he’d be willing to come to Studio/E and share it with us in person. On Thursday, April 11, 2019, Phil Hansen is letting us into his story and taking us through an interactive and collaborative art experience (tickets are available here).

We had the opportunity to ask Phil some questions about his love for creating, how he reframed his limiting beliefs, and how others can embrace their own limits.

What is your desire?

To have the opportunity to create.

You left art for a few years. What made you return to it?

Initially I made the horrible decision — which was part of being young and naive — to ignore the problem. I tried to do my own art at first but could only do about 15 minutes a day. I finally had a moment and decided to be done with it indefinitely. Then a friend came across some of my old sketchbooks and asked why I didn’t draw anymore. I ended up doing a few sketches and the weirdest thing was that I found my skills had gotten better, not worse, even though I hadn’t practiced. I think having the time to let my muscles and mind begin to work together made me better. I was still having trouble with my hand, so I saw a neurologist and he told me to embrace the shake. At first I ignored him and went about my routine. But then I asked myself, what would happen if I literally embraced my shake? And slowly, art came back to me. It was a very natural process.

How did your tremor not break you?

It did break me. I was devastated. I abandoned art, gave up, and it was a really depressing time. But being away from it and gaining that distance helped me see my own part in the challenge.

What was your part in it?

I think all of our challenges have two components. There is the limitation and the self-limiting belief about it. It’s our beliefs that end up causing the bigger challenge. My limitation was that my hand shakes. In and of itself, that shouldn’t have stopped me from doing art. But my belief was that if my hand shakes, I can’t make art. As I dug into it, I thought, well I have this limitation, but the belief is what’s really holding me back. So I changed it.

When you change your belief, you change your life. I very much lived this experience. Once I changed my perspective about how the tremor would affect me, that’s when the real transformation happened.

What is it about creating art that you love so much?

It’s more of a need than anything. It’s something I feel incomplete without.

What advice do you have for others facing their own obstacles?

Step back. Pull away from your emotions. Try to understand, analyze, and admit your role in it. Identify your beliefs about your obstacle and how they play a part in it. Then, hypothesize outcomes. What would it look like if this obstacle wasn’t there? That’s when creativity kicks in. If you can make a shift in your beliefs, your creativity will take over and that’s where you can make those transformations.

What are you reading?

I’m not reading anything because I’m making stuff!

What is your superpower?


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Everyone has obstacles; what’s important is how you think about them and what you do about them. Here are ways to turn your limitations into possibilities:

  1. Step back – Try to get a bird’s-eye view on your obstacle. It will detach you from the situation and give you a different perspective.
  2. Admit your role in your obstacle – Identify the story you tell yourself about it. This is your mindset, and your mindset is powerful.
  3. Change your beliefs – If the story you tell yourself about your obstacle is limiting, change the story. In turn, it will change your life.

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