Yesterday I started editing some images I had shot a few weeks back with no notion of if they would work out or not. I pulled old stock images I had taken years ago combined with one that I purchased online as well and started playing. My friend Dave Junion is always telling me to play in my craft. It is too easy to be too serious. We put such pressure on ourselves to create something good that we lose sight of the fact that what is good now won’t be good later. And, that if we continue to create what we feel is good we will never progress to what is better.
That said, yesterday I played. I played from morning until night and then this morning again, working on this image, not caring if it turned into something or not. I followed my vision, made a few changes, and experimented. All-in-all this edit took a few hours which I recorded and condensed into one minute, so chunks of the process are missing. Notably, the cutting of the various figures to fit into the scene.
I record these quick editing videos not to share my whole process or to show what I do, but to show what is possible. You don’t have to create like me. You may not even be an “artist” in the traditional sense at all. But the fact is that we all create, and we all need inspiration to go further in our craft. I hope that my videos like this, if nothing else, inspire you to try new things. To see what is out there and to believe that your vision can be brought to life.
This image is called “Contact”. My fascination with two worlds colliding has been growing and growing ever since I started reading Myst. Have any of you read it? It was my husband’s favorite book series (and game) for a long time and I never got around to digesting it. Now it is all I can think about. The premise of the book being that there is an underground race of people who can create new worlds. Pretty much right up my ally.
I hope you enjoy this speed edit! Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to see me share!
Image: “Contact”, self-portrait (x6)
Music: “An Old Picture” by Above Envy
“Rough Waters”, self-portrait taken in Brazil, April 2017, background from Iceland (2015).
I am so worried all the time that I will never again create something that is meaningful to me. I spend days thinking and thinking, hours staring at blank walls. My husband walks into my office as I’m sat in the middle of my floor, staring. He backs out slowly. There is nothing to say to me. I am within myself, brooding.
I travel through Brazil and teach workshops. At some points I feel like a fraud. I teach, but I feel stuck. The best I can do is be honest about that with the students. I tell them I know my process but that what I will do next is out of my reach.
I drive through Brazil to a remote location with my dad. I come up with a new novel idea that excites me so much I can hardly sleep. I excitedly chat to my husband about it and he adds even better details. I wake up wanting to write, but I look around at my surroundings and I feel guilty. I am looking out over a huge river, a myriad of birds and vegetation, and an old, crumbling house that I call home for a few days. Why don’t I take pictures?
As I watch the water I begin to see the metaphor emerging. There is a cure to the unknown in it. The key, I see so clearly, is not to hold on to inspiration tightly. It is to know when to let go.
As an artist, we should not seek to contain our inspiration. We should seek to know when we are riding a wave and when we are trying to catch one. Or, simply, when we are in calm waters awaiting a storm.
Right now I see my photography as a wave I am trying to catch. I paddle hard and fast but each time it comes I miss it. The wave isn’t right. That wave was meant for someone else. I sit and wait again, I try again, and still it is wrong. I feel like I’m not on water at all, but some dried up space that leaves me wedged between rocks. There is maturity in recognizing this process. There is peace in it. I find acceptance of the self in giving permission to wait for the right wave.
My change in mind is a beautiful thing. It means I have moved on to another level of creating. No longer am I satisfied with easy concepts and beautiful locations. I want something more than cheap clicks. I desire to be challenged.
I am sitting looking at the river. It is constantly changing. It is never the same river at any two moments. This is why I have always been connected to my name. I am constantly changing. I am chasing myself into new forms. I may not even be me, anymore.
Now I’m home, finishing these thoughts after having created. I did explore Brazil, and I did take pictures. I was inspired, all at once knowing that what I would create would not be my best. Sometimes we do not seek to create our best work, but to create at all. Sometimes creations are stepping stones to what we are meant to do, and they are no less special despite their lack of staying power. They are beautiful in their own way.
Where are you in your creation process?
Riding a wave or trying to catch one?
If you want to grow your craft and be inspired in your art and life, join the Promoting Passion Convention.
I put my heart and soul into this 3-day event and would love for you to be there!
Pretense is strong here online. We see people making their lives seem happier than they really are, or sharing their successes when failure comes more frequently. I love to share my joy, and I feel joy a lot of the time. Sharing only that becomes a problem when we decide to take responsibility for the mental health of those who follow what we do. I don’t think it is necessary that anyone take on that responsibility, nor do I think one can, fully, do such a thing. However, we can learn to be more honest about our lives and in doing so, give others permission to have bad days – to feel bad things, and to consequently dig themselves out of that rut.
In that spirit, I’m starting #FailureFriday where each Friday I will share an image/story/etc. of a failure. It could be photographic, it could be in business, but all of them will be in good humor. I have learned to laugh and learn from myself. Who better than the person embodying this life and all of it’s demons and butterflies? I decided to start this after having a long chat with my darling friend Lindsay Adler. We were helping each other with our businesses and talking about connection, when I thought it would be a great idea to intentionally show more of who we are.
Share your #FailureFriday to create a kinder,
more human online experience!
For this first Failure Friday, let me note, that I use the term “failure” very loosely. I don’t consider most things I do to truly be a failure, because when you learn something from your experience, that experience has value. Hey, you might like these pictures (if so, I appreciate that! and if not, I feel ya). Take failure to be whatever you feel. For me, I categorize a failure as a project that doesn’t turn out how I had hoped. Failures often lead to even better things, so keep an open mind.
It was June 2015. I was in Australia – Perth – for my first solo trip to the great continent. I was speaking at a convention (AIPP) and didn’t know a single soul. I was scared out of my mind. I am the first in a room full of people to turn bright red, break out in a stinging sweat, and locate an exit. I found that this event had a lot of socializing and I was so uncomfortable I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried, so hard, all week to connect and put myself out there and make friends. And, I’m proud to say, I did. But I did a lot of floundering as well. I spent too much time in my room refusing to come out. I even tried to go to the big event party, but in reality all I did was get in the taxi, get out for 5 minutes, and immediately run around the corner and call the same taxi back.
When it came time to give my speech, I knew that I had to break out of my shell. So, when I was finished talking, I told everyone about how nervous I get in crowds and how this was so very out of my comfort zone, and how I wanted to change that habit. So, I invited everyone in the room to come with me the next morning for an impromptu photo shoot at a beautiful location, locally known as the secret garden. I had scouted it the day before.
I woke that morning with trepidation, as my demon brain told me that no one would show up and I’d be there by myself. At least, I said aloud, I would have a camera and a smile and some neat pictures, so it wouldn’t be a waste. To my surprise about 30-40 people showed up and I did some shooting demonstrations. We started branching out, using each other as models, and soon everyone was laughing and having a good time. I do better in those moments, when I have some control over the situation and I’m doing what I love.
It was very, very muddy that day. We were sometimes knee deep in thick, sticky mud. I decided, after about an hour of shooting, that someone had to do something about it. Naturally, I volunteered myself for a self-portrait. I asked for help, and everyone gathered around me with their tripods set up and helped slather mud all over me.
When I was well up to my ears in mud, a girl appeared. She said she had driven hours to join the group and possibly be photographed, and there I was literally covered in mud and unable to take her picture. I felt terrible! So, I said, join me! I asked her to jump in the mud, on a leap of faith with people she had never met before, and that we could be in the picture together! Her name is Laura, and she was such an inspiration in that moment.
We finished the shoot and laughed so hard I thought we were all going to have sore stomach muscles the next day. We tried our best to wash off in the creek but it was of little use. Some people offered us towels or clothes from their cars which we tried to change into, but we looked like we had just been dragged through a swamp…which was not far from the truth. I was having such an awesome time connecting with everyone I didn’t want it to end, so I suggested, looking like a crazy lady, that we all go out to eat. Looking like we did, embracing our complete weirdness, we went to lunch and made even more new friends as people asked us what – in the world – had happened.
The images never turned out how I wanted. I have worked on them every single month since I went to Australia and played in the mud with my new friends. It breaks my heart that I just don’t like them, because the experience was so rich with wonder. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes the picture was never the point. It is just a bonus if it works out. If the experience itself isn’t worth it, don’t bother. If you can’t say that you would still have done what you did without the success, don’t do it. Life is too short to rely on outcomes when the journey is so much richer.
Lately I have been reminiscing over my earlier photos from when I first started photography. There are still, miraculously, some people who support my work that have done so since those earliest days. And sometimes I hear people telling me to go back to what I used to do. Some days I agree. Some days I want very much to be overtly deathly and creepy and to create more simply. Some days I try. Other days I rebel. Sometimes I recognize my growth and I revel in having come so far. This month has been one of those times when I keep looking back and desiring to create as I used to.
The problem is obvious, once you are on the other side. I am a different person from who I used to be. My interests/talents/mindset is new. I can’t create those images again. They were golden, but they are stale. Still, my desire remained so I decided I would put myself in the same situation I used to be in, with some of the same inspirations, but resolved to do something new.
This resulted in a rather hilarious photo shoot. Picture this: Me, in my bedroom, with a Disney princess kiddy pool, black fabric, and a jug of almond milk. Cue my husband, wondering 1) what I’m doing, but more important, 2) how I plan on doing it without soaking the floor in almond milk. That was when he found helping to be less futile than letting me alone with the soon-to-be mess.
I set my camera up on the tripod above me, using a Sony a7ii and 50mm lens. I made sure my shutter speed was high enough to catch some motion of the milk splashing, and after I was in focus, I got to shooting. Using a 10-second remote timer, I was able to click, get rid of the remote, and wait those L-O-N-G 10 seconds until the milk splattered all over me.
The first time, I actually forgot it was going to happen. I was so focused on trying to get my pose right that it hit me in the face like a huge shock, and I proceeded to laugh uncontrollably for a whole minute. Afterwards it started getting easier, we got timings better, and it took about 30 (very cold) minutes to finish. I realized my error of refrigerating the almond milk only after I started.
I pieced together various splashes onto my body and then manipulated the color/lighting to look more selective. I wanted a painterly feeling in this image. I also added hair on from a separate shot that I took before the milk portions were photographed, knowing that my hair would get soaked. Thankfully my shower was only a few feet away.
In the middle of shooting I had a moment, as I so often do when finding myself in a strange position, where I was filled with gratitude. These are the moments I remember. These are the memories I want to keep close. Some people may say I’m bonkers for wanting to do things like this, but I say the rest of the world is mad. To not desire a more interesting, fun and joyful existence is insane to me.
We might choose different ways of achieving it, but I can say something with certainty: The more you put yourself out there and do the things that other people think are crazy, the more alive you will feel. Trust me. It works every time.
I’m in the process of moving, so I’ve gone through each room in my house to see what stays and what goes. After all, moving will be much easier if I know that I actually want everything that I’m packing. Somewhere between lamenting over old photographs and packing a suitcase of old clothes for Goodwill, I realized the metaphor in the process of “out with the old, in with the new”. One might argue that I am a chronic metaphor-er. I see them everywhere and I revel in deep thinking about seemingly mundane things.
This one really stuck, though. What if, I thought, we treated the chapters in our life like moving from one house to another. What if we only brought along the best parts of ourselves and left the rest behind?
Chances are, if you are a passionate person desiring to live life as fully as possible, your chapters come and go very quickly. You find something you want out of life and you go for it…and then something new appears. My life shifts constantly. I attribute this constant shifting to my desire for a stationary and calm existence outside of my passions. I love being home, having routine and being able to settle. My brain, however, is constantly working. I never stick with one passion flow for very long. I amble from one photograph to the next. I want to make films and the next day I start writing a book. I love an active brain.
If that is you, or if you can stick this metaphor out, I think it can really help.
Imagine you are cleaning out a room in your home. You have 3 piles: Stay, Go, Unsure. We all have the unsure pile, don’t lie! What if right now you looked at your life critically. What activities do you pursue, what does your career look like, how are your relationships, etc.? Start to think about each piece of your life as an object you can put into a pile.
If you come across something in your life that you know is toxic, put it in the GO pile. If you cherish something in your life, put it in the STAY pile. If you are unsure about something, ask yourself if it serves you and your ultimate life goals…and then categorize it. No indecisiveness. Gut reactions.
Sometimes we realize certain people don’t serve us, or a career pursuit isn’t turning out to be what we had hoped, or even that the things we surround ourselves with don’t bring us joy.
Sometimes we realize that things we didn’t put a lot of emphasis on are actually more helpful than we realized, or that a certain passion deserves more attention.
Life evolves so beautifully. We can enact change whenever we want to. Let this article serve as a shifting moment. Start to categorize your life and start making piles. You may even pull out note cards or post-its to write on so that you can physically move them into piles.
I’ve done this exercise myself and wanted to share it here so you can see exactly how I put this into effect. I used YELLOW post-its for STAY, RED post-its for GO, BLUE post-its for ADD (meaning I want it to become a yellow post-it! They are things I don’t do enough of and want to do more of).
ADD: Discovering new places, creating a new fine art series, trying new techniques, regular poetry writing, talking to strangers, making a documentary…
GO: Frequent interviews, wasted free time, driving when walking would suffice, fear of social engagements…
Try this exercise out and let me know if you find it helpful. For me, even though a lot of this is something I know instinctively, it helps to see it written out. I look at my red post-its and I actively remember to do away with those things that don’t serve me anymore. I see the yellow post-its and I feel good about decisions I’ve made. I see the blue post-its and I am motivated to do more with my life.
Tell me, what are you STAY, GO and ADD lists?
Did you find this exercise to be helpful? Share below!
I have made some active changes, like walking to the grocery store instead of driving,
filming more of my creative process, and reading 50 pages of fiction every day!
I did some purging, like scraping away old Facebook groups and making a donation pile of gear.
For my STAY list, I made some changes, too! I added a SPEAKING page to my website so that my
motivational speaking services are actively promoted. Hoorah for taking control!