Outtake from my new series, Fourth Wall, opening in NYC in January.

Outtake from my new series, Fourth Wall, opening in NYC in January.

One year ago I attended my very first portfolio review event so that I could have my portfolio critiqued by five different professionals in the photography and art world. I had no idea what to expect, no pre-conceived notions of how it would go or how it should go. I was looking for unbiased answers to the question of how my art is perceived. I can’t say that I got unbiased answers, but I did get some advice that stuck with me in a big way. I heard everything from “never change what you do” and “trust your gut” to “if you want to be a professional in this industry, you have to change almost everything”. It was a confusing day to say the least.

What I left with was a few amazing, albeit hard to hear, tips about the fine art world. I was told that if I wanted to climb my way up I would need to produce a series, focus on concept, and revamp my style. A couple of weeks later I spoke with one of my gallery reps and she echoed those sentiments. It started me thinking in a new way and triggered the conception of a new series that I would go on to produce from December 2015 until September 2016. I worked in a drastically different way to how I had before. I used my hands, got dirty, took hundreds of hours total to make sets, and thought about the concept like an onion with lots of moving parts.

When I was in that portfolio review, I remember this overwhelming sense of defeat. The words that one woman told me were vibrantly negative – that I had a slim chance of showing in NYC, that my work is meaningless, and so on. I don’t say that so you feel bad for me; quite the opposite. I have grown a thick skin to words like those. I tell you this because it sparked something in me to do better, to be more, and to strive for what I could not yet see. I didn’t take most of the advice from those portfolio reviews, but what I did take has been instrumental in my growth this past year.

Like many people, I often view myself as the underdog. I never expect good things. I am constantly surprised by success, which is why I am able to see the smallest good moments as big boons. I grew up never being the best at anything I attempted. I was below average in school, always made the “B” sports teams, and every time I tried art my sister was overwhelmingly better. My career thus far and the last week has taught me so many lessons in what it means to try and fail. The biggest lesson is this: if you try and fail so many times, you are bound to finally succeed. The biggest reason most people ultimately do not succeed in their desires is because they put an arbitrary timeline on when they can achieve success.

I finished my new series and my gallery really liked it. They agreed to give me a solo show in Chelsea in NYC in January. I entered it into some award competitions, and today I was told that the series took 1st place in the Fine Art category and was the Grand Prize winner overall at the ND Awards.

These things don’t happen to me. That is the narrative I’ve had in my head my whole life. I’m not good at anything. I lack natural talent. I’m unlucky. This is what I tell myself so that I don’t feel as bad for not achieving what others around me have achieved. Today I stop that narrative. Today I stop telling myself that story and start telling myself a new one. And that story is this.

I am successful at what I do not because of accolades but because I wake up every day and show up to work.

I am successful at what I do because I have a message and I create to help others.

I am successful at what I do because I try so damn hard.

I am successful at what I do because I do it with passion.

That is my story. And I hope you will adopt it as your story, too. This year has taught me a lot about the importance of trust. I came out of my portfolio reviews with self-hatred twisting through my body. I was angry at myself. I felt I hadn’t tried hard enough. I let a reviewer tear me down and I felt myself believing every word she said. But after a few hours of sitting with the idea that what I love to do might not be good enough, I finally asked myself an all-important question: Good enough for who?

I got to work creating images that were good enough for me. Concepts that were good enough for me. A new way of creating that fit in with what I wanted to do. And this time, life saw fit to smile upon the effort. I know it won’t always turn out like that. I won’t always get that coveted solo show or a big prize. But today I hope that it is proof to you that if you stick with your dreams, you might just find yourself where you want to be. It won’t happen every time. Never expect it to. But it might happen when you least expect it.

If you are reading this and thinking that I’m different from you somehow, please don’t. I don’t come from money to create my images, I don’t cultivate contacts in the industry and I stubbornly refuse to mill about social gatherings to make impressions with “important people”. I create and I hope that it impacts as many people as possible. Take your unique gift and keep working at it. Work hard at it. Show up to do the work. Chances are, it will pay off.

What stories do you tell yourself, and how are you changing them?

Thank you to ND Awards for granting me the honor of Photographer of the Year 2016, it is a true honor that has taken me entirely by surprise. (I’m not the type that wins things…but I’m trying to change that story.) Check out the other winners and entries!

Thank you to JoAnne Artman Gallery, who will have my new series, Fourth Wall, on display in NYC next year. More details to come.

Finally, I will be sharing the series that won the award with you in the next month or so!

  • November 28, 2016 - 7:51 am

    Natasha - What a beautiful post – thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this with the world.

    I have also frequently told myself that I’m not the type who finds success, etc., and have been working on changing that story through yoga and meditation, as well as persistence! As you said, ‘good enough for who?’ is an important question and if the answer is ‘good enough for me,’ then, well, that’s usually good enough for me!ReplyCancel

    • November 28, 2016 - 8:15 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you Natasha for being here and sharing with me. I am also doing a fair amount of yoga and it is so helpful to have a little mantra to repeat while gently exercising. I love it. I haven’t been doing as much meditation lately but I need to! Thank you for the reminder.ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2016 - 8:11 am

    starr Petronella - Brooke you are such an inspiration! Your ability to be honest and open with everyone is such a wonderful gift. Many times over the past few years that I have been following your FB posts, there are moments that what you publish and share are like reflections of what I am silently experiencing. Thank you for continuously helping to remind me, and so many others, that we do have meaning and our Art aka Our Voice is in fact important.

    On that note, it is absolutely FANTASTIC to hear of your recent recognition. Congrats! I know so many of us think that you are an amazing & creative artist. I am just glad that you are being more widely recognized now. Just wonderful!ReplyCancel

    • November 28, 2016 - 8:17 am

      brookeshaden - I hope you know just how thankful I am to hear those words from you. I strive to be as honest as possible and to tear down whatever wall someone perceives there to be. Your kindness is incredibly appreciated today!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2016 - 9:59 am

    Marcy Criner - Oh Brooke this post really hit home with me. I’ve been asking myself the Am I good enough question far too often. Sometimes when I’m down on myself it seems like it’s good enough for the peanut gallery which means that I’m in comparison mode. I love how you were able to channel the comments from the review and think about your own growth.

    I was thrilled to see your images on the ND Awards site. I felt like each image had it’s own distant chapter while the whole series fit together like a story.ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:51 am

      brookeshaden - Comparison mode…the worst! Sometimes I find myself in it when it’s too late and the damage has been done. Don’t we all sometimes. All my love Marcy!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2016 - 11:04 am

    Olessia.Live - Congratulations with an ND Awards 2016! I was very glad to know that you’re a winner. It’s always good when hard work is appreciated. The story you shared with us here, is very motivating for all photographers and artists. Wish you all the best!ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:51 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you so much Olessia for the love, that is so kind of you! XO!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2016 - 11:06 am

    paulo carvalho - Wonderful post! As always, you are always ready to share words direct from your heart. I love it! Congratulations for this award. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:52 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you Paulo, your support means so much to me!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2016 - 2:45 pm

    Stephanie Rose - First congratulations on your award! You certainly deserve it! I’ve been an admirer of you and your work for a few years now and you have helped inspire me in my own fine art work. But I want to thank you for this post today because I needed to hear this today. For almost seven years, my husband and I have been trying to grow our family. Long story short we are in the midst of the waiting for a potential birth mother to choose us. It’s been incredibly difficult watching so many others be blessed with children while our arms remain empty. After a birth mom scam last month, I’ve been left questioning if it will ever happen. And yesterday a family member informed us that now that I’m “prettier” (I’ve lost about 60 lbs) if my husband would just cut his hair and shave – maybe someone would actually consider choosing us as adoptive parents. I’ve been struggling with this, weighing the importance of it for over the past 24 hours and I think your words have now convinced me that we are enough as we are. We shouldn’t try to fit some mold – we should be true to ourselves. Thank you for always sharing your story and your heart Brooke. Much love from Illinois!ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:04 am

      Fit BMX - WOW! That made me want to cry, I am so sorry you have such a scumball family member. You will find a birth mother, one will pick you.
      I have some family members that are like that, you just have to ignore them. (Hug)ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:53 am

      brookeshaden - Stephanie, I am so sorry to hear all that you’ve been through. I know that when you stand strong you will inspire others, and that is exactly what you are doing with this candid comment. I really appreciate that you are sharing yourself and your truth, it means the world. You’ve inspired me today to live in my truth and to rise above. You will be an amazing mother <3ReplyCancel

  • November 29, 2016 - 8:34 am

    Fit BMX - When I saw you post that you won ND photographer of the year, this is what I thought https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv4KQbDaCfM Yesterday was kinda lousy (I got into with some racist on a forum) then I saw this post and the world made sense again.
    This is so wonderful and long overdue, and I mean that. You have been my favorite artist since I first found your work.
    To me this series is outstanding, I love it! But I think your previous work was just as good, but just not the same. However that stitched hand looks incredible! I have been wanting to know where you were going to it since you first showed it months ago. And the same with the bathtub. LOL The four walls idea was an incredible one, and you pulled it off perfectly. Plus you built all of this set up with your own two hands, that always feels good!
    Beautiful series and post, I can wait to see what you come up with next. Congratulations! (Hug)ReplyCancel

    • November 29, 2016 - 8:54 am

      brookeshaden - Oh my goodness that Kermit clip made me laugh so hard! My husband thought it was a dying cat from the other room though 😀 You are so kind, always, and I want you to know how much it means to me. I am thankful for your openness and your willingness to lift others up.ReplyCancel

      • November 29, 2016 - 3:50 pm

        Fit BMX - Someone else posted the Kermit video on a forum years ago, and I always loved it.
        Thanks for the kind words,

  • November 29, 2016 - 8:35 am

    Natalie Dybisz - “if you try and fail so many times, you are bound to finally succeed. The biggest reason most people ultimately do not succeed in their desires is because they put an arbitrary timeline on when they can achieve success.”

    That is so f***in true!

    Congrats on the series and the awards, but also, on a great blog post here.

    My support always 😉


    • November 29, 2016 - 8:55 am

      brookeshaden - Thank you Nat, that means the world to me. Always sending you so much love and hoping our paths cross again soon!ReplyCancel

As an artist or creative person, what are the worries that keep you up at night?

For me, it changes like the wind. Many nights I go to bed fulfilled. Some nights my brain won’t shut off with ideas. Other nights I tell myself I’ll never make anything ever again. My brain is very dramatic.

For the last year I have been working on a series that I’ve only shown a few people. That means that the work I have been showing isn’t necessarily my best. It isn’t going in my new exhibition. It has been the in between work. It has been what has kept me fulfilled in the days in between creating for my other project. I have loved it, but I have also felt stagnant within it. It was as if I was spending all of my creative energy on the other project, so anything I did in between didn’t have that same fire.

I finished that series at the end of September and took some time to myself. I wasn’t creating as much and I was just letting myself breathe. In those breaths that I took, I wondered if I would never create again. That old dramatic brain of mine starting to question if my “usual” style was getting too stale, and I started to agree. At the same time, I didn’t feel motivated to make something new. Busy-ness, that annoying, glorified syndrome. I took on too much and I didn’t feel I could afford to spend time thinking about concepts, let alone new visuals that would satisfy my adventure-heart.

Instead, I picked up my camera only when it called to me. I put no pressure on myself, as we do too often as artists, and I created with no preconceived notions of what it would end up like. That lead to a lot of failed photo shoots and a lot of laughing at myself at dawn with a cactus stuck in my foot, but that’s another story.

And then something happened. All of that breathing and failing and laughing paid off. When I started photography I felt this pressure to create. I created every day and a lot of it was terrible, and I felt burnt out eventually. Now my motto is to create when I am compelled. To work at it, to push myself, but never to expect brilliance.

How did it pay off? I surprised myself. I was trying and failing for an hour at making origami so I took what I had and ran to my bedroom and shot this image. To you, it might seem like nothing. It might seem like everything else I’ve done. Or it might seem so different that it just isn’t appealing. But for me, it was just different enough. It was cleaner, more graphic, and simpler. It was just what my over-worked brain needed to see and to create.

I hope that you take serious time to nurture your creativity. It is not something that should be pushed and prodded and made to feel belittled if something you do isn’t the greatest. Let’s face it – few things we do in our life will be worthy of living on and on in history. Let your creativity rest. Let it be born anew. Let it surprise you. Let yourself be lead not by the call of greatness but by the greatness of unrestrained creativity, for that is what will explode in your chest like a million stars and lift you to your highest level.

How do you stay inspired?

  • November 21, 2016 - 8:23 am

    jen shu - my fear is…………..
    what it not picking it up for MONTHS turns into disaster for my business and heart….i really cannot fathom this next phase of life…i really can’t…

    i don’t know what it looks like.
    i just know that i have to be me….ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2016 - 3:53 pm

    Fit BMX - That is a great post, with a lot of wisdom. 🙂
    MY brain is always saying “You could be doing something more useful with your time” Or “Do you really want people to see this? It’s not very good at all!” I try to tell myself not to listen, but that can be very hard to do at times.
    Thank you so much for this post, it makes me (and I sure others) feel so much better, that it isn’t just us.

    I also need to hear that cactus story! 🙂ReplyCancel

I took the presidential election like many people have – hard, like a punch to the gut. My reaction shocked me, since I was never one to invest a lot in politics. But some things are everyone issues, not just some people issues. This is an everyone moment. This makes my heart hurt. I do not wish to alienate anyone in saying so, and it is not personal, and the sadness I feel is not directed in anger. It is a reflection of the hurt many are feeling.

In the wake of the election, I sat inside thinking and reading articles and watching news clips and sitting some more. I didn’t want to do anything. I felt such a deep sadness and I didn’t know how to fix it. And honestly, I’m not sure how to fix it completely. I’m not someone who can feel okay when so many are scared. But then, at about hour 35 of my wallowing, I realized that I also wasn’t helping anyone and that felt just as bad as not caring about the people who are suffering.

So I asked myself what I can do, and my only answer in the moment was to create. I believe that everything we create from the heart is a gift for someone else whose heart needs to receive it. That is the glorious thing about creating – it is a true reflection of the soul of the artist. From my heart to yours, I hope you will receive this image in the spirit it is given, with so much love and kindness, nothing more or less.

To find hope in the darkness.

To spread our wings when they feel heavy.

To look in painful places when it may hurt.

To believe in the power of kindness.

My mission is redeemed in this moment. To be a voice and force of kindness. To loan my wings to those who feel theirs are lost. To create from that painful place of darkness so that someone may be lifted out of it. To give.

Many hugs my friends, and thank you for listening to a sentiment that is being echoed frequently these past few days. Nothing new here, just another voice in the crowd chiming in for goodness.

  • November 11, 2016 - 2:23 am

    Margherita Introna - A beautiful, honest and moving post Brooke. As I watch from afar, yet I feel the sadness echoed in my own country’s issues, I am given hope because there is comfort in knowing there are more and more kind people in this world… I am not alone xxReplyCancel

    • November 11, 2016 - 1:20 pm

      brookeshaden - Thank you Margherita! Your support is so important to me!ReplyCancel

  • November 11, 2016 - 8:26 am

    paulo carvalho - When we woke up the next day, everyone here in Portugal was shocked! How is it possible? Such a result has led many people to say that Americans are the stupidest people on the planet! As if we here are the most intelligent!! And that leaves me in a great sadness, because if there is an American whom I am very proud to know, it is you. Whenever they said that, I think of you. A person who believes that everything we create from the heart is a gift for someone else whose heart needs to receive it, can only be a good person. I have some concern for this result, but not fear. We are not alone and together we will find hope in the darkness and believe in the power of goodness. Thank you for being who you are. xxReplyCancel

    • November 11, 2016 - 1:20 pm

      brookeshaden - <3 <3ReplyCancel

  • November 11, 2016 - 1:19 pm

    JULIE A FRASER - Absolutely love this!! can you only purchase your prints through a museum?ReplyCancel

  • November 11, 2016 - 2:49 pm

    Meri - This is absolutely incredible – your words and your art. Thank you for sharing. I have been feeling the same way. <3ReplyCancel

  • November 12, 2016 - 2:06 am

    Samantha Pugsley - This reaches me at such a personal place. My heart is aching. I am in so much pain for myself – as a woman, as someone who identifies as queer. But I am also in pain for so many of my friends who have spent years fighting for liberties only to now worry about them being taken away. I am in pain for a country divided by hate. I have been in mourning for all of this and more since Tuesday.

    Like you, I decided it was time to create. I’m not doing conceptual work these days. I’m dressing up and taking personal style photos. But despite the heaviness in my heart and my complete lack of motivation, I dressed up, I photographed, I wrote.

    Only one thing is certain to me now: keep making art. All kinds of art. Any kind of art. We are going to need art more than we’ve ever needed it before.ReplyCancel

  • November 13, 2016 - 10:51 am

    Fit BMX - I was so disgusted with this entire election process, it was such a sham all the way around.
    I have been planning to move out of the US for a year now, and this has just sped up the process.
    I mostly just separate myself from all of it, I don’t read or watch the news, and I don’t talk politics with anyone. I like to live in my own world, where it is the way I like it. This is the best way to survive these days, reject reality. Now you all really think I am crazy! LOL
    Wonderful photo, and a big hug to you and everyone else. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 24, 2016 - 1:55 pm

    Ronne Pierce - So glad you didn’t say silent. Glad you let us see you struggle in times like this because it helps to know that even the most joyous of us can have moments of fear, doubt and sadness. And just by making work through it you have given me and I am sure many others inspiration. It was easy to shut down after the results and say ‘I am too sad to make work’…seeing this and hearing your words let me know that aside from activism it’s the one thing we can do to let ourselves and others heal. Hope you are enjoying this celebration of gratitude, but I know you didn’t need a special day to remember to be grateful. <3ReplyCancel

I have been teaching fine art photography for 6 years. In those years, I have had to scrutinize what makes fine art photography successful so that I can pass on that knowledge to others. My method has been to try what feels right, document what fails (and why), what succeeds (and why), and pass that on to others. One consistent piece to the “fine art” puzzle has been the importance of a portfolio. Not just any portfolio; a tight-knit, well planned and organized portfolio.

Registration for portfolio reviews is now open! For $50 ($10 of which goes to charity), you will receive a 1-page written portfolio review detailing relevant style words, strengths, and suggestions. In light of this limited offer (there will only be 100 spaces and registration will last 4 days, or until sold out), I wanted to give a little portfolio guide…

Top 5 Tips to Building a Portfolio

1. Take the word BUILD very seriously. A portfolio is not about throwing together some of your favorite images. It is about very purposefully crafting them so that they represent your best work as well as where you want to go as an artist. My recommendation is to go through all of your images and choose the ones that speak to you the most. Now out of those, choose 10 that you feel are consistent and work together. That is a great place to start in presenting a portfolio.

What if none of them match? If your images feel incoherent together, choose a favorite and try building a series. Try asking yourself some key questions about that image. Write down every reason why you like it. Focus on lighting, colors, backgrounds, wardrobe, theme, and emotion. Once you know why you like your favorite picture, build other images that contain some of the same elements. That will likely create a cohesive portfolio, or could even birth a new series.

2. What does COHESIVE even mean? I’ve learned from having my fair share of reviews that cohesive will not always mean the same thing to every reviewer. Sometimes the artist feels there is a common link, but another person might not see it. I split my work into two categories: visual and conceptual. When I am presenting a portfolio, I want to make sure that either, 1) the images are linked visually by a repeating pattern, or 2) the images all center around one theme. If your images can do both, you likely have a great start to a series.

Cohesion is about telling a visual narrative or a thematic story, or both. When choosing images to put in your portfolio, look for images that share a color palette or location. Or, if that isn’t your thing, choose images that all clearly deal with the same theme. This can be very helpful in narrowing down the portfolio. I have personally created over 700 images since I began photographing 7 years ago. That is a TON of images! I would never be able to present them all in a review, nor should I. Instead, I choose my strongest images and make sure they relate to one another in some way, even loosely.

When choosing images, try to keep them relatively close in age. If your work is extremely consistent over the years, don’t worry about this point. However, if some obvious growth has happened, including images that are too old might throw the reviewer off.

3. Narrow it DOWN. As an artist, I know how impossible it seems to narrow down a portfolio to just a few images. We have emotional ties as well as stories to go with the creation process and those elements can often hinder our ability to see the image objectively. Here are a few tips to narrowing your portfolio down.

a. Choose your 30 favorite images. Show them all in a folder to 3 different people. Ask them to choose their 10 favorites in under 2 minutes. Look for gut reactions. Ask them why they chose those images afterwards and notice on what level they are responding.

b. Choose your 30 favorite images. Now place them into categories based on visual style. For example, you might notice that some have a lot of red in them, some are all taken in the same location, and others have a strong theme running through. Make 3 folders on your computer and place the images into the corresponding folder to better see which images are most striking together. Not every review requires the same images, and it might be that one set of images is better to show for one review than another set.

c. To trust or not to trust social media. Once you have chosen your 30 favorite images, it is okay to see which of those pieces did particularly well on social media. As long as you aren’t choosing solely based on that factor, it can be really helpful to narrow it down based FIRST on your opinions, and SECOND on how people reacted to the work. This can help to determine how the reviewer will also react.

4. Don’t forget about TECHNIQUE. We are intrinsically tied to our work. It is in us and who we are. This tends to cloud our judgment of what should be in our portfolio because we are inherently biased. Never forget about technique. It doesn’t matter if you have the most incredibly poignant, important, and life-altering image (well, maybe it does…), if there is a glaring technical error it will rip the viewer right out of it.

Many portfolio reviews can help tremendously in identifying what those technical flaws are. Don’t hesitate to put images in that you just aren’t sure about. But do be aware of which images aren’t quite up to par. I will put concept before technique any day, but only after the technique has been mastered.

5. ORDER matters. When you are presenting a portfolio to someone, think about the order in which you place the images. It can impact how someone understands what you are trying to do, as well as make the process go smoother. A great example is that when I review portfolios, the number one thing that takes me out of the moment is when images of different genres are mixed together haphazardly. It is difficult to shift your mind-space from fine art to fashion to nature and then back to fine art.

If you have multiple genres you would like to show, keep them separated or at least in a logical order. Further, if you have one genre and aren’t sure about the order, try considering these things:

a. Color – If your images flow from warm hues to cool hues, for example, it could be a very pleasing transition which won’t appear jarring to the viewer.

b. Styling – If your images take place in a similar location or with similar wardrobe, it might be smart to keep those images together.

c. Story – If your images are meant to tell a story, or if certain themes are being explored, keeping those images together can strengthen the story and keep the reviewer inside the world of that story longer.

I like to open with a really strong image and close on a really strong image, so I try to choose my top two images and bookend the portfolio with them.

Here is a look at my 10-piece portfolio. This is what I would send a prospective gallery, client, or reviewer.

Here are the reasons why I chose these particular images, in this order:

  1. The locations flow. We begin inside, move to a wider space shot in the same building, to a black backdrop, and then outside. There is a buildup to moving outdoors which transitions the viewer from one space to another.
  2. The colors flow. Starting with red, we move to yellows and stick with warm tones until an important transitional image (the 5th) where a blue dress introduces a new color, but the yellow clouds keep with the yellow theme.
  3. The bookend-ed concepts. Beginning with this creepy, dark shot in a bathtub sets an eerie tone for the work. Immediately I am showing an image that doesn’t hold back, yet is not overtly “horror” or off-putting in a gory way. The final image has much the same feel but is opposite in color tone, leaving the reviewer with a strong final piece to the portfolio.

There are other reasons to choosing these images. One is that they are consistently my favorite images that I have ever created. Another is that they are some of my best selling images. A third reason is that they are visually linked via center compositions, subject matter, and theme.

I hope this helps you in creating a portfolio! If you have any questions I didn’t answer, please leave them below and I will get back to you!

Click to register for portfolio reviews!

  • November 2, 2016 - 8:06 am

    Katrin Auch - Wow, Brooke, that is an awesome opportunity. Quick question, do we have to have the portfolio ready for you tomorrow, or is that just the registration? I figure I am probably not the only one with this question 🙂

    • November 2, 2016 - 8:16 am

      brookeshaden - Great question, Kat! I will hold off on beginning the reviews until Sunday night when registration closes, that way you can submit and secure a space but still have time to fix it up a bit. However, before registration can be completed, a link to a website (or Flickr, for example) must be given. So, as long as you know the URL you will use, you can continue to re-arrange, shuffle, add, subtract, etc. until Sunday night. Hope that makes sense! I like using something like a Flickr account for things like this because the photos can be easily categorized into folders that can be linked, or if you have a blog/website, that is a great option, too. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 2, 2016 - 8:07 pm

    Fit BMX - Wow, this is really great Brooke’s! I wish I had enough images for a portfolio. LOL
    Those are great tips though, Thanks! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 3, 2016 - 7:14 am

    Joaquin Barbara MD - Well, Brooke, the deed is done. First time stepping out with my work in any serious way. I am kind of ambivalent about the whole thing but I have to start at some point in time and I am very happy that it will be you taking this images apart. I love your work.

    Best wishes.

    Joaquin Barbará MDReplyCancel

  • November 3, 2016 - 11:42 am

    Donna - Signed up and anxious to hear your feedback. I do have a question, though. When trying to redirect back to your site from PayPal, I received an error message. I did receive and email from PayPal saying the payment went through, but I was wondering if everything else went through since I couldn’t get back to your site afterward.ReplyCancel

    • November 3, 2016 - 11:44 am

      brookeshaden - Hi Donna! You are all signed up and I’ve got your information 🙂 Apologies for the confusion! I can’t wait to take a look! 🙂ReplyCancel

      • November 3, 2016 - 12:21 pm

        Donna - Great! Thank you so much for responding so quickly and verifying that everything went through okay. I can’t wait to read your review and learn from it.ReplyCancel

  • November 3, 2016 - 9:45 pm

    Trish - Wow Brooke this is so great to have this opportunity
    Question: I am a building my portfolio and skill level whereby I will eventually use my own portrait images, so at present I am mainly using ‘stock images’ with permission from photographer/s in my composition work.

    Can I still present my (work)portfolio to be critiqued? 🙂ReplyCancel

    • November 4, 2016 - 5:45 am

      brookeshaden - Hi Trish! Yes absolutely – when you register, just leave a little note about that in the designated box (you’ll see it when signing up) as a note about stock images so that I know not to critique certain elements 🙂 I’d love to see!ReplyCancel

      • November 5, 2016 - 5:48 pm

        Trish - Thanks Brooke, I have already registered but I think I made reference to it in the ‘notes’ section. Stepping out of my comfort zone doing this, but I know thats when we grow and learn the most. A exciting journey and thank you Brooke for this opportunityReplyCancel

Feeling trapped in our own creativity is the ultimate in psychological backwardness. Growing up we see artists who appear free in every sense of the word. They seem to never be tied down to commitment or obligation. They are wild and “out there”. And as we grow up watching these figures we assume that being an artist means freedom. Yet how many of us feel trapped in our creativity?

I believe this feeling of entrapment comes from two sources. One is being pigeonholed into a certain category of artist, and the other is feeling an obligation to be better than before. Social pressure as well as self-inflicted pressure. These are the cornerstones on which our insecurity as artists is built.

I started to recognize these two attributes in myself. I felt obligated to create a certain type of art because that was suddenly what I was known for. I also began fearing to share my artwork, thinking that if it wasn’t drastically better than it was before people would think I was an imposter. This is a crippling way of thinking. To always be better than the last time means that we are never failing, and that means we are never growing. To stay one type of artist your whole life means the same, that stagnation has been chosen over growth. In theory I want neither of those things. In reality, they are more comforting.

I have started to break free of those constraints by telling myself the exact opposite of them. Instead of thinking I have to do what I’ve always done, I tell myself: I will surprise myself. Instead of wanting to be better than before I tell myself: I will fail.

There are two great ways of achieving discomfort and growth, and they are failure and surprise. I want to shock myself. I want to look back at the person I was and be forced to look twice.

When I started photography I received emails from people telling me that I’m not a photographer. It didn’t bother me so much as it just wasn’t true. I create with a camera and know comparatively little in Photoshop. Nothing that I do results from digital art, but simple images sewn together in simple ways. But the title never bothered me as much as it did and does other people. Some people would email me angrily to tell me I am a disgrace to the name of photography. To that I simply smiled, knowing that creativity and art forms are always evolving. Our perception of photography will continue to evolve.

Those emails made me aware of just how much other people want to define artists. And in turn, many artists want to be defined. It is comforting to fit in somewhere. I remember the first time I gave a lecture and was introduced as a “fine art photographer”, it felt thrilling! Someone was recognizing me for a job title that I wanted to have. It felt validating. But the more my business grew, the more I realized I’m not just a photographer. I wrote a book, so doesn’t that make me an author? I teach workshops, so doesn’t that make me an educator? I get hired to give speeches, so doesn’t that make me a speaker? I run a charity, so doesn’t that make me a philanthropist?

At the end of the day, how could these titles possibly matter? What makes the difference is what we spend our time doing and with how much heart.

At an event last week I introduced myself to three different people three different ways in thirty minutes. I was talking to a fellow photographer and when she asked what I did, I answered “I am a fine art photographer”. Next I spoke to a fellow speaker and when I was asked what I do, I answered “motivational speaker”. And finally I was talking to a fellow writer and when she asked what I do, I answered “I am a young adult fantasy writer.”

Isn’t it interesting how these labels come to define us so much that we feel we cannot break from them? But why should we not? Why not keep collecting them like little trophies that may eventually get dusty in a box we never open, but still we keep them knowing that they show a time when we tried and succeeded at our dreams?

Photographer. Writer. Novelist. Educator. Motivational Speaker. Philanthropist.

May the list grow ever longer in the pursuit of my greatest fantasies. May our lives never be stunted by the labels others would put on us. And may we shine through the cloud that tells us we have to be better. May we fail until we feel broken so that we can put ourselves back together even better than before.

How have you felt held back, and how will you move forward?

  • October 27, 2016 - 5:56 pm

    Fit BMX - You forgot Director! That music video you did was wonderful!!! 🙂

    I think I am still a little embarrassed, to shoot fine art, or show people I know my work.
    That is still my biggest problem. However you have helped me a lot with Promoting Passion, and you 30 Day Challenge. I still need to find a good way to thank you. 🙂

    I love that photo!!! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • October 31, 2016 - 10:40 am

    Heather - You’re a young adult fantasy writer too? Is it published? Would love to check it out too. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • November 2, 2016 - 5:19 pm

      Fit BMX - She has been so darn successful she can’t even remember everything she is great at! LOL 🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 5, 2016 - 6:04 pm

    Trish - I so know what you refer to with your statement ‘trapped in our own creativity. I use to do paid portrait sessions but eventually gave it up, something just didn’t feel right.

    As I launched myself into fine art photography, digital art call it what you may I had a sense of freedom and I began to realise why for me the paid sessions just didn’t feel right… it squashed my creativity I am now working towards doing shoots purely for my art which gives it a different energy with a sense of freedom and no constraints 🙂
    Thank you Brooke for sharing a part of you, that I identify with 🙂ReplyCancel