Sometimes, particularly when I give lectures, I watch as a bewildered crowd looks at me with horror. Inevitably someone says, “your poor models!” and heads nod in agreement. You see, I put my friends through some rigorous photo shoots – nothing I wouldn’t put myself through, mind you – but nonetheless uncomfortable.

The way people react to realizing I’ve covered my friend in, say, wax, is almost always disgust…as if I did it without their consent, somehow. It almost makes me laugh, and we always get the misunderstanding straightened out.

Why yes, in fact I did have express permission from my model to pour wax all over her! “Oooh, okay then!”.

And so we have it again, another hair-raising story filed under “Things I Do to my Friends”.

I flew to Wisconsin to do two photo shoots for my death series called Samsara. What ended up being a $3,000 trip (more on that later) yielded no usable results, and I proceeded to begin my long, long artistic breakdown (yet again for another blog post).

But in the moment, it was exhilarating!

My friend Dave Junion in Wisconsin happens to have an abandoned train depot on his property, so I used that space to create in. Old, blank, beautiful, falling apart. All I needed was some candles, a table, and a candelier.

Unwisely, I brought the chandelier all the way to Wisconsin with me. I checked a bag just for it. It weighed 40lbs and undoubtedly TSA was concerned, but it made it through.

I found the table outside of another friend’s house in Wisconsin (you’d think I grew up there, but no, I’m a Pennsylvania girl). I assembled everything I needed, from a high-powered heater to a blow torch, candles, fabric, table, chandelier, and smoke bomb. All gathered, it took me a full day to organize with the help of my friends.

This was the test shot for the pose. We had to make sure that she could hold it comfortably enough for a lengthy period of time.

And then the torturous part. I asked my friend to lay naked on a table covered in ice for the better part of an hour while I slowly melted candles on her bare skin.

AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!

Here we are – proof of the laughter. Necessary so I’m not indicted.

We laughed so hard through the whole thing that I was afraid the candles were going to fall over on her body! I kept yelling at her to stop laughing which only made us laugh more, but I promise you, no one was injured.

The high powered heater didn’t hurt either, especially since we were in an abandoned building and it was 20 degrees F in the room. Did I mention it was February…in Wisconsin? The only problem with the heater was that it created two very different temperatures in the room and my smoke just tabled off at a certain height. I had to run around like a maniac waving cloth around to get it to disperse.

I used the window in the space for natural light, but needed to make sure it was dark enough that the candles had some effect. I photographed the chandelier first, hanging above her, then removed it and lit the candles. After I had some shots of her and the candles, I ran around the room with a lit smoke emitter so that I could get the hazy, smoky effect.

This image, an homage to classic paintings and particularly religious art, didn’t end up making it into my series. I ended up going in a different visual direction in which no locations were used at all, and the figures were more abstract than literal. However, I love this image, so on it’s own it exists in my heart as everything it was intended to be: a meditation on mortality (using candles to signify a vigil) and a look at the delicacy of death.

“The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli

I am often inspired by paintings, especially Gothic, and looked upon “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli as a great inspiration. The pose and the lighting played a large role in creating this image. Through the series, both what was not used and what is being used, which I will share with you at a future date, is inspired by Gothic paintings.

Next I’ll share the really harrowing story of how I hung a glass coffin tied to trees 10 feet in the air in a beautiful forest in Wisconsin. Until then, my dears…until then.

Model is my best friend KD who looks as though she’s stepped out of a classic painting, and we love taking advantage of that. She’s quite literally the best, and I hope everyone finds their own KD in life with whom you can melt candles on.

  • January 18, 2019 - 8:34 am

    Vicki Kurasz - This is so awesome. I love this artwork of yours and I also fell in love with “The Nightmare” the first time I saw it.

    If you are ever in Wisconsin again and need a free assistant… 😉

    Love that you have such a cool place in my state to shoot.ReplyCancel

  • January 18, 2019 - 12:07 pm

    Gallagher Green - I remember you saying that the table was covered in ice, but I hadn’t seen a close-up shot like that before, and there is really a thick layer of ice on that thing! I am cold just thinking about it! LOL
    All though I really do understand the photo not being what you want it to be, I really do like this. To me, it has that old masters feel. And it looks like it was so much fun!
    KD is such a great person. You know someone is a true friend when you ask them to lay naked on an ice-covered table in 20-degree temps, while you light them on fire, and they say yes without batting an eye! 🙂
    Great story, thanks for sharing. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • January 19, 2019 - 6:40 am

    Jen Kiaba - Even if this didn’t make it into your current series, I think the shoot ended up being worth it on many levels. Who knows, it may find a home in a future series. But I think the thing that inspired me at PPC when you were talking about these images that didn’t make it into the series was how willing you were to try and learn in the face of “failure.” I’m sure that mid-artistic breakdown it didn’t feel that way, but the emerging from that breakdown is so powerful. Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Also, I find it hilarious that people think your models aren’t 110% down to do these shoots. 😉ReplyCancel

This image was meant to be exactly what it is, but it wasn’t meant to be what I tried to force it to be. I set out to create a new photo series all about death. I had personal reasons for doing that, but that story is for another day, maybe months from now or maybe years (or maybe never). I wanted to break down the barrier between the living and the dead. I wanted to confront what scares us most about death and in doing so, become better acquainted with my own mortality.

Alongside an idea is always a technique, or in other words, the physical manifestation of that idea. How was I going to portray death? What would the series look like? How would it come across?

At the time that I began the series, I was in a transitory period as an artist. What I didn’t realize was that it was just the beginning of a two-year struggle to find my new voice and vision. Back then, I thought I knew exactly what I needed to do to take my art to the next level.

High budget productions, ornate sets, and models.

So I started building a new series on paper, writing about it and casting models. I rented a few abandoned locations and decided to give myself a one year timeline to finish this new body of work.

As I went on, it became clear to me that something wasn’t right. I liked the images, spent thousands of dollars making them, and on some level, was proud of myself for creating in ways that were a bit foreign to me.

But on the other side..the IN-side, I knew it wasn’t right. It can be very difficult to admit, after so much money has been invested, that something isn’t working. But that is the conclusion I eventually drew after 1.5 years of working on this series.

The problem wasn’t with the series, but with the way I was creating it. I realized I stubbornly tried on different ways of creating, hoping in the process to find my new style and vision. The truth of the situation was that I was relying on visuals and techniques that I thought would make my art better, not that I actually wanted to utilize.

It also turns out that I needed that whole year and a half to reconnect with myself. I had a very scary, very honest talk, alone in my garage, about what this series should actually look like. And when I reassessed, I learned that I needed to go back to basics. That the simple, inexpensive techniques that have always served me well would serve me well again. That I didn’t have to change everything about my creation process to do something groundbreaking.

But, that’s for another time. For now, I want to share the story of this image with you.

I contacted my friend Kyna to do a photo shoot. She was 6 months pregnant at the time. It felt like harmony as I pursued a series about death and she was about to bring life into the world. I crafted an image around her, deciding to play up the themes of life and death.

In a really scary moment, I decided to ask her a question that I hoped wouldn’t offend. I asked her if we might create art using her father’s ashes. He passed away a few years ago and I thought, with new life and old, that we could create something really meaningful.

Here’s the thing about being a totally out-there, weird artist: you attract like-minded people. She didn’t flinch at the idea, but instead welcomed it openly.

I booked a location, drove 3+ hours away to find it, and then took a 1 hour truck ride on the most treacherous road to get to the house. It was off-roading to the extreme. But finally, we got within a mile and hiked the rest of the way.

I spent the day before gathering ashes. I went around to some local campsites and asked if I could clean out the fire pits, which the park managers happily agreed to let me do (that way they didn’t have to do it!) and I took those ashes with me to our location. They were HEAVY, which was unexpected, but we somehow managed to hike with them up to the house.

I scattered the whole room that I chose to shoot in with ashes, and then set up tall black candles around the space. In addition I set up a light outside the window to create streaks of light, and kicked up dust to create a hazy effect in the room. I also bought an old bassinet for the background.

When it was time to shoot I asked our helpers to leave so that we could have privacy. It was time for her father’s ashes. It was years working to heal through his passing, and this was one more step in that process. She had the box next to her, and I asked her to take some ashes and wipe them across her eyes. She did, and it worked, but we needed more. Eventually holding the pose and getting the fabric to stay up was too much to keep together, so she asked me to spread the ashes.

I felt such an interesting feeling of connection and disconnection in that moment. Connected, because I was permitted such a sacred rite. Disconnected, because I could feel the bone pieces in the ashes as I wiped them across her eyes and I recognized what I was doing in its component parts; that something can carry memories, and therefore be alive in one way, but be entirely inanimate, too.

We finished the photo shoot and packed up as best we could. Hiking down the mountain, I remember feeling such awe for her and the amount of vulnerability to do a photo shoot such as this one.

She thanked me for creating something so personal to her, but for me, it was universal.

We all touch death. We all touch life. In that, we are all connected. She gave me a gift that day that I will never forget, and it was the gift of facing death (and life) in a way that most people don’t get to. To hold the remnants of a person in my hand and to be entrusted to create art out of it. To be told, through willing participation, that my vision is worthy of creation.

That is the gift that this image gives me. And to my dear friend, whose baby girl is nearly a year old now, I thank profusely for participating in and helping to create this story.

Though this image won’t live it’s life as part of the series I intended for it, I’m learning that sometimes the things we create have a way of settling into exactly the place they were meant to be.

Photographed in January 2018 on a Sony A7RII + 24mm lens.

  • January 15, 2019 - 8:47 am

    Dave - Such an amazing image and backstory. If creating it gave both of you a connection the universe, then it needs nothing else to be a success. Congratulations on pushing boundaries and taking the journey within, and creating something so healing for the both of youReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2019 - 9:10 am

    Tim Stephens - This is wonderful on so many levels! The seed of the idea came to fruition — from you broaching the topic with your friend, to the discussion, the boundary setting, the second thoughts and second-guessing that you both surely had, to the execution, the tear-down, clean-up, the post production — right up through to this blog post. You’ve given your friend one last memorable experience with her father. And told a tiny part of an important story about what it means to live and die in a world of deep connections — in this case, a connection that I’m presuming to be a profoundly positive one.

    But the image would still work even if he were her tormentor — or anything in between. Because the “true” meaning of the image is personal, subjective and unknowable to the viewer. It’s a gift to your friend that, for better or worse, can never be taken away.

    I think it’s important that we know the materials involved in its creation. Otherwise, the power of the metaphor and the purpose of the art is diminished. (I’m not sure exactly how that’s best accomplished other than with an illuminating title.)

    Not everyone will understand your purpose. But I do. Some will be offended. But I’m not. Kudos to you for exploring this idea. I hope you continue to do so. There is no more fundamental purpose for art than to examine our relationships with life and death. ❤️ReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2019 - 9:45 am

    Mikael - This image carries such an emotional weight with it. I could feel it at the first glance, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the feeling was. Through your story we are pulled so much deeper into this image. Anyone who has lost… Anyone who has brought life into the world… Anyone who has pondered his or her place in the cycle of beginning and ending… This image and its story binds us all on a human level. Thank you for sharing the gift that your friend gave you.ReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2019 - 10:06 am

    Franzi Zimmer - Oh Brooke,

    this teaches me so so much on so many levels. First of all the vision you had and pursued and made come to life is incredible. It is touching and heartwrechningly beautiful in so many ways that I am not capable of putting into words adequately what this photo and its backstory make me feel.
    But also it is just astonishing how brave and bold (in a super awesome way) you are to ask your friend to do this shoot with you. I probably would have shied away and if you would have done this you would have not given her the chance to experience such a profound moment to (in a weird way) celebrate life and death and use it as a kind of therapy and a memory that will always always have so much meaning to her.
    You never cease to amaze me and I am forever grateful for you putting your art, your heart, your vulnerability, your success stories as well as your struggles out there. Thank you so much.

    Much love,
    FranziReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2019 - 10:53 am

    Mikael - This image carries so much emotional weight with it. At the first glance I could feel it, though I could not yet exactly put my finger on what I was feeling. Through your story I was pulled so much deeper into the image. I understood the connection to the image. Anyone who has lost… Anyone who has brought life into the world… Anyone who has pondered his or her place in that cycle… I feel this image and its story has the ability to bind us all on a human level. Thank you for sharing the the gift your friend gave you with us and allowing that connection.ReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2019 - 2:39 pm

    Anna Bruce - Wow, Brooke! I remember when you told the story at PPC. This is definitely a really deep take on life and death that I would never have even conceived. This image is beautiful and gives me anxiety all at the same time.

    I am glad that you shared the meaning and story with it because it really takes it on a deeper level. I connect with this image on a different level which I will personally share with you some day.

    I appreciate you and Kyna’s bravery to create something so bold. Art is meant to stir emotion and that is what I love about your work.ReplyCancel

  • January 16, 2019 - 1:52 am

    JOSE Antonio Blaya - Es una historia realmente apasionante. Yo leí hace un tiempo un libro titulado Sobre la vida y la muerte”, y en el de nos hace ver la realidad de cual es nuestro existir. No hay que tener miedo a la muerte, porque los que creemos en el Mas Allá, la muerte es vida.
    Respecto a tu trabajo me parece magnífico y lo que me preocupa es lo que dices sobre el motivo que te ha llevado a ello y no puedes contarlo. Espero que no sea nada malo y personal respecto a ti o algún familiar.
    Besos Brooke.ReplyCancel

  • January 16, 2019 - 8:33 am

    Gallagher Green - I am a little late to this post, I was all consumed by some creative class I was taking on Facebook. 😉
    I can understand why did piece didn’t work for you in the way you want, but it is a stunning piece nonetheless. Powerful and emotional. But it doesn’t feel quite like you if you know what I mean.
    It does give an of life and death, it seems like a lot of art I have been seeing in the past few days has to do with death and lose. Which is odd timing because my Dad is walking the tight rode of that line, and has been for weeks and will continue for possibly months. So maybe it is unexplainable timing, maybe it is me reading too much into things.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. <3ReplyCancel

  • January 19, 2019 - 6:46 am

    Jen Kiaba - This actually brought tears to my eyes. There’s something very pure about the love and grief you’re portraying in this image. You talked a bit about the taboos around this image on IG too, but when I sit with the idea of what makes it taboo I realize that our connection with death and grief are so antiseptic. I think this was a brave piece, thank you for sharing it with us.ReplyCancel

If you know anything about me, you know that I am not all about spending a ton of money to create images. There is a time and place for it, but as a sustainable practice, it’s just not in the cards for me. And if I had to guess, it’s not in the cards for a lot of people.

One of those things that can get pricey is shooting underwater. It doesn’t have to be – I actually use a couple of inexpensive underwater options. For example, I opt for a comparably inexpensive camera for my underwater work (Sony RX100 III) which requires a smaller underwater housing because it’s a smaller camera. It works great and I love the setup. There are also bags for DLSRs, but that’s a risk you’re taking.

A few years back I started creating underwater images…without being in water. I love the practice. It always challenges me to think outside of the box. It challenges my editing skills. And it challenges my sensibilities about posing.

I had an absolute blast filming this White Wall Wednesday. I shot in one of my favorite shooting locations: an underpass. It was loud and weird and I hope you love the video. But guess what – for next week’s White Wall Wednesday, I’m doing a longer editing tutorial for this image!

What ways do you find to 1) Shoot around your budget, and 2) Create outside of the box?

  • December 5, 2018 - 7:45 am

    Gallagher Green - I have never created in an underpass, I have been to one but it is about 100 feet from an abandoned railroad that is made of stone. So I get drawn to that! LOL
    The biggest thing to help me create on a budget is your videos, you always have great ideas, and know how to keep it simple. It really helps me from wanting to go overboard, and if that happens I don’t have the money for a pricey shoot which just bums me out on creating. So, thanks!
    As for creating outside of the box, I have found to create inside a box! If I don’t have a “Room” that fits the photo, I will take a picture of a cardboard box from the angle I want, then add textures to turn it into a perfect looking room.

    I can’t wait for next weeks video, this one was great! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • December 5, 2018 - 8:16 am

    Stacy Honda - Thank you! This is so cool. I can’t wait to see how you put it together : )
    Have you thought of joining Patreon? I’m sure there are many people who would love to “subscribe” to you and support you a regular basis so you can keep making videos like this.ReplyCancel

  • December 5, 2018 - 8:34 am

    Turla Peterson - Thank for a very inspirational video Brooke and always looking forward for your White Wall Wednesday instructional videos.
    I learn shooting in a budget from you. Before I always thought to have a beautiful shot that is worthy to be hang on the wall you have to spent a whole lot of money. After seeing lots of your tutorial, boy I was so wrong. Now I venture in discount store especially thrift stores to find my cheap dresses and props. Very exciting most of time to find something so cheap and yet so beautiful to photograph.
    I tried to think outside the box when it comes to my shot but most of the time my images revolved in my life experiences. Emotions that I have encountered that I cannot seem to express, I can easily evoke in an image. I have so many ideas floating in my head right now, unfortunately all my photography stuff got packed and put into storage. We have move to Alaska and still planning how we can have all my stuff sent to me. For now I am happy to watch you videos and make a journal.
    More power to you and long life so that the next generation of creative photographer can benefit from all your creativeness.ReplyCancel

  • December 5, 2018 - 9:14 am

    Julie Corcoran - I created a panel of 15 images, on a prop/wardrobe budget of €50. This, I find, forced you to become creative, especially when you have to reuse props but make them appear different (different size, colour etc through post processing).

    I find boundaries/restrictions make me more creative then if I had a limitless budget.
    If someone gave me €1000 to create an image I think my head might explode!ReplyCancel

  • December 5, 2018 - 12:25 pm

    Paragon Moore - Budget: Local models often have the props and wardrobes. If not, I will take the shopping… Goodwill and Party Store has some great stuff.
    Box: I usually have an idea or concept. The the environment / members of the shoot / and what is around provides inspiration. An Idea comes up and then the collaboration begins.ReplyCancel

  • December 5, 2018 - 4:12 pm

    Anna D. Bruce - You are just the best. Before I even watched this, I was looking for underpasses near by to shoot in 🙂 You’re so much fun to watch. I can’t wait to make my first “under water” photo!ReplyCancel

  • December 6, 2018 - 6:11 am

    Stephan Ernst - Your underwater pics are really cool. They look close to realistic.
    I’m an underwater photographer, who has spend a lot of money in his equipment. But I do mostly low budget shootings in a pool and move the pics afterwards (in my post processing) to the sea (or phantasea…). So I avoid the travelling cost and can shoot “everywhere” in the world…
    I often create with my shots underwater sceneries which did not exist – my way of out of the box thinking.ReplyCancel

  • December 7, 2018 - 4:52 am

    Piet Cosaert - I always try to shoot with a smal budget, and I’ve learned that a better knowledge of Photoshop might be very helpfull. It helps you create things beyond every imagination and for sure it helps thinking outside the box.
    I will make an underwater picture this evening, but will wait for the post process untill next wednesday :D.
    Thanks Brooke for sharing all this and most important for me is all the inspiration you give us.ReplyCancel

    • December 7, 2018 - 4:29 pm

      Piet Cosaert - Now that I’ve made the pictures this evening, I can’t wait till next Wednesday :D.
      BUT with tons of other pictures I’ve loaded myself with a lot of other compositing work. I think that I took the wrong way in life to become an engineer…ReplyCancel

  • December 10, 2018 - 8:29 am

    John - Your videos are very helpful – both in the concepts and processing of the raw images.

    The only downside is I tried one of your poses and had to go to the chiropractor to walk upright again.

    Keep up the good work.ReplyCancel

  • December 11, 2018 - 11:37 am

    Vali Hawkins Mitchell - may sound silly…but simply seeing your name in my inbox reminds me to remain true to my passion…and your blogs are Light and Shadow and the Light of shadow and the shadow of Light. Which is where I find my own path. Mahalo from HonoluluReplyCancel

  • December 15, 2018 - 12:43 pm

    Steve Bunderson - You continue to amaze me Brooke. Your creativity is non stop and your creations really amaze me. Being laid up fighting a bad infection from surgery makes your daily posts something very exciting to look forward to. Please continue on this creative journey and allowing us to look over your shoulder. Keep up the great work.ReplyCancel

  • December 16, 2018 - 3:40 am

    jetti luckoski - Thank youReplyCancel

  • December 17, 2018 - 8:54 am

    Ana María - Hola Brooke, me llamo Ana y estoy fascinada con tu trabajo.
    Hace 4 años empecé con el maravilloso mundo de la fotografía y al tiempo te descubrí. Me encanta lo que haces y como lo haces, es muy difícil hacer lo que tu haces.
    En mi tiempo por la web iba descubriendo lo que me gustaba y poco a poco iba conociendo e, tu obra fue decisiva para ver lo que en realidad quiero. Te agradezco todo lo que me has aportado y sí, me encantaría poder tener el ordenador con el que trabajas ahora. Mis medios son pocos pero si tuviera algo así, sería maravilloso. Saludos y sigue con tu trabajo que para mí es lo mejor que he encontrado.ReplyCancel

  • December 17, 2018 - 2:41 pm

    Ana María - Maravilloso el vídeo, desde 1ie lo Colgaste en YouTube lo he visto más de 10 veces, estupendo.ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2018 - 1:55 pm

    Ana María - My voice is dark like my heart, I’m not going to say that I’m not happy, but deep within my queen’s restlessness, I do not find peace …ReplyCancel

  • January 7, 2019 - 4:03 pm

    Sylvie BB - I love and am drawn so much to your work, personality and teachings! You inspire and motivate me to think and get my creativity going! Thank you for being the amazing person you are, I appreciate you! ❤️ReplyCancel

The creative process. Is it usually the same for you each time you create, or is it different? Maybe even drastically different? Do you know what to expect or is it a surprise?

I work from routine best, so my shoots usually go to plan, or at least follow very similar steps. Here are most common steps for my shooting process, as you’ll see from start to finish in this in-depth video:

1. Brainstorm
2. Sketch
3. Write
4. Costume/Props
5. Set the camera
6. Test shot
7. Shoot
8. Cull images
9. Edit image
10. Share!

When I started writing that I didn’t know it would fit neatly in to a 10-step process, but there we have it. Creature of habit over here. I love comfort and stability in my creativity. I thrive in a controlled environment.

I often wish I was different so that I could embody more of a traditional artist spirit. For example possessing any of the following traits would be kind of great: wanderlust, spontaneity, or fits of inspiration.

Well, that third one does happen sometimes. But in general, I am predictable and even-keeled. That doesn’t mean that I don’t surprise myself, that I am not wildly inspired, or that I don’t enjoy a big adventure. Simply, that I don’t thrive under those conditions all the time. I love to work with a list, an itinerary, and a closely monitored clock.

I actually attribute these characteristics in myself to success. Because of my frighteningly equal split of Type A and Type B personalities, I can focus, understand my tasks, and get work done efficiently. But, because I am naturally creative, I have lofty dreams, big ambitions, and a wild imagination. They work in really good unison and harmony to create steadfast creativity.

The before image.

Steadfast creativity. What is it?

It is the knowledge that creativity will always be there.

It means not relying on inspiration to strike like lightning.

It’s cultivating what inspires you to draw upon that any time.

I don’t like uncertainty. But I especially don’t like it when it comes to my imagination. I want to know that it is a muscle I have worked so much that it remembers what to do in a pinch.

I think that is why I’ve taken such a step by step approach to photography. It helps me to understand my job, which frees up my mind to focus on more creative tasks. If I’m confused by my process, I can’t focus on my creativity. Plain and simple.

So, that’s my creative process! What is yours? How do you work best?

  • November 28, 2018 - 8:20 am

    Gallagher Green - I never used to sketch or think of anything ahead of time, but since I have started taking your classes it has all changed. I have over a dozen sketches since PPC, but some will take some time to execute.
    I love this photo and the in-depth video, I never get tired of watching your photo shoots and edits. I am going to go share it in my group right now! Thanks!

    P.S.
    Glad you didn’t slam your head into the wall, I was a little worried about it. LOLReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 8:21 am

    Omar Sierra - Hey Brooke. I admire so much your work and your creative process. Personally I´m trying to work in an organizational way, but I´m still being some chaotic when I create. I can be walking and find out an interesting scene or object, then I shoot. When I´m in front of my Laptop then could came some ideas to editing the photo. But I think I can be more deep in my work with a organization and discipline.

    Thank you for sharing us your workflow and your creative process.ReplyCancel

    • November 28, 2018 - 5:18 pm

      Gallagher Green - I have found with my own work flow became more organised as I created, along the my inspiration. Like Brooke said, they are a muscle, the more you use then the strong and easier it becomes. So create even if it feels unorganised and chaotic, and if don’t like how the piece is going finish it anyway it will help your mind get used to the workflow of editing.
      🙂ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 8:37 am

    Anna D. Bruce - Wednesdays are my favorite days. I have a very similar 10-step process for creating but #1 can really vary for me depending on the situation. I brainstorm when: I am asked to create something for someone or a specific project – I breakdown what they wanted, what symbolism, posing, wardrobe, colors, words best depict the concept and then go from there. When I create for myself #1 looks like this: Lightning strike! Go write the idea down! Then brainstorm what symbolism, posing, wardrobe, colors, words best depict the concept.

    One thing that has always worked for me is to challenge myself to create with an object/wardrobe (maybe even word or quote). I sit and I think, “Okay, what can I do with this?” This technique really feeds my need for problem solving and creating at the same time. I am not always good at “Okay! Here you are! Create” Especially when everything is unfamiliar to me – I get overwhelmed and freeze. I NEED to plan ahead of time. This happened to me at PPC. I didn’t know what landscape to expect so at first I was completely blank. If I needed to shoot upon arrival I would not have been able to. So, I mulled. I walked around, looked at interesting walls, locations then I mused through the props and wardrobe until something spoke to me. Then, I challenged myself to create with those items.

    I am excited to watch your video during my lunch hour. Hugs <3ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 9:54 am

    Turla Peterson - I love the way you break down your creative process. I have pretty much all your Creative live videos and I tried your techniques. I started even sketching even my sketches are so horrible. Most of the time my idea comes as soon as I wake up in the morning and usually stayed with it all day. In my head I start to plan what I am going to do and soon enough I will shoot or sketch. Pretty much all my images are product of this process.
    As easy as it comes it can fade also so quickly especially if I have bad dreams or just having a bad day. These lasted for a while and sometimes for months and I don’t know why. I just could not worked on anything and when this happens I tend to write short stories and sometimes poetry. Through my short stories an idea will come and flourish. Not a whole lot of people cares much about my stories and poetry but I just simply just don’t care anymore. I was told once that my writing is simply waste and my pictures are basically crap. whatever they might think it’s my creative process to bring me back to the state where I can create again.
    Thank you so much for sharing your gift, your visions and your talent. You have helped so many people especially me to go beyond of what we think we can create.ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 12:10 pm

    Chrystal Kelly - Hi Brooke. I think we all wish we were a little different, I know I do. Not that I wish away who I am but that I wish I had a little more of that right brain side(I think it’s right…lol) working for me, the part that’s more pragmatic, better with executive function…. but that’s just not me. Those things are really challenging for me. My workflow tends to be idea, sketch, too long planning , shoot, edit, sometimes share. And I like to sometimes make images right when I see something that sparks curiosity too, like I’ve been playing with reflections in puddles as a study on light and how reflections naturally layer composition and texture, it’s different then most of my more conceptual work but it keeps me playing in the world around me. Thank you for sharing your process❤️ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 7:56 pm

    Vicki Kurasz - I love hair toss photos, so thank you so much for this. I actually did the hair tosses for a group of photographer friends a few years ago (my hair is upper butt length). I normally don’t like being in front of the camera, but it was a lot of fun.ReplyCancel

  • November 29, 2018 - 4:50 pm

    Brooke Vega - Many artists and scientists are starting to challenge the traditional notion of artists as kooky, impetuous people possessed by a particular passion or genius is mostly made up. There is some fascinating research coming out about the neurobiology of creativity! Still, I believed in the artist stereotype for most of my life. I have always been a thoughtful, methodical person, and people always told me I was left-brained and analytical. So I got a degree in Economics and got a job in Operations at a tech company.

    But, you’re living proof that careful, disciplined processes fit just as naturally into a creator’s world. In fact, I think it might be even more important for solo creators or entrepreneurs. Creating as an individual grants a great gift of freedom and a lot of responsibility at the same time.

    For me, a lot of my process comes down to self-management. I struggle to create when I’m in a negative emotional state, and, somewhere in the course of my life, the voice in my head that doubts me got hold of a microphone. It likes the sound of its own voice.

    So on days when I have serious creative work to do, I start by getting my mind and body in the right state.

    The rest of my process isn’t as honed as yours (something to aspire to!), but I always start by asking myself to identify the 1-3 things that are most important for me to accomplish. What do I want to convey? What’s my outcome?

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your process! You have become one of my favorite sources of inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • December 12, 2018 - 11:00 am

    Georges Dutil - Love your work, it keeps me motivated. I don’t have your discipline, even though I’ve been an active shooter for the past 50 years and loving it more each day. I tend to go out and let lifes calling approach me with events and situations that require my attention and then, having started out in photography by learning from master painters and the cinema I will try and bend reality in that direction.ReplyCancel

  • December 17, 2018 - 9:02 am

    Ana María - Sería un honor poder trabajar contigo me encantaríaReplyCancel

  • January 31, 2019 - 2:04 pm

    Julie Jacob - The hairflip is my signature move so I love seeing this massive composite of it!!
    Way cool to see the entire creative process start to finish! I’ve never written things out like that beforehand but I can see how it’s much easier than just keeping track of all the things in your head like I do! Do you update that notebook then with the final images?
    I’m also super curious about the tool or method you used to fix the background behind the hair and behind your arms! I really need to learn this! Thank you 🙂ReplyCancel

“I Am Made of Stories”, self-portrait, November 2018 |  Available through my galleries at: www.brookeshaden.com/prints

Although the name of this post is a literal representation of what our video shows today (because I’m an early bird and I am constantly early to everything, including the sunrise)…it is also a metaphorical nod at what I really want to dig into.

Working alone.

And I don’t just mean physically. In this new video we take a look at how I work 100% alone when I go out on shoots. That means using myself as a model while thinking about everything a photographer must consider: light quality/direction, background, lens choice, angle, wardrobe, props, pose, exposure settings, etc.

But the video covers that pretty well. Let’s talk about the other end of working alone.

You work alone. I work alone. At some point, we find ourselves utterly alone.

Even if not literally – maybe you work in an office with people or have a loving partner or friends – but eventually, you will find yourself with a dream that only you has, and you won’t know how to achieve it. Your friends will think you’re a little nuts, the internet won’t give you any great answers, and you’re left alone.

That is the darkness I’m talking about. The want-it-so-bad-but-can’t-find-help kind of darkness. What to do? I think I’ve made a game out of working alone, or at least that’s how it feels. I’ve done it for so long and in so many ways.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve put together a list of what I’ve learned from being a professional loner.


1. Your mistakes will not break you.

The first time I wrote to galleries I was 22 years old. I put 100 gallery emails, after a ton of research, in the TO line of my email. Not the BCC line…And I hit send. It was a terrible move, the kind that many less optimistic people would give up at after receiving some very harsh emails back, such as I did.

Here’s the point in my telling you this. Nothing really matters. If you mess up trying to walk through one door, the world doesn’t close all other doors. I messed up a lot. I did stupid things like that mass email. I made prints and dented and scratched them. I misprinted. I broke frames in transit. I didn’t insure my pieces and they got damaged. I didn’t know how to talk to galleries. I wrote unprofessional emails. And despite making a TERRIBLE impression on a LOT of people, I still managed a career.

Please, please, I’m begging you: stop believing that one mistake will lead to your downfall. In my experience, the easiest way to fail at your goal is to stop trying because you made a mistake, not because of the mistake itself.


2. No one knows anything.

People look like they know a lot. People want you to think they know a lot. And some people do. About their industry, about their journey, but not about yours.

You know how we’re all adults pretending to be grown up but we’re not really grown up, we’re just pretending? What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about, and you really are a grown up and an adult at the same time? Well then, I misjudged you. But for the vast majority of us, we’re guessing. We’re playing this game where we look like adults and so we try to do things that make us adults, but really we’re children inside navigating a giant and scary world.

Don’t count on anyone to guide you. Don’t count on anyone to know your path. Just guess at it, like we do everything else.

Let’s get that straight right from the get-go. Yes, some people have been successful. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. Yes, some people make a lot of money. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. But if you try to pursue the same avenue they did, it won’t work. The more creative your endeavor, the more solidly you can expect that to be true.

Let’s take my journey as a fine art photographer. My dream was to exhibit in galleries. I asked around and couldn’t find any consistent advice.

“Make a ton of prints at once and then try to sell those over a few years,” one person told me. “Make prints as they are ordered and don’t waste your money,” another person said. “Number your prints out of 200” versus “number your prints out of 5″…and so on.

And yet, it worked out.


3. Could you please commit to being weird already?!

The most successful people (and I’m using successful not only to mean monetarily, but also through innovation and creativity) are people who did things differently. They thought differently, created differently, and dreamed differently.

You are an artist. You are already different – other, unusual, outside – so you know what it means to think differently. If someone said to you, “Your art is the same as everyone else’s art,” you would take that as an insult. But if someone said, “Your business is the same as everyone else’s business,” you might feel relief that you’re doing it “right”.

Something is broken in how we work. Artists should embrace the unknown in every aspect of what they do.


4. Stop searching the internet. Search your brain instead.

This will sound harsh, but think about it before you judge me:

How often do you reach for the closest search engine when you have a question, be it the never ending wait, what is that actor’s name?! to how do I become a professional artist?!, or some variation thereof?

Classes, workshops, mentors, Google searches, emails to professionals…it never stops.

What if you gave yourself a challenge that for one month you had to make every decision based on really and truly thinking it through with no outside aid, not even running it past a friend, coupled with a little help from your guts – your intuition?

Could you get through a month like that? I don’t think I know many people who are willing to make big decisions, especially about their creativity and business, without looking up something comparable.

I think this is severely hurting our ability to take risks and be confident in ourselves. We are so constantly looking for validation in our choices that it has become part of our habitual process. This needs to stop.


5. Failure to Fail.

I believe that because we are so unwilling to fail at so many things, we have developed an ironic failure to fail. Call it F to F syndrome. It happens when we are so afraid of messing up that we a) do nothing at all, or b) look for an exact roadmap until we start becoming someone else.

The shoe doesn’t fit. Stagnation does not become us. And the only way out is to make time to fail, and recognize that we will also, most likely, find the time to succeed.

I am most proud of my willingness to fail.

I fail at photo shoots about once ever 2 weeks or more. I fail at business attempts a few times a week. I receive rejection emails, I am told no often. I hear silence most of the time when I send an email out into the void.

Sometimes I end up covered in molasses half naked in the woods with no one around to help me and a picture that looks like crap.

You know, normal stuff.

And despite that…

No, because of that…

I feel that I am more successful than I have ever been, and certainly more so than I ever expected.


Listen, a lot goes into success. It isn’t just trying hard and trying often, trusting yourself and making mistakes. It is about producing great work. It is about developing a great work ethic. It is about learning and education – yes, take those workshops, put in those hours. But don’t let it be a crutch. Be great in your own right, not in someone else’s.

Today for White Wall Wednesday I celebrate this unique, personal, fulfilling and difficult journey we are all on. Today is another day. A day to say:

Screw this, I’m making choices for myself and by myself.
My failures will not end me and my successes will buoy me.

How will you proudly push
forward in your own darkness?

Leave a comment.

 

  • November 21, 2018 - 6:39 am

    Charles - Brooke I absolutely love your way of putting this in to perspective.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 7:18 am

    Turla Peterson - Like you I worked best being alone and by myself. I can pose the way I want, I can think quickly of what I need, and best of all my creativity really shows with nobody telling me on what I need to do.
    What really stop me from pushing forward is impostor syndrome. I always feel I am not good enough on anything I do. I always put myself down and self defecate. I am working on it very hard and my goal is at the beginning of next year is to put myself out there regardless of what might happen. It will be very very hard but I have nothing to lose and hopefully I can overcome my fear of rejection.ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 8:19 am

    Kristey Fritz-Martin - This is just perfect, and as always, it is like you can see into my soul with your amazing Brooke magic. I can’t even put into words how much I needed to hear all this! I have been slipping into a rut lately and I know the Sony thing didn’t help (that mentorship was like all my hopes and dreams tied up into a beautiful package with a bow on top) but I just realized that I already kind of have it. . . We all do. You are so open and giving of yourself and “mentor” us all every week with your inspiration and openness. You truly are such a shining light!

    Alone is my jam. There is such a calm freedom in not having to “perform” and just letting your imagination go wild and take shape. Thank you again for the reminder and priority shift!ReplyCancel

    • November 21, 2018 - 11:43 am

      Gallagher Green - Most of Brooke’s post are like this for me, she seems to always know what we need to hear. It’s really her superpower. 🙂
      I checked out your work and love it! <3ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 8:28 am

    Gallagher Green - Do you normally take photos in the same area of the roadway? I am just envisioning some commuter say “Hey look, camera girls out today.” LOL

    To me, failure is how the world works, all of it. Look at evolution, plants, animals, people, they all fail over and over, and evolution keeps making little tweaks and changes until success happens, this has been happening since the beginning of time. Who are we to now say “I can’t fail!” Fail is what made us all.

    I will take your bet! I will try to go one month without searching online! Of which I am sure I will fail at! But according to the post above that’s okay. 😉 LOLReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 11:36 am

    Gallagher Green - I forgot, as for being an “Adult” there is no such thing, and anyone who thinks they are is lying.
    I am nearly 31 years old and I hurt my shoulder a little bit a few nights ago while doing front rolls in the living room while swinging a fireplace poker.
    I was writing the last fight scene in my short story and needed to find out the best way to roll with a machete. I enjoyed the whole process quite a bit!ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 11:56 am

    Karen Olson - Brooke I truly loved your video today and post. Having just lost my husband of 46 years I find myself feeling very much alone. But your post has given me much encouragement, as always. Fact is, I am proudly pushing forward in many ways artistically and owning it all! I will search deep inside for what wants to come out and do that!ReplyCancel

  • November 21, 2018 - 6:36 pm

    Jon Miller - Hi Brooke, I found this to be most enlightening. I work alone on my art shoots, I find I can think openly and freely, i.e. without judgment. I do use a model on 100% of my shoots and it may take me weeks to get to the shoot date. I prep my shoots way in advance and discuss with the model on several meetings how the shoot will proceed. I feel it’s important that the model I use to understand my vision as much as possible. Yes, I have my darkness that I’m asked about both from friends and professionals (due to an injury, I cannot walk far (max 200m) so they have me seeing a psych, who has taken a keen interest in my work). I do enjoy working alone, I think it’s due to what had happened in the past when everyone had an opinion that was not in sync with me and it just caused problems. Do I fail at my shoots, of course, I do, but those failures are not negatives they are lessons in what not to do again. or lessons in maybe I was a bit short-sighted and failed to look at the situation from other angles (meaning not be so stubborn in thinking it has to be done from a certain pov).
    Bottom line, I’m glad to have read this and as always you have given more food for thought… thanks and have a wonderful day.ReplyCancel

  • November 26, 2018 - 8:37 am

    Chrystal kelly - Hey Brooke! Yes you are right on the money, waiting to do something right gets in my way often, pausing to often makes me feel backed up, looking at other people’s work sometimes gets in the way of my own creativity, because I don’t want to be too influenced, as if the purity of my work will be effected(that’s why I didn’t look at any other photographers while I worked to develop my own style). I often miss being in school we’re i was pushed to create and get criticized, because that felt good and not so alone, I had a huge source of models to work with too. So I say yes to your do not search for a month, December is my bday month and it will be my depend on my brain month . I stopped using myself as a model because I have gotten older and gained weight… I did work really hard to loose the weight tho I can’t move the hands of time back, I am gonna give it a shot again, for my bday on December 3, I will be ….more then 40. Once again thank you for your ability to make so many myself included feel supported and understood!ReplyCancel

  • November 28, 2018 - 11:42 am

    Jim Duffin - “Stop searching the internet. Search your brain instead.” This is my biggest artistic hurdle, so simply stated. Thank yo for sharing your thoughts.ReplyCancel

  • December 15, 2018 - 1:50 pm

    Ronald Stein - This has been an interesting series and I must say very enjoyable!! One cannot see too much to get ideas and then figure out how to use them. You are correct about thinking outside the box in today’s world loaded with wanna-bes! One has to come up with their own style and you sure have!! Thanks for what you do and give out!!
    Ronald SteinReplyCancel

  • December 17, 2018 - 8:58 am

    Ana María - Al principio pensé que todo lo hacía mal, después de ver tus obras y leer tu blog sigo intentándolo. Muchas muchas gracias Brooke.ReplyCancel

  • March 10, 2019 - 9:20 am

    Beata Rydén - It was a long time since I visited your blog, Brooke, and I´m so happy I came here today. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for your inspiring words!!! Much of what you write are things I´ve thought about myself. I´ve been quite lost lately, about how to make a living and in what direction to take my art, but I´ve started to realise that I need to cut the outside world off in order to hear my own inner voice. Sometimes I feel like all the outside noise makes me loose my inner voice. I need to take breaks from social media from time to time in order to tune in with myself again. Also, I think it´s so true that other people don´t know. When I started in photography I had so much respect for the people already in the field. I tried asking people about how to do different stuff but I soon realised that no one knows. There is no manual!!! Lots of love from BeataReplyCancel