Has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something you want to do? Or that you shouldn’t, or that it’s best not to?
This past week I had an idea to make myself look like I was covered in tree sap while hanging upside down from the most epic tree I’ve ever seen. In order to do that, I had to cover myself in molasses…or, as it ended up turning out, corn syrup.
On a micro level, there were many reasons why this wasn’t a good idea.
The sticky mess that would take hours to clean. Messing up my camera equipment. Ruining clothes.
I had a thought while I was planning. “You’re 31 years old now. When will this stop?” That line of questioning no doubt comes from countless sources, from parental figures to television.
The answer came immediately: It will never stop.
I will continue to pour molasses all over myself for the sake of art, or whatever else the art requests of me.
If we stop pursuing the little wonders, the absurd, the silly, the messy, the childish…
…We will lose our sense of wonder.
In my life, if I want to do something and it won’t do any harm to anyone else, I do it.
I don’t care if it is uncomfortable or difficult. I don’t care if it is easy or not. I will do it because I must prove to myself that I am all in for this life.
If we don’t pursue those wild things that are uncomfortable or difficult, our childlike desires will start to disappear. Just like a plan that doesn’t get watered, our imagination will die if it isn’t loosed.
I have known so many people who think I’m nuts. People who think I’m too childish. People who cannot fathom doing the things that I do. But at the end of the day, when those people see the process and result of my madness, they don’t think it’s so mad anymore.
We spend so much time making excuses for why we don’t do something. We come up with difficulties in our heads that don’t really exist. We prefer things to be easy and clean and sterile. We want certainty.
I crave those things too. I fall into long, terrible lulls of ease.
But I recognize them and I want more. I want to look back at my 31st year and remember that Friday that I spent covering myself in molasses. I want people to think I’m crazy. I want to stand out from the crowd. I want to make this life worthwhile.
You may not see the connection. How does covering yourself in molasses make your life more worth living?
It’s a fair question. And it has nothing to do with molasses – not really. It’s about doing something that creates a memory, about doing something uncomfortable so that you feel more.
What is one thing you can do this week that is outside of your norm?
Share it so that I can get more ideas of crazy things to do…[insert evil laugh]
I often feel that art is most interesting when it is most inconvenient; when you have no money, no location, nothing to spruce it up. It really comes from inside then instead of relying on the objects around to fill the frame. When you create from nothing, you create from within. As so many of us do, my journey into photography began when I had little resources other than a camera. I had no money, no locations, no props except for what I brought home from dumpsters (seriously though). And looking back, it was like going through a golden age of creativity. My imagination was working overtime to find ideas that could come to life without any resources.
This is how I started a career, with white walls and dumpster props, and how I still try to operate today. There are times when I indulge in bigger budgets or interesting locations, but for the most part, at least 90% of the time, it’s just me and a $5 allowance. Oh, and bed sheets. Because they make the best costumes.
Have you ever created like this? I’m betting yes, either out of necessity or interest. If you have, you know how confronting it is. If you haven’t, you might find it to be an exercise in style.
Creating from nothing allows us to explore who we are, at our very core, without any outside influence. It is how I found my style so fast in my career, and how I learned the camera without pressure.
This video is from 2015, but it’s a good one. Here, I create an image inside a cardboard box, since I didn’t have access to a room suitable to my needs.
Create something with an everyday object in a way that isn’t expected!
I think that we have an innate desire to put our stamp on things, whether that is as a person, as an artist, or something else. In my years of teaching photography, I’ve never once conducted a workshop in which no one asked how to build a recognizable style. I’ve asked myself that question plenty of times.
It is a beautiful thing to look at someone’s work and know, without looking at the name, who made it. Those are my favorite artists. Their essence is in their art. It feels like a natural shine.
As an artist, I have thought about this topic for years. What makes someone stand out as being original? What makes someone’s work recognizable? What makes mine?
Here’s the truest answer. More true than any technique in Photoshop or lens choice.
It is the way my mind works. The way my brain functions. The way I see the world. The way I create in this world.
If you don’t like that answer, you’re not going to find what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a certain technique to set you apart, stop.
Yes, they help tremendously. Yes, they can make you stand out. Yes, they are the medium that us visual artists exist in.
BUT, and I believe this firmly, there isn’t a successful artist out there who doesn’t have their art in their bones.
If you gave your favorite artist a guitar instead of a camera, it’s very likely that their original music would match their original images.
What we want our art to look like is in us from the beginning. From Day 0.
My art is not just what it looks like or feels like. It is the culmination of who I am – visually, emotionally, experiences and reactions and decisions combined. It is my expression of myself.
That is not to say that finding a style is instant. Why? Because we hardly know ourselves. The more we understand who we are, the more fluidly our style can evolve.
At least that’s what I believe. And I really, really believe it.
There are certain visual ways that my style has evolved. I used to create very monochromatic images, almost always indoors. I shifted from that to incorporating more color in my wardrobe and visiting new locations outdoors. I then started to get into more complicated composites, more detailed sets, more props. I evolved. And I am evolving.
If I had to choose 3 visual cues to my signature style, I would say:
Square Format Yellow highlights/blue shadows Painterly
There are more:
Feminine Dark Cinematic
It’s hard to define a style with just a few words, and not entirely productive, either. We shouldn’t feel trapped by a style, but able and willing to move in and out of it.
I used to fear my style. I felt stuck in it. But now I recognize that my style is mine because that is what naturally comes out of me. No matter what I pursue, it will be mine.
I hope you enjoy this video detailing how I found my style and a few different tricks in the editing room to achieve a polish to my work.
How do you describe your style?
How do you hope to evolve?
Last May I thought I had finished writing a novel. I wrote 80,000 words, sent it off to my friend Ksenia who edited it for me, and what I received back was a lot of red and feedback that I hadn’t properly written a book…just a summary of a book. And man, was she spot on.
That launched me into the most splendid year ever.
I have always valued books and writing above most other things, but truth be told, I wasn’t a reader. I had read books, and I’d read a couple a year, but I wasn’t really a reader. That was the problem with my writing. If I learned how to be a better reader, I could learn how to be a better writer.
So, when June rolled around, I started reading. A lot. And I can proudly say that in the past year, I have developed a routine, a habit, of making time for reading.
In the past year, I managed to finish 41 books.
That is really huge. I know it might not seem like a big number to some of you, and it might seem massive to others. That doesn’t matter. It’s not a contest.
What I did was dedicate myself fully to a practice that I knew would get me closer to my dreams.
One year and 41 books later, I am closer. That much closer.
Here is what I learned from my first year of dedicated reading:
You learn as much from bad books as you do good books. It is very valuable to ask why something doesn’t work for you and to incorporate that knowledge into what informs your craft.
The value of story structure should not be overlooked. I’ve studied and practiced seeing and writing story structure (mostly a traditional 3 act) and now I see it everywhere. When I sit with my husband to watch a movie we discuss it. I see it in TV and sometimes even video games. A story without structure usually just doesn’t deliver.
Outlining is my jam. I pantsed (wrote on the fly) the first draft of my book. By the end, I had a mess of partial conflicts that never got resolved, and mostly, no conflicts at all. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the outline for my 2nd draft. I’m a planner, always have been, probably always will be. No shame in that!
I’ve been given permission to use poetic language in my book. That was something I shied away from a bit because I thought that wasn’t how it is done. But now that I’ve read all sorts of books and really paid attention, I know that having your own unique writing style is exactly what counts for artistic flair.
I love first-person POV. I never thought I would, but “The Fifth Season” and “Red Rising” changed my mind. I’m a convert…though I don’t think my first book will utilize that.
My love of dark imagery is sustained in books as well as visual arts. Any book that can poetically describe something sad is everything to me.
The more specific the character, the more I love the character.
If a character has very clear desires, I as a reader desire that thing as well. When the desires are unclear, I don’t want anything out of the book.
Anything is possible to write, as long as it 1) makes sense within the world, and 2) moves the story forward.
I’m becoming a better reader! I’ve always considered myself a slow reader. However, and I should have seen this coming, reading is like anything else. It is a muscle, it takes practice. I used to only be able to hold my attention long enough to get through 15 minutes of reading at a time. Now I can get through hours. I read smarter, faster, and I enjoy myself more.
Books have replaced my phone. Well, not entirely. But, where I used to keep my phone by my side, I’ve actively replaced it with a book. Now, when I have the urge to waste time on my phone, I read in those micro-moments instead.
My writing will be heavily influenced by imagery. My first draft wasn’t at all image-tastic. Which is inherently weird for a visual artist. But, now that I see how great authors weave visuals into every sentence of their books, I know how to do the same. I’ve got some awesome visuals planned for my novel!
I am very serious about writing. I knew I wanted to be a writing, but now that I’ve dedicated myself to this craft in such a big way (it’s no easy task reading that many books in a year while running a full-time business), I’m more in it than ever before.
The best books are the ones that make me wish I lived in their worlds. I want to make a world like that, too. They are blossoming inside my head.
At best, protagonists are your best friends. At worst, they are acquaintances. At best, antagonists are tragically wounded friends. At worst, they are pure evil. Note: I love the antagonist in my book!
For those asking, my book is shaping up to be Fantasy, and maybe Young Adult. I was originally going to only do one, but it is looking like it needs a sequel or a trilogy. I’m already excited for the expanded horizons I will offer.
Here’s my really, really rough pitch so far:Twins are born into a world on the brink of death. Separate, their powers could destroy everyone in existence, but together, they could save the Tree of Life and all of Her children.
It’s a massive work in progress, and I feel no pressure to go faster. I am taking my time with this, letting my passion seep into every crevice before I start writing out each chapter. Until then, I’ll continue going on early morning hikes with my Love to discuss new details, writing my outline, and enjoying new books.
Here is a list of all the books I read this past year. I’ve put in bold my absolute top recommendations. If they are part of a trilogy, I only highlighted the first. The one that is bold and red is my favorite of the whole list.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these and which are your favorites! Also, tell me your favorite book! Extra points for fantasy or science fiction!
“The Graveyard Book” by Niel Gaiman “Myst: Book of Atrus” by Rand and Robyn Miller
“Myst: Book of Ti’ana” Rand Miller
“American Gods” by Niel Gaiman
“Myst: Book of D’ni” by Rand Miller
“Story” by Robert McKee “Sabriel” by Garth Nix
“The Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne
“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“Lirael” by Garth Nix
“Abhorsen” by Garth Nix “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” by J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling
“Good Omens” by Terry Prachett & Niel Gaiman
“Structuring Your Novel” by K.M. Wieland
“Outlining Your Novel” by K.M. Wieland
“Everworld, Volume 1” by K.A. Applegate “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin
“The Lost Years of Merlin” by T.A. Barron
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
“The Obelisk Gate” by N.K. Jemisin
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
“The Strange Library” by Haruki Murakami
“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“From Here to Eternity” by Caitlin Doherty
“The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” by Philip Pullman
“Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick
“Many Waters” by Madeleine L’Engle
“The Martian” by Andy Weir
“Pawn of Prophesy” by David Eddings
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly
“Down Among the Sticks and Bones” by Seanan McGuire “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson
“Mistborn: The Well of Ascension” by Brandon Sanderson
“Mistborn: The Hero of Ages” by Brandon Sanderson “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu
“Golden Son” by Pierce Brown
My friends, I struggle a lot with sharing technical information. Not because I want to keep it a secret, but because I prefer the focus be put on creativity over tools, on imagination over technology. However, I also love Love LOVE to share as much as I can with others, technical or otherwise, so that we can all be elevated.
This week I answered a swelling call I’ve been receiving to go into a little more depth about editing. This video is a juicy ten minutes of Photoshop explanation, philosophy, and the editing of a new image.
When I started photography I also started using Photoshop. I didn’t have a background in it, and to be honest, it scared the daylights out of me. I am not a technical person. I do not learn quickly or easily. I get intimidated and frustrated as easily as cake. But I knew that if I wanted to see my visions come to life, that was what I had to do. So I did.
I am self taught in Photoshop with the aid of my husband for the extra-technical bits.
This is how I believe I was able to teach myself Photoshop:
I only researched exactly what I needed. I never went to workshops or watched classes because that was information overload for me. Instead, I put an image in Photoshop. Then, I decided the one most important thing that the image needed, and I searched for that one tool. Little by little I was able to learn Photoshop, and here I am today.
If you are just starting out – with anything – remember to take small steps. They add up to a sum greater than we think possible. Nothing is beyond our reach. I have to believe that because my life is based on it. Little by little, our reach grows; we are expansive.
In the video you will see me use all of my favorite Photoshop tools, like curves, lasso, and feather. They will help me to…
Composite extra hands into my picture
Expand my frame
Add fog to the background
Change the light and color
If you want to learn how I edit in depth, I encourage you to check out my online classes.
I get a lot of requests to put full-length editing tutorials online. While I totally understand the request, for now I’m pointing you to my online tutorials.
Why? Because I put months and months of my heart/soul/energy/time/money into them to make them as comprehensive and perfect as I could for you, and in turn, it allows me to be supported in my art. I thank you so much for buying them and showing me that my weird vision is worthwhile.
What is your favorite tool to create with?
How often do you actively seek to learn something new?