Being Creative

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What does it take to be creative?

I used to think you’re either creative or you’re not creative, but I am learning that we are all creative in our own way. Just as each person is unique. we each have our own creative spark and style of working.

“You yourself are unique–you have ways of seeing your world that are unlike those of anyone else–so find ways to more faithfully express that, and your style will emerge.”
― David duChemin, Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

I also used to believe that ideas just happened. There was no work involved. If you were lucky enough to be creative, then ideas popped out of nowhere all the time.

“Ideas rarely come out whole. They change as they get brought to life. New constraints appear, new directions suggest themselves, and new influences come to bear.”
― David duChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy, When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created

This is not my experience in my creative journey. There is a rhythm to this journey and work is an integral part of it.


Being Creative

Do the Work

Show up and do the work every day whether you feel like you have a creative idea or not.

Some days will be a struggle and nothing interesting will happen.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

But doing the work day by day builds discipline, skill, and the possibility of creating something that you are proud of.


Explore and Engage in Life

Ideas don’t just pop out of thin air (usually).

Being engaged in life—exploring, learning, thinking, doing, being—leads to opportunities for one idea to spark another which sparks another, and so on.

“It is the daily task of the creative to be curious and collect dots. The most creative people I know fill their brains, their idea factories, with as much raw material as they can. They have voracious appetites.”
― David duChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy, When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created


Let Go of Outcome and Embrace the Process

Stop judging your work or thinking that you must have external recognition to go on. Doing your work is the only thing that matters. The joy comes from doing the work, not from external recognition.

Focusing solely on the joy of making photographs rather than on how I’m going to sell them or whether they are good or not has increased my personal creativity and joy. Ironically when I’m totally in the flow of the work is when good stuff happens, not when I’m trying for a specific outcome.

“Knowing failure is part of our process, and leads to new ideas, stronger work, and more honest questions, liberates us to peer, a little less frightened, into the unknown.”
― David duChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy, When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created


Feel the Rhythm

For me, creativity and engagement seem to follow a rhythmic pattern. Something inspires me and I become immersed in exploring, learning and creating. I feel as if my mind is on fire. There aren’t enough hours in the day and I never tire of doing the work, reviewing my work, and planning what comes next.

After one to two weeks of walking through the creative fire, everything cools off suddenly. I feel as if I’ve entered the doldrums and after a week or so begin to wonder whether I will ever feel the creative urge again. I go through the motions of work but nothing inspires me, none of the photographs I make are interesting to me, and I feel empty of new ideas.


I am learning to accept and embrace this rhythm. Like nature, we cannot be on constantly. There is a natural ebb and flow. If I show up and do the work that is enough. New ideas will emerge at the right time.

Rest When its Time to Rest

Release judgment and embrace what is. The fallow time is as important as the time when you are creating. Just like the seasons of the year, your ability to work has it’s own seasons and each season has it’s purpose.

Don’t give up during the fallow times and don’t seek empty distractions to mask your anxiety. Seek out fellow artists to work with and share ideas. Take a break if you need a break. Tend to other aspects of your life that need your attention and then come back to your creative work renewed.


Slow Down and Practice Presence

When I am stressed out or in a hurry I usually create crappy work, especially when I am photographing people. I like to take time to soak in the place I’m in, to breathe consciously and sink into a kind of mindful presence before picking up my camera. It makes such a difference in the work I do.

“Slow down, take time, allow yourself to be wildly diverted from your plan. People are the soul of the place; don’t forget to meet them and enjoy their company as you explore a place.”
― David duChemin, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision


Seek Out Spark Generators

I have found that doing a 30-day practice, taking a workshop, or collaborating with others sparks my creativity every time. Here are some ideas to shake you out of the doldrums and into active creation:

  1. Embrace a 30-day practice. Commit to making at least 1 photo each day of ordinary beauty, something your are grateful for, or ordinary miracles. Or use Doug Beasley’s Vision Quest assignment cards – pick a card for a photo assignment each day for 30 days.
  2. Take a live workshop or class. In the Minneapolis area, check out the Minneapolis Photo Center classes, Art Center photography classes, photography workshops at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, or workshops and classes sponsored by National Camera.
  3. Also check out workshops offered by Minnesota photographers: Doug Beasley’s Vision Quest Workshops, John Gregor’s Coldsnap Photography workshops on the North Shore, and Layne Kennedy’s workshops.
  4. Take an online photography class or challenge. Check out online classes offered by Catherine Just and Henry Lohmeyer, free video online classes from Creative Live,
  5. Make a photo outing date with a photographer friend or two. It’s always helpful for me to share my work with others and get inspiration from others.
  6. Take yourself on an artist’s date. Go somewhere you’ve never been before and soak in the sights.
  7. Go to the library and browse the photography books. Take home one or two books of photographs by a photographer you admire.

Most of all, be yourself and follow your own internal compass. Each of us brings our own magic to the work we do.

“The real failure is to rob this world of the contribution only you can make, and to fail to make work that truly gives you that ‘this is what I was created to do’ feeling that has no equal.”
― David duChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy, When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created

May you walk in beauty (and creativity).











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