Learning Through Creating

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Yesterday was the last day of Brook Shaden’s online 15 Day Content Creation Challenge class! I was delighted when I finished my final image for the class.

I am so proud to have completed at least one image each day for 15 days. It was challenging, especially when dealing with things life threw at me during the 15 days. Some of my creations were “failures” in that I wasn’t happy with them when I finished them. But each image taught me something. I choose to look at failures as learning and growth opportunities rather than feeling bad about them.

Learning Through Creating

Doing the work every day for 15 days no matter what else was going on in my life was hard. If I had not made a commitment to myself and had a friend taking the class with me I doubt I would have created an image every single day of the class. I certainly wouldn’t have created the variety and number of images without my commitment to the class.

Simply participating in the class taught me a lot about myself and the way I create. It also taught me about resistance (and how to overcome it), how different passive creation is from active creation, and about finding my creative voice (hint: it’s always there whether I see it or not, the trick is recognizing my voice and consciously expressing it).

Resistance (and overcoming resistance)…

I now understand through experiencing it every single day of this class, that resistance is one of the biggest obstacles to creating art. There are countless ways that resistance wages war on my creative work.

  • Resistance is the whiny voice in my head that makes up excuses about why today is not a good day to go out with my camera.
  • Resistance is the fear that whatever I create will not meet my expectations.
  • Resistance is the stories I tell myself about why I shouldn’t do the work.
  • Resistance is all the should’s that I fill my head with.
  • Resistance is the unnecessary comparisons I make with the work of others.
  • Resistance is my mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing, even though it’s not what I want to be doing, because I think that is what is expected.

Resistance is always going to be present (or so I believe). And the answer to resistance is to push through it, make a commitment to create, give yourself permission to fail, focus on the process, not the product, and get curious about and follow what brings you joy.

Creating art is an active pursuit of joy.

It takes work.

It’s not always fun or easy.

It’s not glamorous or entertaining.

Sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

Sometimes it’s scary.

But in my experience if I am being true to myself and focused on the process and not the product, I always stumble over joy in the doing.

The hardest part for me in overcoming resistance is simply getting started creating.

Here are some ways that I make it easier to get started. In the evening I make a commitment to myself that I will go out with my camera the next morning. I plan when and where I will go. I gather my camera, tripod, and other equipment and load it in my car. I fill a water bottle, lay out the clothing I’ll wear. I make it as easy as possible to follow through on my commitment, including telling myself that I’m only going out for 15 minutes, if that’s what it takes.

The easier that I make it to get out the door the next morning, the more chances I have that I will do it. For myself I’ve learned that once I get started I’m fine, so everything I do is aimed at supporting myself enough to break through the initial resistance. I find I do best when I make images first thing in the day.

I’ve learned about my resistance and how to overcome it by paying attention and asking questions.

Pay attention to your resistance.

What slows you down or stops you in your tracks?

What scares you?

How can you make it easier to overcome your resistance?

Who can you partner with to help you do your creative work?

Active versus Passive…

Because Brook Shaden built in planned topics to guide our creation during the 15-day class I learned something about my own creation process. I’ve learned this lesson before but for deeply ingrained habits like this I’ve found that repetition is often necessary to make deep and lasting changes.

I usually don’t have a planned theme or topic for my work. Instead I tend to be more passive. I go somewhere with my camera and I make images of whatever draws my attention, often looking for hidden beauty. Sometimes I simply take a walk with my camera.

There is nothing wrong with this type of creation and I fully expect that I will continue to use it often.

But it is a more passive way of creating. And it takes less work, less thinking, less digging deep than some more active creative techniques.

While I am working hard not to judge my more passive style against a more active style of creation, my experiences during the class showed me that a more active creation process is sometimes more fulfilling. It is definitely more challenging. And for me, it’s harder work, but I think the growth potential is also greater. By choosing a theme or word to shape my creations, I explored different kinds of creating, played with ideas in a new way, and discovered things about myself.

Active creation is more planned, more about sharing a feeling or an idea or a thought. It begins with an intention and a desire to pursue that intention without understanding where it may lead you. Sometimes something accidental  happens that feels like magic. Sometimes it feels like trudging through deep mud and sludge. I found some of my creations in Shaden’s 15 day challenge class grittier and darker than my images usually are. Sometimes that darkness makes me uncomfortable, but it speaks to the full spectrum of life. All is not bright, cheerful, and easy. It is the polarities of light and dark that make life what it is.

In the future I am going to intentionally plan projects, choose themes or topics to guide my work, and seek out more models to pose for me in my work along with continuing some of my more contemplative responding to beauty.

Are you more active or passive in your creative work?

Take time to explore the opposite of your usual approach to creating.

Finding Your Voice…

We all have an artistic voice, whether we know it or not. Once I mastered some of the more technical aspects of photography I began searching for my artistic voice.

What was my voice? How did I find it? How could I shape it, make it more interesting, more me?

I read other photographer’s essays about voice. I collected groups of favorite images and tried to figure out what they said to me. I stopped competing in photo club in order to listen to my own voice more closely. But I still had no idea about what my voice was. I simply did not understand how to see or “find” my voice.

Then some photographer friends began telling me things like, “There’s something about your images that are so you.”


Over time I’ve come to realize that, yes, there is something unique about how I approach my work and edit my images. I still have a hard time putting it into words, but it’s there.

The 15 day challenge helped me understand more about my voice and about how to make it a fuller expression of the full gamut of the human experience.

Most of my work is nature, landscape, and floral photography. I do very few portraits and prefer sharing beauty and light over more gritty, challenging images. I’ve become more interested and willing to explore more challenging topics and delve more deeply into both light and dark as I move forward.

Have you wondered about your creative voice?

Pay attention to what colors, words, and ideas describe your work.

You’ve Got to Have Friends…

Taking this class with a photographer friend made all the difference in my experience of the class and in my willingness to push through resistance to complete the class. Thank you Judith! It was such fun to laugh with you, bounce ideas off you, and get your feedback on my images. You helped me to broaden my vision and stop feeling like I had to create images like Brooke Shaden and many others in the class. You helped me laugh at myself and my foibles. And your presence in the class made me want to do my very best to every day.

The one thing that I find helps me more than about anything else is in sharing the creative journey with friends.

Be careful that the friends you choose have your best interests at heart. They must be honest and give you ideas on how to improve your work without tearing you down or making you feel bad. It helps to have someone who is about at the same skill level as you are as an art buddy. Laughter, connection, and sharing bring joy to the journey.

May you walk in beauty, overcome your resistance, explore new ways of being, find your voice, and share the journey with good friends.

A slideshow of the images I created during the 15 day class (including “failures”)

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