I have a confession to make. I've wanted people to like my art more than I've wanted to find my creative voice. If you're a creative or if you're not, you'll know instinctively what a problem this is. Creating for the approval of others is fear-based. I've called it other things, like building a brand and creating trust and a dependable product. There's definitely some legitimacy to this. From a business perspective, I am required to deliver a result that my clients are happy with or I will no longer be in business. There's two sides to this, most certainly, but the artist inside of a soul will die if you don't teach her that it's safe to take risks and make a creative mess.
When I jumped into photography with both feet a few years ago, I discovered something about myself that I really didn't see coming. I love business. I love the art of discovering what sells. I built my business by paying attention to what was selling and what people liked. I don't regret that for a second, because I found that I loved what others loved too. I don't feel like I sold my creative soul in any way, shape, or form because I genuinely liked what other people liked too. That said, I have this sense that it's time to make art differently. It's time to hold all of my tried and true creative processes to the fire and burn away the junk. I need to do this to grow. It's the next step.
I've learned so much by watching others over the years. I've followed the blogs, watched Jasmine on Creative Live, and taken in Katelyn's tutorials. I am so incredibly grateful for these beautiful and big-hearted educators who are so generous with their experience and with their very hearts. They give from the right places and for the right reasons. There is one thing that no tutorial, Creative Live course, or workshop can do for me. That thing is finding my creative voice. Finding your creative voice isn't found by observing others and it's NOT found in your Instagram feed taking in all the pretty. It's found by learning how to PAUSE and actually see the world around you. I'm beginning to wonder if making truly original art that is your own style doesn't start with unplugging. When you see the way everyone else shoots it, you shoot it that way too. You don't mean to, it just happens. On some level it's okay to show up and deliver a product, but what if we decided to show up for the reason we were hired in the first place:
For our creative vision.
For our ability to paint a picture of what we see in a moment.
If you are an artist, LEARN. It's great to learn from others and to pull from all of the resources out there. I believe with my whole heart that creative community makes us better. We are so much stronger together. God bless the internet, because it's given us access to learn tricks and tips that we would likely would never have learned without it. The internet helps us be better business people and it gives us the tools and tutorials and articles to be better at our craft.
I'm not sure it's always helping us be truer artists.
There are a few things I plan to put into practice as I continue to shoot this summer and fall to give the artist in my soul some much needed floor time.
- Clear space. Art happens when we slow down. Art happens when we TAKE TIME. It's not about carving out the perfect window at the perfect time. My best art happens when I follow inspiration IN THE MOMENT. I know it's not always possible, but part of learning to be a truer artist is to give the artist within you floor time when she asks for it.
-Spend WAY less time on the internet and on social media. You need to know that I genuinely LOVE social media. I do. I think it is what we make of it, and when we use it for good, it can encourage and bless people. I've been blessed and encouraged by others over and over again via social media, so this is NOT a rant against social media, because I'm a fan. BUT. I know me, and I know how I sometimes let a really good thing occupy a part of my life it was never meant to occupy. So maybe, just maybe, if you're struggling to find your creative voice, unplugging from social and plugging into your very real life that is worth living might be the answer. If you can get off social completely for a season, I think that's probably ideal, and I bet it would be liberating, but for a whole lot of us who are running businesses and using social media to market and share our work, getting off completely just isn't practical. I won't be getting offline, and I'll likely be posting as much as I usually do, but I do plan to spend less time browsing. One way to be intentional about this is to choose a portion of your day or week or month that you WILL be on social media. If you're like me, the second you decide you can't have something, you set yourself up to want it. Instead of saying what you won't do, decide what you will do. For instance, you will be on social for ten minutes at noon, and that's it...or whatever works. I'm working through how I'll be implementing this. One misconception about social media and internet time is that those who post a lot must be online a lot. That can be true, but often the entrepreneurs and good business people that you see posting a lot aren't spending a ton of time observing other people's news feeds. They post their content because it's a wise business choice, and they engage with intentionality when they are online, and then they get offline and back to making art. Anyone who posts valuable content online knows how much work it is, and generally they're so busy creating art and prepping new content that they don't have time to be stuffing themselves with online junk food. They're too busy doing the hard work that it is to make art and show up to their own lives. I'm preaching to myself here. I've been the worst of the worst. I love Instagram. I do. It is my giant bowl of ice cream at midnight. If you want to make better art, get off of social media, and go do something else. Live YOUR life instead of devouring the lives of others online. Living YOUR life is like eating vegetables. At first it might seem not nearly as fun and tasty as that big bowl of ice cream on the couch at midnight, but if you keep showing up for your life and eating your proverbial vegetables, you will be SHOCKED at how great you feel. SHOCKED. You know what else? Your regular little life will suddenly open up before you and pure inspiration from your everyday existence will whisper beautiful ideas about how you could make art with your life. It will be an idea you didn't see on Pinterest because someone else did it. This is how you start finding your creative voice.
- Try new things. Travel if you can. If you can't travel far, travel close. Wherever you are, there is a place in your city or county that you haven't been yet. Go there. Be an adventurer and instead of posting your experience to Instagram right in the moment, let your time marinade. Take your actual camera with you, and take the time to allow the place to speak to you.
- Take more photos and take fewer photos. Take more photos where you wouldn't have even brought your camera before. Slow down and take fewer photos where you would have taken a million before. Wait for your moment. This is a big one for me and likely my hardest of the challenges.
- Make art just for you. This can be glorious and wonderfully terrifying with its lack of parameters. Just go MAKE.
- Try a new form of art. I'm trying watercolors. I want to take a calligraphy class, but haven't moved on that one yet. Don't worry about being good at it. Just play.
- Pick a favorite photo of yours that feels true to your creative voice and have it printed. Make it a canvas or giclee print or frame it up. One of my all time favorites print styles for art to express creative voice is Artifact Uprising's Signature Prints. I love these prints so much, and it touches my love for minimalism and whitespace with its thick white borders that give your photo room to breathe. However you decide to have it produced, when you make that art that feels like you, it's important to turn it into something tangible. There's something about a photo in print that makes something feel finished and legitimate. Spend the money, even if all you can afford is a 4x6 print. The inner artist that did the work to make the photo deserves the recognition of simply having it accessible tangibly.
- Stop trying so hard to make it perfect. Let it be a little raw and untamed and messy. Make it wild. Keep it weird like Austin. Find risky. Push the envelope. You don't have to post and share it, but do make it. If you don't make it, you can't know if you'd like it.
I'll finish out this little rant with this thought:
Art is meant to be adventure. Art is an expedition into uncharted territory. Adventure means risk. If your art lacks an element of risk, it is likely lackluster, not necessarily in the eyes of others, but it will be to your eyes because you know you aren't being an artistic adventurer. It's not about producing something that is different from anyone else as much as it is about learning the art of exploration and being true in the way you communicate artistically by doing the incredibly difficult and courageous work of finding your creative voice.
Go be brave, you little trembling artist, you. Find your cave, find your life, and make your art because it was what you were born to do.
*Special thanks to my friend Christy. I met her nearly a year ago and second shot for her. I literally spent one day with this woman, but we've been Facebook messaging buddies since and her influence challenges me to be a better artist and she was the one who got me thinking through this. She's genuinely living what it means to approach art and life as adventure. Christy, you make me want to be brave, and I'm thankful.
(Photos from this post are a mixture of DSLR and iPhone photos from Pete and I's adventures along the California coast last year.)