My friend Rachel asked the question yesterday about whether or not it was weird that she feels most creative when she is sad.
My answer, absolutely not.
I feel like I create my best work as an artist when it comes out of emotional responses to situations I have experienced or topics I am very enthusiastic about. I am most passionate when I feel deeply about things, which is something I came to realize a long time ago about myself. In talking to other creative types, I feel like we are all highly motivated by things we love, and highly unmotivated by things we don't take interest in. It is hard to force creation in an environment of indifference. Art is expression, so of course creativity erupts in emotional times - be it sadness, joy, confusion, frustration, etc. When artists feel nothing, how can they create an expression of anything?
Sometimes artists struggle to find their creative passion and express what they want to say. Art school was difficult for me when it came to that. No artist likes to be told exactly what to create, but art school (a lot of the time) was about specifics/meeting project criteria and people pleasing (well, professor pleasing rather) and not about the open field of personal expression artists crave and think they should always be given. We were also "forced" to be highly productive, which isn't a bad thing, but you can easily get burnt out when finishing multiple projects for multiple classes week after week ( I can remember having to shoot 8 rolls of film, make 10-20 finished large prints, and finish a 40"x60" painting every week, or sometimes more. You know how many hours of work is respresented there???? I maintained a pretty rigorous schedule). Lets just say that after four years, I was ready to be done. I felt like I had lost my artistic voice. But yet, I decided to become a professional photographer, full time. Because I was going to be in charge of me and what I created - finally!
But, I have to admit, I discovered that being a full time professional portrait photographer had more things in common with art school than I ever would have thought. A couple years in, I was getting burnt out for all the same reasons I did in school. Of course I wanted to please my clients, just like I did my professors. Sometimes clients have preconceived ideas of what they want and odd expectations for what I should create. Simply put, not every client shares the same artistic vision with me, as much as I want them to. So, I found myself continually creating work based on others expectations in order to please them, because afterall, this was my job and I had to have happy clients to make money so I could eat three meals a day! I also found that sometimes, just like in art school, I was forced to create a lot in a short period of time. There are times I have shot 12 sessions a week during the summer and on top of that, I still had to do everything else it takes to run a business and maintain a life outside of work. In this field, it is easy to get worn down just from the amount of hours we work (regularly 80+ during busy months for me). I found out that maybe being a professional photographer was not as glamorous/fun as I had hoped it would be a couple of years into going full-time in the field. I still had to work within a "box", albeit a highly productive box. Darn it!
But here I am, almost ten years into this full-time photographer endevour! Given that everything I do goes against the fibers of an artist's personality, I should have had all the passion sucked right out of me by now, right? Wrong (duh, of course. Why else would I be writing this?) So just how do I find inspiration and stay motivated, even in the boring, emotionless, undriven periods of time when I still have to create because that is what my job requires of me?
1) Personal Projects
I regularly ask for models for personal projects where I am 100% in control of what I create. This is where I release my creative energies. When I started doing this a couple years ago, I also found that when I posted these sessions, people went crazy for them! Something clicked in my head. Why wasn't I seeking clients that wanted MY VISION instead of just a photographer? I am here to tell you that you can shoot for yourself, even if you are a commercial portrait photographer who needs to meet client expectations. Remember, when you create out of a place of passion, you create stronger work! People will fall in love with your vision and desire it. Don't sell yourself short. I won't lie and say you aren't ever going to have a session where you have to create something you don't want to, but find a way to put your twist on it and make it your own still. Your vision makes you unique and personal projects are the best way to develop a portfolio of work that represents what you want to shoot.
What's a blog post without images? Here's a couple of a stylized maternity shoot last spring. This is where my heart is right now. I love doing styled shoots where I help with makeup/hair, outfits selection, location, etc.!
2) Inspiration Boards
I keep a folder of things that make me happy. From pictures of roosters, textures, and colors, to photos of moody dark skies, when I feel blank, I seek things that will make me feel and want to create. Knowing what you love and incorporating bits and pieces into every session you shoot will make your work stronger and more desirable. I also suggest coming up with three keywords to describe your work and making sure that at least one of these are represented in every session you shoot. I get super excited when someone comes and desribes my work with one of the keywords I have created for myself, and if that isn't inspiration in and of itself, I don't know what is! (p.s. - mine are earthy, authentic, and soft).
Here's my current inspiration board...
Surround yourself with people that help keep you feeling motivated and passionate. When you spend time with people that suck the energy right out of you, it shows in what you create. Find a mentor and encourage each other and chat about your inspirations and art. Staying motivated and inspired means having people surrounding you that help you stay energized and refreshed.
4) Know when to take a break
Every artist needs a break. The biggest mistake I made early in my business was pushing myself too hard. If you need rest, sleep. If you need to take a moment to yourself, hit the reset button and go do something you enjoy outside of your craft. You can't eat, sleep, and breathe your business for very long without losing sight of what made you love what you do to begin with. Staying inspired means taking time for yourself, even when you think you don't have time to. This may sound simple, but it was a game changer for me. I call it my "sanity break". I may take an hour to just sit outside and listen to birds chirp. I may take a night off (yes, I NEVER use to do this) and just spend time with the people I love most who help keep me happy and inspired. You have to take care of you in order to have the energy to stay inspired.
Every session, I always make a point to do at least one thing I normally wouldn't. It keeps your brain thinking outside the box and it keeps you from feeling the monotony of your job. A lot of my clients always comment about how much more creative my portraits are compared to other photographers. And its because I am always trying new things.