Why? vs Motivation

“Why?”seems to be the question of the day. We have been asking it here on the blog and have been blessed by a handful of guest posts that answer that question from various view points. I was recently reading Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle and it is filled with artist essays that directly tackle the question of “Why?” from a Lego builders point of view.

In all the answers I have been reading there are plenty of similarities: emotional connection with the audience, expression of an idea, new ways to interact with a beloved childhood toy and the element of surprise at seeing a familiar toy in a new way. But is “Why?” even the right question to be asking?

Sure it is, if you are marketing to a particular audience; it would be important to know what drives your audience so you can sell more product. But if you are an artist, the bigger and far more important question seems to me to be: “How do you stay motivated?”

How does the creative individual stay motivated to get up everyday and strive to make something new. How does an artist keep creating day after day in relative anonyminity. No matter what your creative tools may be (a camera, lego bricks or your words), how do you keep going day after day pursuing an activity that will bring you only intangible rewards?

Of all the responses we have had so far to the question “Why?” I think that Legojacker was the closest to addressing the more important question: How do you stay motivated?

~ xxsjc

So what DOES it take to stay motivated? 

Challenge yourself

I am heading home after a five day adventure in the Moab region of Utah.
Four of those days involved photographing lego with decidedly mixed results.
I realized I was outside my comfort zone shooting in harsh light, with rocks and sparse vegetation as my only textures. Photographing in the lush Pacific Northwest with its mossy rocks and dappled sunlight seems like a walk in the park by comparison.

I love this area for its grand views, it’s sure subtlety of color and apocalyptic nature.
But how in the world do I translate that to the macro world?

Let’s just say I struggled with decidedly mixed results. 
But isn’t that the nature of growth, to challenge ourselves?
To learn from our mistakes?
To play outside our comfort zone? 
I’m very excited by tomorrow’s guest post.
He’s an artist that continually challenges himself with different techniques and also challenges the viewer with his message.

Stay tuned! 

~ xxsjc

Is it Worth Doing?

It seems Me2 isn’t the only one fond of posing questions: 

“Writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artists work. The first two were disarmingly straightforward: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he/she succeed? The third`s a zinger: Was it worth doing?” ~ excerpt from Art & Fear

And that is the crux of the problem right there. I think I ask myself this question in some way everyday. Art isn’t about making pretty pictures, it’s not about perfect technique…art needs to go behind that. 

Certainly by embracing a small plastic toy peddled by one of the largest toy companies in the world makes me suspect my own abilities to move beyond these impediments. How do you challenge the status quo or capture a moment in time when you are essentially free advertising for Big inc.

Me2 posed a question awhile back that hit me hard and I’ve been unable to answer: would I exhibit my work in Shell Oil`s boardroom?  Honestly I don’t know?  I’d like to think I have high moral standards, but I’m a realist. Would it move my work to the next level? Could the work be a form of protest? Could I generate controversy and get the work to a larger audience? Or am I just fooling myself and selling myself to the highest bidder?

Right now I know I’m not challenging myself enough in terms of content. I’ve achieved my original technical goals and can confidently capture whatever scene I set up. But it’s time for me to take the next step and challenge both myself and the viewer. 

When I look at a finished image I want to be able to answer “Yes” when I ask that third question: “Was it worth doing?”

~ xxsjc

The Long View

Unlike +Me2 I am not ready to let go of summer and head to frozen Pluto. So before I rush head long into the future, I have one last summer post to get out of my system. Please bear with me. 

A little souvenir we picked up at the gift shop nestled in some freshly planted moss. 


I have a hard time separating my artistic life from my every day life. The overlap is so great it can be hard to differentiate. I don’t need to be a good artist to be an engaged mother or visa versa. But sometimes my two selves come together in unexpected ways.

A few weeks ago my kids and I took a road trip to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother-in-law who is working there for a couple of months. We decided to meet at the Portland Japanese Garden a place none of us had been before. My son and I were awe struck the instant we arrived.

We were the worst guests possible as we excitedly pointed out that cool bamboo fence, were awe struck by the amazing water features, admired the use of white crushed rocks, checked out the incredibly pruned Japanese maple trees or exclaimed at the reflections on the water. You get the idea. 

Did I tell you about the moss? OMG, the moss! Entire carpets of the lovely stuff…under trees, growing on rocks, growing everywhere! The garden is a beautiful, serene and wonderfully spiritual place. It is one that both Noah and I want to go back to and view during the different seasons. There is much to explore in this truly special place and we babbled about it all the way home.

The next day Noah and I started transforming our own backyard into a mini Japanese garden. We trimmed trees, pruned shrubs, hacked at vines and created a nearly blank slate to work from. We also hauled bags and bags of debris out of our yard. Then we scampered off to the nursery for moss and shade plants to help us realize our vision.

We still have to add a few rocks for accent, build bamboo fencing (harvested from our own bamboo) and create paths to protect our existing moss. But we are on our way. Of course we will need to be patient, it is going to take a few years for this project to start taking shape. But we are the patient types. 

You are probably wondering what this has to do with my photography. In addition to exploring my city through macro photography I also take many of my Lego photos in my own yard. I consider our hard efforts in the last few weeks as an investment in my own personal outdoor photo studio. Maybe a little more curated than it once was, but there will still be plenty of lovely moss and rocks to create interesting set ups.

And like all great art projects, we are taking the long view. 

~ xxsjc

What was your favorite photographic related memory from this summer?
Do you plan your photos hours, days or years in advance?

Art Reflects the Present

The other day I was feeling my usual bout of anxiety and doubt… Why am I doing this? My work is crap! You know, that kind of stuff. So I turned to my trusty copy of “Art and Fear” to find some words of consolation. I found words of encouragement and so much more.

In particular this passage really struck a cord:

“That’s also to say that usually – but not always – the piece you produce tomorrow will be shaped, purely and simply, by the tools you hold in your hand today.”

Of course the author was thinking more along the lines of painting materials like egg tempera, oils and acrylics. But can’t the same analogy be made for the rise of toy photography?

We are surrounded by plastic toys in the form of cheap imports from China, give aways at restaurants, movie tie ins and of course whatever we might have saved from our own childhoods. It seems that with all of these toys clambering for our attention something was bound to happen.

When the ubiquitous camera phone was combined with social media (especially Instagram), a movement was born. I know we are a niche group, and a small one at that, but the creativity exhibited by some of these photographers is awe inspiring. There is craftsmanship, social awareness and special effects being employed to create some very memorable images. 

I’m certainly not implying we are producing anything new. We have already seen with our previous guest posts that there are always pioneers in any field. But what we have now is a far greater range of styles and toys being used.

We will be hearing from a few of these new breed of toy photographers in the weeks ahead as we explore this amazing and creative movement we affectionately refer to as being Stuckinplastic.

~ xxsjc

Are there other influences that have created and shaped this toy photography movement? 

The Best Laid Plans…

Today did not go according to plan.

I was supposed to work; it’s Monday and normally I am chained to my desk. I had a great blog post I wanted to write about Big Inc plus my to-do list is a mile long. But I didn’t do any of that.

I played hooky.

Or to be exact, I grabbed my mini figures, camera and headed into the mountains for a lovely hike with a friend. The day was beautiful, the photo gods were smiling on me and I even got back in time to pick up my son from school. It was a glorious day.

I guess this is why I don’t work for Big Inc.

~ xxsjc

Stay tuned, tomorrow we will post another amazing guest blog on the universal question of  “Why?

Another Point of View

Psst… want to know a secret?

+Me2 and I have been working together for nine months and have only talked once on the phone. All communications have been through Kik, this blog and an occasional e-mail. If you know anything about communication then you know this is a very limited palette.

Sometimes I think that +Me2  and I see eye to eye and then he posts a piece like yesterday and I know we don’t. Don’t get me wrong, we have much in common, more than we can both properly express. But we arrive at our mutual love of legography from such different roads it is almost laughable.

I have never worked for Big Inc. the closest I have gotten to a real job was a four year stint in an arts non-profit. I have been out of the corporate work force for so long that when +Me2 starts expressing business concepts I feel that he is speaking another language.

I am really trying not to take offense at this choice bit:

I feel a drive to take pictures and work my “art” but I need the touch with reality and big Inc. to feel that same reality and feel the power balance and not just live in my ivory tower seeking for inner beauty just within myself.

Seriously is this how he views artists? I am sure you can find this stereo type practicing their art somewhere, but I am pretty sure I can lift the lid off any corporate hive and find similarly delusional individuals. They are not limited to the arts world.

Any artist who can count themselves as successful (by which I mean they can pay their bills) has been playing the business game just like any Big Inc. The scope might be smaller, but the spreadsheets, meetings, budgets, advertising campaigns, search for marketshare is no different. We just get the work done without the buzzwords.

Maybe +Me2 and I need to pick up the phone more because something seems to have been lost in translation.

~ xxsjc

After this post I wonder if +Me2 and I will make it another 9 months?
An interesting article on Art graduates and income from the WSJ. 

I was surprised to run into this little Chima bird when I went hiking this weekend. A welcome sight after a tough hike

What is in a Name?

Sometimes an unusual social media handle means nothing, sometimes it means everything.

Take xxsjc for example. It’s a mouthful, it does not roll off the tongue easily and it makes no sense, but it has been my handle since the early days of Twitter. You know, back when people actually talked to each other, before Twitter became a fire hose of self promotion. It is an amalgamation of a person who introduced me to Twitter and my own initials. It is also a nod to the scantily clad women that I used to photograph. But over the years it has taken on a larger and deeper meaning for me.

You see I am not a nice person. I know I look like one and I act like one…most of the time. But deep-down, and in my not so distant past, you will find many examples of the mean s.o.b. that I really am.  My kids like to call those times when I really get pissed off as “when the masks slip”. My daughters current boyfriend is scared to death of me and honestly most of my current friends had to take a real leap of faith to embark on the road to friendship with me.

xxsjc is a play on the more common “xo” used in conjunction with a signature when conversing with a good friend or a loved one. For me using the xx before my name is a reminder to play nice with others, to spread good will and to leave this community a better place than how I found it. Playing with toys has been very good for me and helps me to be the person I want to be. I know I will have achieved my goal when the person behind the mask and the mask become one.

~ xxsjc

Does your Instagram / social media name have any special meaning?

Image by @BigToyPoo

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

It would be hubris to think that what we are doing with toys and photography is any way new. No matter how innovative you may be, there is always someone who has done it before. Sometimes we know who these people are, sometimes we don’t.

This is true in art, music, business, even Lego…just about anything that involves creation and innovation.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room to find your own way. To acknowledge those who came before you as you move into the future is not only a matter of respect, it’s a smart decision. It says I know who I am, who’s shoulders I have climbed on and that I realize there will be others who come after me. It’s also the honorable thing to do.

I love this quote by Pharrell Williams

Some people say there’s nothing new under the sun. I still think that there’s room to create, you know. And intuition doesn’t necessarily come from under this sun. It comes from within.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I first saw Brett Westin’s underwater nude’s I knew I wanted to do the same thing. But the simple act of dealing with my own limitations in terms of talent and resources created results very different from his. This is how new things are created – old ideas run through the filter of a new artist.

So no matter if you are taking pictures of flowers, kittens, Lego or dinosaurs… look for your inspiration from within and you will create something new. In the mean time, don’t forget those early innovators who paved the way for us all.

~ xxsjc

“There is nothing new under the sun, not even dinosaurs.” ~ +Me2