I don’t think there is any skill harder to develop than the ability to stay motivated. No matter what you are doing, taking photographs, building your latest MOC or writing the next great novel, staying motivated is hard.
I read this book many years ago and it was helpful when I hit a few creative rough patches. I thought I would give it a read again and see if it could shed some light on many of the creative concerns I hear mentioned by my friends on Instagram. Ideas like motivation, inspiration, talent and approval to name just a few of the common themes I hear mentioned in one way or another.
After the first page, after just the first paragraph, I wanted to scream out: THIS IS IT! I don’t know how I can express to you how good it feels to read this book. It is like having your favorite, trusted art teacher tell you all your fears and doubts are ok, that we all have them. It is normal.
Since I know you are not convinced, here are a few quotes from the first pages to tantalize you:
”Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The conventional wisdom here is that while ‘craft’ can be taught, ‘art’ remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so.” Art and Fear, page 3.
”Even talent is rarely indistinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.” Art and Fear, page 3.
”You learn how to make your work by making your work … art you care about — and lots of it!” Art and Fear, page 6.
Pleas don’t be dissuaded from this book by the word “Art”. It is relevant to anyone who is trying to be creative, no matter if you are a painter, a jeweler, a musician or a writer. The observations in this book are for everyone who wants to be creative. So I beg you, plead with you, to go to your local book store and grab a copy of this work of sheer genius. Trust me.
If you have read this book did you find it helpful?
Are there any other books you would like to recommend that helped you with your artistic doubts?
Today I felt like Angry Unikitty for much of the day. Whenever I feel like this I’m tempted to post cutting remarks on various social media platforms but then I remember the immortal words of Mark Twain…
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
This week has been filed with lost opportunities, missed connections and course corrections…or as I like to say, business as usual.
All of this made me think back to the book Steal Like and Artist and one of its more accurate diagrams.
I have had countless ideas that I have thought: “Eureka, this is going to be awesome!” And then as I start to face the difficulties of bringing my fantasies into the realm of concrete, ugly reality will hit. Yup, making art is never a pretty or an easy road.
This diagram is also a good representation for life, never quite as great as you imagined it could be, but not quite as bad as you feared.
So when you face your next creative crisis know we have all been there and it’s ok, this too shall pass.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams
This quote applies to the entire photographic process; from clicking the shutter, to editing the photo, to printing it out. The simple act of choosing an image to work on is part of the process. Each conscious choice you make determines the final outcome.
I prefer to do this the hard way. I tend to edit my photos twice, once using Snapseed for future Instagram posts and once using Photoshop for printing. I really enjoy using Instagram as a photo sketchpad. I like to test photo concepts and play with editing techniques all the while trying not to get too caught up in my head. When I want to print an image out on paper, I turn to Photoshop for more traditional photo editing.
When I am editing in Photoshop I want to try to capture what I created with my quick Snapseed edits. Of course when I write this out, this process seems totally ass backwards to me. Here I am with my big fancy camera and my big fancy printer and I’m trying to capture the quick, grungy spontaneity of an iPhone picture edited with Snapseed.
Needless to say this has been a challenge. This past weekend I had the most fun with my experimentations, but for all the wrong reasons. The filters I downloaded to play with are designed to emulate film stock. After applying them to my images I discovered something I have not seen in years…film grain! I forgot how much I missed film grain. In this age of digital images and pixillation, film grain is a thing of the past. But for me it was always an important part of my final images. When I enlarged my underwater images to 40″ x 30″ (that’s really, really large) the grain was so pronounced the photos became similar to a pointillism painting. I was so happy to make this discovery, it was like coming home again.
So needless to say I can’t wait to re-edit a few classic images with these new filters, add some grain and blow the best images up really, really large.
What was your happiest accident?
What is your editing workflow?
Sometimes I want to just pull a Vivian Maier and take a million photographs and never do anything with them. Just take the photos, nothing more. There is nothing so satisfying or glorious as the physical act of taking a photo.
For me the processing, editing and printing is a one long down hill slide.
My husband is always telling me I take too many photos. Or maybe I just post too many? He says I am too prolific and so will never be able to sell my work because there is no scarcity. Maybe this is true? I don’t really know.
But I do know that taking them is were all the fun is, everything else after that is just work.
I think Vivian Maier was on to something.
While I continue to mull this over, I have some pictures I want to post to the internet.
When was the last time you actually enjoyed taking a photograph?
How much effort do you put into promoting your work?
If you have not checked out the story of Vivian Maier I urge you to do so. It is an amazing story of a nanny living in Chicago around 1950 who shot 1,000’s of photographs and never developed them. They were essentially discovered by accident in 2007 after she died.
I was editing photos from this weekend’s photo shoots and I showed this image to my daughter. Her response caught me off guard. She said: “I like it, but why?” I looked at her blankly and she continued… “You have aliens on bikes and swamp monsters in swamps, why is the swamp monster on a bike?”
Personally I really liked the image but I understood what she was saying. What was the story? What was I trying to say?
I am continually torn between a good image and a good image that also tells a story. To me that is where the magic happens. If only I could figure out how to take photographs with more intention, rather than photographing like a blind folded darts player.
Do you think about the story you are trying to tell? Or are you like me, and just surprised and happy when it all works out?
Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. – Man Ray
I could spend my time explaining photography technique, talking camera gear or trading tips on editing apps…but I think a more interesting question is why do we (all of us toy photographers) take photographs of Lego mini figures.
I did not grow up with the toy, it is not a part of my history, it is not a big part of my cultural heritage. In fact I am probably one of the most inept brick builders on the planet. Think Emmet at the beginning of the Lego movie. My greatest skill I bring to my family’s Lego obsession (their’s not mine) is my impeccable sorting skills.
So what is so attractive about these little plastic friends? Is it our ability to project our own thoughts and dreams on the many different characters created? Is it a need to revisit our child hood and rediscover the joy of play? Is it sheer boredom? Is it a release from the stresses and pressures of life? Is it simply proximity and easy access?
What is your inspiration? What keeps you motivated and moving forward photographically?
Once you know this, life will not be able to side track you, no matter how hard it tries.
Ansel Adams, a piano prodigy before he picked up a camera, once declared that the photographic negative was like a musical “score,” while the final print was akin to the concert “performance”. – except from What does Art Look Like by Richard B. Woodward
This brought me right back to the conversations that +Me2 and I have been having about the pros and cons of printing your own work. Yes, printers are a pain in the ass and the ink expensive. Yes, you can send your files out and get a perfectly serviceable image back. But if you want to take your game to the next level there is nothing to compare to making minor and major edits to a print based on seeing a proof come directly out of your own printer.
When the world was only shooting in black and white it was not uncommon to have a dark room in your own house. With the advent of color printing this became unfeasible and most photographers where content to send their film to a lab for printing. Now with excellent inexpensive printers (a relative statement I know) plentiful, it seems a shame to send out what can be done easily in the comfort of your own home.
I’m not usually a control freak, but I find it indispensable to see what my images look like off the screen before I deem them worthy of showing and selling. Light, color, shadows, highlights all look different and once the image is on paper. I will often see corrections that need to be made that I could never have foreseen by looking at a screen.
So call me old school, but I agree with Ansel Adams and feel that to fulfill your potential as an artist you need to print your own work.
Go ahead and read the WSJ article I mention earlier, it refutes everything I just said.
In further defense of printing, if I had not enlarged this image myself, I would never have seen the spider climbing on the rock. This is a detail that can only be seen at A2 or larger, but in my opinion it makes the image.
I love chapter eight of Steal Like An Artist! The title is: “Be Nice. (The world is a small town.)” If you’ve hung out in the world wide toy community of Instagram for any length of time, you know how very true this statement is.
It is easy to be influenced by all the great toy photography being posted on Instagram, Flickr, G+, Facebook and misc blogs. I myself have borrowed an idea or two over the past few months; no one is above being influenced by their peers.
So lets review how to steal like an artist. (This handy little chart, from the book by the same name, is a great guide.) When you “steal” it is about incorporating, not recreating verbatum. If you take a great idea and put it through your own internal filters, it is bound to come out completely different. If you transform and remix your inspiration, especially if your inspiration comes from several sources, you will no doubt end up in a completely different place from where you thought you were going. In my experience it will be a better, truer place, which really is the whole point. Right?
Remember, it’s a small world and social media sites like Flickr and Instagram have shrunk it just a little bit further. So follow this guide and your work will flourish and no one will be accusing you of being that guy or gal.