No One Ever Said This Would Be Easy

Did you take the time to listen to the TED talk suggested by +Me2 yesterday? I did and I was mildly amused by Sting and his talk. Maybe I was not as taken by it as Me2, but that can be explained by the fact I was also working.

I think it is important to realize that every artist struggles with the artistic process. No matter if you are a multi platinum musician who makes enough off his royalties to live in a chateau and grow his own grapes or the beginning photographer. The creative issues are the same if not the income stream.

So, yes we are all in similar (I will never say: “the same”) boats. The goal is to make relevant art that speaks to who ever might view, listen or read our creative works. There is no magic formula to success, I wish there was. But I do know that if you speak from the heart and are true to your own voice you will make a connection with your audience.

I think it was interesting that Sting had to go back to his roots, the ones he had been denying, to find the motivation and his voice again. Sometimes you have to go to the dark places, the places you want to avoid to do the work that needs to be done. I think the trick is to take your viewers on your journey with you, but still allow them to find themselves in what you are saying. To be personal, but still universal.

By creating honest work we will find ourselves a little closer to the answers and hopefully maintain our inspiration.

~ xxsjc

Where do you get your inspiration?

I leave you with a song by one of the bands that has inspired me the most: Cloud Cult. They managed to take a personal tragedy and create some of the most beautiful music while working through the pain.   Craig Minowa is a testament to the “Art Saves Lives” motto. Remember: no one ever said this would be easy. 


Staying Motivated is Hard to Do

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.

It’s easy to get distracted by day to day obligations, or worse yet just quitting altogether, because creating art is hard. But there is a trick to not quitting, make friends with people who share your passion. Surround yourself with supportive excited people who like to do what you do. Get together on a regular basis and share what you’ve been working on. Geek out, it’s fun!
I know that toy photography is a rather specialized photo niche and Instagram can be a great substitute for a local photo club. It can function like the most amazing and supportive group of fellow photographers you could ever hope for. Plus by getting in the habit of posting once a day, every other day or whatever you can commit to, you will be getting better just by shooting consistently. It is also a great place to make friends who share your passion for toy photography.  
So get out there and shoot some photos with your camera, your phone, your fancy DSLR…it doesn’t matter what the photo looks like. Some days your photos will be awesome, other days, not so much. It goes with the territory. Post your photo to Instagram, get some feed back and do it again tomorrow. It’s doing the work that is important. Of course the real fun begins when you look back over your feed and see how much you have grown. 
And THAT will feel much better than quitting. 
Do you find it hard to stay motivated?
How do you stay motivated

Art & Fear, You Are Not Alone

While you are trying to figure out what European City +Me2 is currently in, I want to distract you with a book recommendation:

 Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orlando.

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.

~ xxsjc

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?

My Unikitty Alter Ego.

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.”

Words to live by.
~ xxsjc
Have you ever posted something you regretted to a social media site?
Have you ever read something posted by someone else that really pissed you off? 
Do you try to be a positive influence on social media sites or just speak your mind? 

Building Community (One of the Hardest Job You Will Ever Love)

I’ve been thinking a lot about community this past week. As I have mulled over my limited time resources and the energy it takes to move any project forward, I actually contemplated shutting down Brickcentral on Instagram. It has been saved from the chopping block for the foreseeable future by the willingness of wonderful new volunteer.

Back in the early days of the social media frenzy you heard so much about “creating a brand” to sell yourself or your product. That drum beat has changed to the “build your community” chant. It has not escaped my notice that the majority of experts who extol the virtues of an on-line community are men. I think there is a very good reason for this: most women build community naturally and don’t need a name for what we already do. We just call it something else: making connections or simply making friends.

Community is an incredibly hard thing to create and maintain. It is an ephemeral and constantly shifting set of personalities and priorities. At least that has been my experience. What might be true one month won’t be what the community needs six months later. It’s a very complex friendship that needs lots of attention.

For most people delving into this community building quicksand is not a possibility; most people have jobs, families and more important priorities than creating an on line community. But when the community falls silent a hole is left. Maybe it will be noticed, maybe it won’t.

I have no answers as to the why people crave “community”, especially one as specialized as ours, yet they do. I see this desire all the time when I post on Brickcentral and the comments often include a “thank you for being here” sentiment.

I hope this doesn’t sound critical, because it isn’t meant to be. In my own experience creating, nurturing this online community of LEGO photography enthusiasts has been an incredible experience that has enriched my life immensely. I plan on sticking with it, probably longer than I should, and on the way I will keep thumbing my nose at the “experts” who talk about community building as if it was something you can do in your spare time. You don’t create friends and family in your spare time.

~ xxsjc

Do you converse with your followers wherever you post your photos?
Have you made any friends through social media?
Is creating friends and community an important aspect of your social media participation?

I seriously want to know what you think. I would love it if you could take the time to comment on the social media platform of your choice. 

The Basics (pt 2)

I did a post for the Instagram Group Brickcentral a few months ago passing along a few tips for better outdoor macro photography. I thought it might be a good idea to go over these tips again to make sure we are all on the same page as we move forward to better photography. 
 
1) Pay attention to scale – the beauty is in the details. This is especially true with macro photography. You can reveal a new and fresh look at our world by getting up close. 
 
2) Keep your composition simple. To place maximum attention on your subject you will want to eliminate unwanted clutter. This includes small leaves, pine needles, bits of garbage, stray grass…these seemingly little things will distract from your composition. You want to emphasize what is important, minimize everything else. 
 
3) Take your time. Take lots of photos of the same set-up and check your view screen to make sure you got what you were looking for. Great photos can’t be rushed.  
 
4) Keep the camera level. Ok I admit it, this is a personal pet peeve. In my opinion crooked horizon lines are only interesting once. 
 
5) Use the “rule of thirds”to help your composition. (Please see earlier post for a full explanation.) 
 
6) Use a tripod. Even though hand held is convenient, you can’t always maintain good focus. You will also want to use the manual focus setting on your camera. Most cameras have a very hard time finding the correct focus point much less maintaining that focus on these small figures. If you have the money, invest in a lens with Image Stabilization.
 
7) Change your perspective. If you’re struggling with your set up, change your point of view. Sometimes an unforeseen angle is the best one. Also try to get below your figure. When shooting these small toys, I find that shooting up at them seems to help them feel more majestic. 
 
8) Take advantage of the “golden hour”. This is the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. Amazing things can happen!
 
9) Experiment. Try different things, try things that make you uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to push yourself. 

~ xxsjc

Do you have any tips you would like to pass along?
Where is your favorite place to photograph your toy friends?


Next up I will share a few tips especially suited for macro photography. Stay tuned

The Basics (pt 1)

Sometimes when I am on Instagram and I see people use certain photo terms I am occasionally left scratching my head and going “Huh?” I never know if it is a case of ignorance or if something is simply lost in translation. So in the interest of clarity I thought I should do a quick explanation of a few basic photo terms so we are all on the same page.

Rule of Thirds: Is simply a guideline to help you compose your photograph. If you view each frame as if is divided into nine section (almost all cameras and phones come with these guidelines that can be easily turned on or off) composing a photo is easier. There is a top, middle and bottom third as well as a left, middle and right third to each phot. The points were these lines intersect are referred to as “power points”. When you are composing an image you want to align your horizon line along the top or bottom third line as well as place your subject near one of the power point intersections. This is simply a guideline and a nice place to start when learning to compose a photograph.

Depth of Field (often refered to as DOF): DOF refers to how much of your image is in focus. If you are using a small aperture (think Ansel Adams and Group f/64) the entire image from front to back will be in focus. This is referred to as a large depth of field. If you are shooting with the lens aperture wide open, like f2.8 – f4 you will have a short depth of field. Blurring the background by using a short DOF is a great way to draw attention to the subject and minimize distractions. (If you are taking photos on your phone check out the app BigLens to achieve a short DOF.)

Leading Lines: Is a strong line within the photograph that leads the viewers eye from an outside edge to the subject matter. You will often see railroad tracks, roads, tree branches used as leading lines. When you are shooting macro photos outdoors there are many interesting options.

Bokeh: Is an effect most often caused by reflected light in out of focus areas of a photograph. Bokeh is common when using a short depth of field. Bokeh can appear circular or hexagonal depending on the type of lens aperture your camera has. (If you are taking photos on your phone there are several apps that you can use to fake this effect like Lenslight.)

Macro: This simply means taking photos of small things close up. A macro lens is a lens that lets you get really close to your subject.
I am sure for most of you this information is not new and I appreciate your patience as I review some basic terminology. Toy photography is a wonderful hobby and for many kids and teens it is a great introduction to a lifetime love affair with photography. I hope that we each can pass on our passion as well as some basic tips and tricks to those new to the hobby so that the internet will be filled with even more great toy photography!
~ xxsjc
How did you learn photography: trial and err or take a beginning photo class?
Have you ever shared your passion with a beginning photographer? 
Can you recommend any specialty phone apps that emulate the effects of a full size camera?
My next post will be an expanded version of a post I did for Brickcentral on the basics of outdoor photography. Stay tuned!! 

Creating a photo through intention

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?

~ xxsjc

The Fallacy of Validation

“Validation is for parking” ~ from Steal Like an Artist

This made me laugh, because it’s so true! I often see people grousing that their posted photos aren’t getting enough likes or comments on Instagram. Another popular complaint is that their photos never get featured by any of the toy groups.  All I can think to say to this is that you shouldn’t look to Instagram, Flickr, Google, Tumblr or anything else for validation. Because you aren’t going to get it.

What people like or don’t like is a very fickly enterprise. It is based on their own tastes coupled with their own experiences and occasionally these will intersect with what you are creating. Think of it like a vin diagram with a very small sliver of overlap. Whether or not what you are creating is good enough, has nothing to do with it. Being good is only half of the equation.

Oh did I mention luck is the other half? It’s that weird intangible that separates those that get recognized and those that toil away in obscurity. Life is fickle and art is a temperamental task master. So don’t get frustrated, roll with it, and make some art. Trust me, you will feel better.

So get out your toys, have some fun, take some pictures and look for your validation inside yourself. If it makes YOU happy, then it is good enough.

Did you take any toy photography pictures this weekend like Me2 did?
When was the last time you got a parking ticket?

~ xxsjc

I’ve bored you all enough with my philosophical ramblings. The rest of this week I will be posting on technique. I didm’t play with my camera this weekend, but I did play with my printer. This was almost as good!