Over the past year, I have been focused on becoming more creative. I took an amazing class from Angela Douglas Ramsey that helped me understand how to develop my ideas in photography. In the beginning of the pandemic, I picked up watercolor painting, a medium I’ve wanted to try but never made time for it. I’ve realized that being creative is a combination of discipline, trust, connection, and action. Dabbling in another creative medium sparked my curiosity so I decided to focus 2021 on trying other mediums. January was focused on watercolor as I have already been doing a good bit of that. As February rolls around, I am focusing on drawing, a skill that will help me in my watercolor paintings. I don’t have a plan in terms of what mediums I want to pursue. I am, instead, allowing my space to follow my intuition and letting it guide me towards mediums as the month changes. I’ve had a couple of realizations along the way as I explore other art forms and I thought I would share some of those ideas here.
Photography was my first love and the first art form I studied as an adult. (Growing up, I was a dancer, but I was so young, I wasn’t as aware of my thoughts and feelings as I developed). In the beginning of my photography journey, I had an inflated sense of my work. I used to have shame around that, my being so open with my work when it simply wasn’t that good. I’ve realized through my interest in watercolor painting that the initial pride I felt was this sense of accomplishment from creating something and that there is no shame in celebrating that. In fact, had I not had some sense of pride, I wouldn’t have pushed through when it got difficult. And it got difficult. Both in photography and watercolor, I realized that my first rut was a step towards growth. As I began to develop more of an eye for my art form, I began to be able to assess my work and see that it was no longer up to my standards, and that’s a good thing. That means I am getting better in my craft.
I most recently took two separate creativity classes and it was interesting that one common theme in both were the idea of discipline. Being creative is a discipline that requires discomfort, diligence, failure, and resilience. The discomfort comes when I’m frustrated with my work. When I take hundreds of pictures and hate them all. The failure comes when I load the images into Lightroom and see nothing but garbage. The diligence comes from picking up my paint brush and/or camera again. The resilience comes from doing that again and again.
In a creativity class I took with Angela Douglas Ramsey (HIGHLY recommend), her main emphasis in the beginning of the class was discipline, routine, dedicated time for creativity. I am at a time in my creative process where I am ready to do that. I understand the importance of discomfort and how it contributes to my overall growth as an artist. That was made clear in a situation I mentioned earlier. After a year of watercolor painting, I finally made it past the pink cloud phase of me being pleased with myself at being kind of naturally good at something. I hit that first patch of “this isn’t actually very good and I’m not sure how to improve”. I wasn’t upset, I had an epiphany. Ohhhhhhh….. this is it. This is where I grow. This is how I grow. I feel uncomfortable and I keep going. THAT is the discipline that Angela is talking about. I just keep showing up in spite of the crap I am producing because in doing so, I grow as an artist.
My entire life, I have chased the approval of others. In middle school, I so desperately wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. In college, I so desperately wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. In the mom group, and so on. Most of my striving in life has been in pursuit of 2 things: 1. money to make me feel secure and 2. approval to make me feel loved. The challenge in my search for approval is that, no matter how hard I try, I am not like everyone else. None of us really are, but some of us are better at conforming than others. The last year was the last of my desperate attempts to be liked, featured, validated. I got to a point where I realized my worth as a photographer doesn’t come from the approval of others. It was painful, but freeing and it translated to all areas of my life. In what ways was I sacrificing parts of myself to be liked? How can I let all of that go and just trust that I am enough? 2020 was a monumental year in learning that I am enough.
Somewhere along the way, I broke free. I finally said screw it, I don’t need to be recognized by anyone. I had to evaluate why I was doing this. What does photography mean to me? What does creativity mean to me? Am I doing this all for recognition? If there was no more social media, would I still do these things? Luckily, the answer was yes, I would still do it, but I had to take some time to really consider that. I came to a place where I understood that my creative expression was more about challenging myself to learn and grow in a craft, an outlet for my daily life, a form of self care, a way to honor and see the beauty in each day, an expression of gratitude, and a way to connect to my higher self. Once I reconciled that, I have been able to let go of the need for likes, comments, features. I stopped using millions of hashtags. I came to understand that my sharing is a desire for connection and that’s how I use social media. I use it as a way to connect with other women, to bond over our creative pursuits, and to share some of the beauty I see in my every day. When I evaluate what I hope to contribute to the women photography community as I continue to share my work is that you are enough. Your voice is enough. You do not need the approval of others, you don’t have to follow the rules, your voice is perfect exactly as it is, exactly where it is, and any pursuit of growth is solely because you find joy in it. Otherwise, don’t do it. My lesson for 2020 was that I am exactly where I need to be and I don’t have to pretend to be anyone, or anywhere, else.
If there is anything I wish for you to take away from this post, it’s that wherever you are in your creative growth is perfect. You are never going to reach the finish line because there is no finish line. And part of the fun is in the journey anyway. When I look back to the times I’ve had the most fun, it was taking workshops and the actual learning. It’s the connection with others and the relationships I’ve cultivated in a community outside of my home town. Lastly, it’s the breaking down of limiting beliefs that I need to be anything other than I am.
“Broaden your mind, my dears, and allow yourself to see past the mundane” ~Professor Trelawney, Harry Potter, Book 3
“If you get close to what you love, who you are is revealed to you, and it expands” ~Ethan Hawke