(Last night I watched episode 1 of the Netflix series “Abstract.”  It centered around illustrator Christoph Niewmann and I was all at once humbled and inspired by both his art and the description of his creative process.  He’s one of those guys who can show you something for the first time.  His illustrations sum up familiar things in brand new ways.  His words get to the heart of what it means to be a creative.  This post was inspired by that episode.)

I think we’re all waiting around for that lightning bolt; The burst of inspiration that is the catalyst for our creative process. 

It’s a wonderful thing when it happens isn’t it?  But let me ask you a question: How often does it happen?  I mean really, is inspiration always there when you need it?  Furthermore, does it find you or does it seem like you’re always the seeker in the unending game of creative hide and seek?

To me, inspiration has proven herself to be a fickle beast.  She’s not always there when you need her.  She comes and goes as she wants to and she rarely initiates.

The fact that we’ve been struck by inspiration in the past and that we created something beautiful under those circumstances can be the thing that undermines us. It creates an unfair expectation that we have to wait for inspiration before we engage in the creative process.  We become afraid that we won’t be able to create if we’re not starting from a place of inspiration.  Do you think that’s the way it’s supposed to be? Do you think that professional artists have tapped into an unending stream of inspiration?  They just flip a switch and inspiration starts pouring out?

Niewmann refers to his work as an illustrator as mostly “sitting around staring at paper” waiting for something to happen. 

Exactly!  For me, the process of writing is torture.  It involves staring at the white pixels on my laptop and waiting for the black ones to come pouring out of me.  Photography is not that much different.

It’s hard to photograph without the spark of inspiration starting the process and it’s easy to convince yourself that it just won’t happen.  If I had a nickel for every time I talked myself out of grabbing my camera and heading out to photograph I’d certainly jingle when I walked. 

It’s easy to say “I’m not feeling it” and just put the camera away but it’s there that the real work begins.  Maybe we need to view the creative process as work and maybe, just maybe, we need to take our work more seriously. 

We need to show up, whether we’re inspired or not.  We need to commit time and energy to the process of creating and not just sit around waiting for a muse.

In the episode, Niewmann quotes Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs: the rest of us sit down and get to work.”  I couldn’t agree more…we need to show up and start staring at paper! 

Here’s what experience has taught me: The second you show your fickle friend that you’re going to photograph whether she’s with you or not, she decides to come along.  Often she’ll take you down an unexpected path just to show you that she’s still in control but she’s there all the same.

Don’t force it, just show up and make some space.  The second you relax and get lost in the process she’ll be there, I promise. 

I just got back from Oahu.  I wanted to go back to a place that I spent much of my youth.  I wanted to reconnect with the beauty of my home state.  Before arriving I had imagined many of the photos I would bring back but when I got there I was left uninspired.  The white sand, sunshine, and blue water was a snoozefest and I needed to go find some photographs, so I grabbed my camera and headed to the shopping mall. 

I know what you’re thinking:  “You went all the way to Hawaii and ended up photographing in a shopping mall?”

Of course I did! I wanted to challenge myself and I knew that I’d either return with some photos I liked or console myself through retail therapy.  Either way I’d have something to show for it. 

Guess who was waiting at the mall for me?  Somewhere between Gucci and Channel I got lost in the way the light reflected off glass and marble and I soon found my old friend and muse.

So now it’s your turn.  Stop waiting for the lightning bolt to strike before you pick up your camera.  Inspiration is waiting for an invite from you and you should stop expecting it to be the other way around.  Show up, make some space and start to play.  Inspiration will join in and great things will happen!


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