Redefining Creative Achievement

The Exercise in Alignment I shared last week has got me thinking about lots of things. While I’m not surprised that I’ve been challenged to think, because getting into my heart and head this way always generates some good thought, I am surprised at where the thoughts are focused: Achievement. Finally admitting to myself that this is an inherent need I have and accepting it, and not viewing it as a frustration or annoyance or something to be changed about myself, turns out to be kind of important.

Now, you might be thinking, why is having the need to achieve so bad? Why would I even think this way? I think it comes from the sense that I have this driver, Type A side to me that I want to minimize. Not because it’s inherently bad, but maybe because of my approach to it. Up until a few years ago, I seemed to blindly follow an established path to success. I didn’t stop and ask myself what and how I wanted to achieve, I just sort of picked up the achievements laying around. These were achievements left there by people I cared about and respected – colleagues and managers and teachers – but they weren’t defined by me.

So maybe that’s really been the work the last few years — redefining achievement. I thought maybe I was trying to change my need to achieve, but really it’s about changing what, how and for what purpose I’m achieving. That feels about right.

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So as I look at this need to achieve the last few days, I’m realizing I’ve picked up goals and requirements on my creative journey, too. I seem to have set up internal frequency limits for a number of things – creating new work, blogging, sharing through social media, hosting online classes, etc. Some of these started as my own internal goals, and some started as things I heard worked for others with similar interests. Regardless of where they came from, when I’m not meeting them, I feel this internal tension. I feel that I’m not achieving.

There is a really good thing that is coming out of this line of thought — I’m recognizing the tension I sometimes feel around achievement, or NOT achieving, is a good indicator that I need to examine my definitions. When I feel this internal stress from “missing” an achievement, I can stop, set things out in front of me, evaluate and start the process of redefining.

I’ve already done that in the last week. I was feeling a tension around creating new photographic work. I really haven’t photographed or edited much in the last month. Even though I’m out of the dark time of December I haven’t been spending my time creating new photographs. But in the process of examining this, I’ve recognized that this is a “false” goal or achievement. I’ve been doing a LOT of creating in January – I’ve been preparing presentations for several photography talks I’m doing at a regional photography conference in the spring – it just isn’t along the lines of new photographic work. So I took some time to consciously redefine, or reinforce, what encompasses “creativity” to me. It’s more than new photographic work, since I have multiple creative outlets. It’s ok to take a step away from one creative endeavor to support another for a while.

It feels good to redefine what leads to creative achievement. I keep the goals I have, creating on a regular basis, but I get to honor other types of creativity as much as my photography. I get to see the creativity of pulling new thoughts together, writing and sharing thoughts with others as just as important and fulfilling as my visual work. I’ll be honest, as much as I’ve done it over the last few years, up to now I haven’t viewed the sharing of ideas and writing on the same level of importance as creating new photographic work. It’s played second fiddle in my goals. It’s time to rearrange that. Make it equal, at least some of the time.

I think there was always this worry, somewhere deep inside my psyche, that if I took a break from one form of creativity I’d never go back. So if I wasn’t really photographing regularly, I’d lose my interest. Maybe this was rooted in my past, where I tried out a lot, and I mean A LOT, of creative activities to see if one would stick before I really fell in love with photography. I think I’m beyond that with photography now, don’t you? It’s going to stick, even if I take a few weeks off. And when I come back, there’s a good chance it will have changed a little bit, because I will have a different perspective from my other creative endeavors.

Even as I write this, I’m feeling the urge to get out and photograph again. Not only for creative achievement, but because creative space has again freed up. Last night, I wrapped up the first draft of the photography talk I’ve been working on, which means that I’ve finished something. Creative achievement? Check.

As I step away from the keyboard and look outside, I’m seeing a whole world of bare trees waiting for me. I think it’s time to go photograph a few.

An Exercise in Alignment

Today I want to share with you a simple exercise that has brought me great insight into my personal priorities this week. The beauty of taking a big, long break from my normal plans, as I did in December and early January, is that things look different on the other side. Not only do interesting things emerge, like the new-found interest in painting digitally that helped to create today’s image, but there is also an opportunity to revisit, reassess and reprioritize all of the things in my life with a different point of view.

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So earlier this week, as I sat down in my journal, I came up with this little exercise to look at my needs and my activities and see how they were aligning. Some really interesting insights have come out, which have helped me shed some things and look at other things in a new way. I will walk you through it step-by-step, because you might benefit from it too.

Step 1: List out Needs

The first step is listing out my needs. I consider “needs” those things that I personally must have to be a balanced human being. These aren’t priorities, which are, I think, an externally imposed idea of what I need. These needs are the things that I will subconsciously arrange my activities around, whether I want to or not. If these needs aren’t met, everything is out of whack for me — I’m unhappy, grumpy and awful to be around. Understanding myself enough to identify and categorize these needs has been the subject of much personal exploration and growth over the last few years, so I don’t suggest that coming up with your own list is an easy thing. But when I made up my list, it felt right, and I could see how these fundamental needs drive my choices, conscious or not.

I’ll share my list of needs and explain them as an example. I expect your list of fundamental needs would be different. This list is not in any sort of priority order. They all exist for me, and need to be met.

Physical Well-Being – This need addresses the basics of food and shelter, but also physical health and care of myself and environment. It’s about my physical self, and all that is needed for my body to be well.

Emotional Well-Being – This covers the non-physical essence of me. I named it “emotional well-being” but it includes the mental, spiritual and personal — all of the needs around well-being that aren’t just physical. It’s kind of hard to encompass all of that in words, so hopefully you know what I mean here.

Growth – If there is one thing that I know I need, it’s growth. Growth in any area – intellectual/mental, personal, artistic – I will continually strive for growth in some area of my life. I’m most excited and engaged in life when I am learning something new. If I don’t consciously feed my need for growth, I will unconsciously put myself in challenging situations that force me to grow in some way. I would rather acknowledge my need for growth and choose the path I take to growth, when I can. Then I can observe and learn, not only about whatever new “thing” I am learning, but also about my self, along the way.

Achievement – There is no way around it, I fundamentally have a need for achievement. I am hard-wired to accomplish things. This is another area where conscious choice makes a big difference. If I don’t consciously choose what “achievement” means – both the end goal and the path – then I will unconsciously pick up definitions of achievement externally and strive toward those. There are so many places these can be picked up – parents, teachers, mentors, society in general. This one has been a constant challenge for me, I think partially because I feel like I shouldn’t have this need or I should be able to eliminate it if I don’t want it. By acknowledging that there is this need at my core, however, I’m starting to see that I just might be able to choose the path AND meet the need.

Connection – This is the need for connection to things external to myself. Not just to other human beings, which is the initial and primary way I defined this need, but also to other living creatures, like my pets. I’m also thinking this need may encompass connection a larger idea or movement, but I haven’t thought through that as much. I just know have a need to connect to something outside myself.

Those are my fundamental needs. They feel right, and I can map just about everything I find myself doing – consciously or not – back to more than one of them.

Do you know yours? Try to list them out. This could take several days of journaling, and making and revising lists. I found that I listed a whole lot more things at first and then started to coalesce them into a shorter list as I worked with them.

Step 2: List your Activities

The next step is listing out all of the ways you spend your time, the groups of people you spend your time with, and the activities you do. I listed them out and then found that some of them fell in natural groups. My final list was:
Corporate job
Hiking
Yoga
Art (this contained all of my activities related to art, including teaching, exhibiting, guild activites, etc.)
Family (both my immediate family of husband and son as well as extended)
Friends
Input (this was all of the activities I do around personal growth – reading, journaling, writing, etc.)

What are your activities? As you start to list them out, you may find there are general categories that group nicely together or there are ones that need to remain separate. As you do the next step, you might come back and refine your list.

Step 3: Map Activities to Needs

On a sheet of paper in the landscape orientation, list your Needs along on the left hand side. Leave space between them and fill the entire height of the left side of the page. On the right side of the page, list your Activities in the same way. You might want to use a different color for each activity, or as you draw the map lines, it will get hard to read.

Now, for each Activity, draw a line to each need it helps to fulfill. On the line, write how that activity fulfills that need you mapped it to.

For example, I have a line between my activity “Corporate Job” and my need “Physical Well-Being,” and on the line I wrote “food, shelter.” In a physical sense, it’s my Corporate Job that provides the funds for those things.

Another example, I drew a line between my activity “Art” and my need “Achievement,” and on the line I wrote “completing works, sharing, exhibiting, selling.” These are all the ways that my artistic practice feeds my need to achieve.

Continue with drawing the lines and writing the reasons for the lines until you feel that you have nothing more to add. As you work through each Activity, you may find that you need to go back and add lines for other Activities, because you see connections between Activities and Needs in a new way. You might also find that you want to draw a line somewhere, but you don’t have the right Need to map to. You can add or revise Needs and Activities if you find there is a gap like this as you map.

Yeah, it’ll get messy. Let it be messy and scribbled. The mess is the point. This is the part of the exercise where you are just trying to get it all out on the page — organization and understanding comes later. Don’t put any value judgments on what you are doing. Make the lists, connections and reasons as honest as you can. They should feel right.

Step 4: Review for Insights

This is the part where things get really interesting. There are insights to be found, when you start to look closer.

First, if you had any “aha” moments as you went through the mapping, capture notes on what those where. Maybe you realized that there was a need or an activity missing. Why didn’t you capture it the first time, do you think? What did you feel as you added it later?

Next, look at your map and ask a few questions:
For each Activity, how many Needs does it map to? All? A few? One?
Which Activities map to the most Needs? Are you surprised?
Which map to the least Needs? Are you surprised?
Were there interesting reasons that came out as you drew the lines?
Were there lines that you needed to draw but it took some time to figure out the reason?

This is where the insights lie.

I’ll use the example of my Activity “Corporate Job.” It maps to every single Need on my list. Now, I’ve known for a long time I like my Corporate Job. Even with all I do with my art, I have no desire to leave my Corporate Job. I knew it provided me with things that are different from my Art, but this exercise helped to clarify just how it was meeting my Needs in essential ways. Now, even though it maps to all of my Needs, it doesn’t completely fulfill all of them. But, if the only Activity on my list were “Corporate Job,” I would have a miserable existence because these Needs would only be partially met. That’s why I like working part time, because it gives me the opportunity to have more on my Activity list which fulfill needs in different ways. This exercise showed me how this one Activity fits into the whole for me. I understand myself and my choices better – it’s moved from unconscious feeling to conscious knowing. That’s always a good thing!

Another example I’ll give is on my Activity “Hiking.” As I was mapping it to my Needs, I felt that there was an element that mapped to my Need “Connection.” Since I initially defined “Connection” as with other human beings, that didn’t make sense. But I do fill a greater sense of connection with my dog Zoey when we go hiking, and I get great satisfaction and enjoyment out of that. I also feel a connection to the greater world around me through being in the forest. It brings me outside of myself. So my definition of my Need “Connection” expanded and I see how my Activity of “Hiking” has a broader impact to me as a whole. (Now, if the Activity were “Working out in the Gym,” for me that would only have one line on the map – to the Need “Physical Well-Being.” That’s probably why I’ve never been able to stick to an exercise routine that involves only the gym.)

A final example I’ll give is under my Activity of “Art.” I originally considered listing all of my external-facing art-related activities as separate items, such as Kat Eye Studio, PhotoArts Guild, Corvallis Art Guild, Philomath Open Studios, etc. because they are something specific I do with my time. But after working through this exercise, I realize they are really a subset of my overall activity of “Art,” fulfilling the Need of “Connection.” It all works together.

I won’t go into more detail than that on my results because many of the insights were very personal in nature, but hopefully you get the idea. Take some time with this portion of the exercise. Journal about it, over days if necessary. That’s what I have been doing. I keep looking at the map and finding new things to consider.

Step 5: Make a Plan

Now that you’ve pulled out the insights, you have the opportunity to make conscious and positive changes. If an Activity maps to a large number of Needs and seems essential to you, but you aren’t spending much time on that Activity, then look for ways to readjust your schedule. If an Activity maps to few or no Needs, then consider if you really want to spend your time in this way. Or figure out if there are ways to make and Activity you must do connect to more Needs.

For example, my Activity “Yoga” originally didn’t map to my Need “Achievement.” The yoga I do is incredibly gentle and relaxing, and didn’t initially fit what I think of when I think of achievement – meeting goals and milestones. I mean, I’m not pushing myself to do back bends or headstands or anything. But in thinking about it, I realized I can fulfill the need of “Achievement” by setting a goal for the number of days I attend yoga in a month and tracking. I do have an unstated, internal goal – to go to class every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning I can – so why not track it? Then I meet this Need too, and don’t get the achiever part of me niggling that I’m wasting my time because I’m not “progressing” toward anything. One more line drawn on the map means more confidence and commitment to my chosen Activity.

I think Step 5 of this exercise is much more long range. I’m still doing work in Step 4 and am only starting on making a plan. But I feel I have better insight into how I want to align my activities and needs, and the knowledge to make conscious choices is the important thing.

I hope this is helpful to you! Let me know if you work through this and find it valuable. I never know when I post this stuff if anyone is interested, but I figure if it connects with one other person and makes a difference anything like it has for me, it’s worthwhile.

Have a great day!

Photo-Heart Connection: December

 
Simplicity. Lines. Space.

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Since travelling to Singapore in the spring and now China and Taiwan in December I have felt a growing affinity to asian art and themes in my work. I love the lines of bamboo, the circles of lily pads, and the spare brushstrokes and space found in sumi-e paintings. I’ve been searching out sumi-e art online and studying which styles and techniques resonate with me.

It’s amazing what can be expressed in a few lines in space: Beauty, peace, grace.

While I strive to achieve the same effect in a photograph, I often can’t. I can’t always get the right angle. The background may be distracting. There is no space to be found.

And so this month, I tried something new. I created the lines in space myself. This image is a digital painting created start to finish on my iPad. It’s inspired by a photograph I took of bamboo, but it’s not a photograph. Much as I love photography, there are moments of frustration that I can’t capture what I want. There is a freedom in creating from scratch, and leaving things out. It allows me to express myself when the photograph just isn’t quite right.

Simplicity. Lines. Space. They call to me.

A new direction? Maybe. Or just an expanding of the circle. There is space in my art for all manners of expression to coexist.


Happy New Year! I’m back home from my holiday travels. I was gone for the last two weeks visiting family in Colorado. It was a much needed rest and now that I’m back home I find that I’m ready to take on the world again. Whew. I was worried there, for a while. December was rough, from a creative perspective, as you can probably tell from my sparse postings. But having the time to relax and start creating again at the end of the month was just what I needed. It allowed this new direction, the interest in sumi-e painting and exploration of digital painting techniques on my iPad, to emerge.

On my trip I created photographs and played with digital paintings alike, finding it a spectrum of expression that bleeds together from one end to the other. After creating a base painted image I used many of my usual photo apps to add color and texture to achieve the desired effect. It all connects, I couldn’t have created this without the knowledge and techniques I’ve developed in my mobile photography. So that’s why this non-photograph is in the Photo-Heart Connection. I’m not going to draw imaginary lines on what art is allowed or not allowed in this practice. It’s all my art, and if it has a heart connection, something to teach me, that’s all that matters. I’m done with placing things in imaginary boxes and drawing lines around them saying what “is” and “isn’t” allowed. I threw out those rules last year.

So if you’re not a photographer, join in with us too. What matters is the heart connection in your art, not the medium it was made with.

How was December for you, creatively? What connected to your heart, in this dark time of the year? Share it with us. The link up will be open through January 12.

August’s Fun Finds

Lately I’ve been adding to my arsenal of iPhone apps and accessories, and thought I would share a few fun finds…

A New App

I’m a sucker for an app that helps me integrate interesting geometric shapes with my photographs of trees, and my latest find is Tangent. It has a wide range of shapes, patterns, colors and blending modes that create interesting effects on your photographs. I’ve been playing around this weekend, figuring out how to integrate it with my creative workflow. Here’s my favorite creation so far, called Rising:

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Apps Used: ProCamera, XnSketch, Tangent, Aquarella HD, Image Blender


A New Case

20130818-104213.jpgI’m always looking at interesting iPhone cases at the store and wondering if I could live with the design every day. Instead of buying another artist’s case, I decided to take the idea of “living with my work” to a new level and created a custom clip case for my iPhone 5 through Decal Girl. It took a bit of experimentation to find an image that worked with the aspect ratio of the case. The real thing has a little bit of color shift from my original image, Vanishing, but came out great otherwise! Decal Girl is having a sale right now, use code BACK2SCHOOL for 25% off.


A New Magazine

20130818-104150.jpgI ran across this new mobile photography magazine for iPad over the weekend, iPhotographer. I decided to subscribe after looking through the free preview issue. It’s beautiful, interactive, and looks like it is going to be a great resource for those of us loving the world of mobile photography. You can purchase single issues for $3.99 or subscribe to the year for $18.99. Check out the free preview issue through the Apple Newsstand on your iPad. I already can’t wait for the first issue to come out!!

Creating the Sun

It’s summer again, and I’m so glad. For about a week there, it wasn’t summer around here. A lot of rain and grey skies; muddy trails and wet dog. I wanted to wear my summer clothes – not my rain jacket – but didn’t have much of a choice.

I did have a choice in what I created, though, so I created my own personal sunshine through my art. Summer-y flowers and leaves in bright colors filled the bill. I could change my mood with a choice of brilliant oranges and reds, like this one…

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…or lemon yellow and lime green, like this image “Looking Up.” Ahhhh, hello sun.

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My husband complained that some of the colors were too bright. They hurt his eyes.

That sounds just about perfect to me. If they are too bright for you, just put on your sunglasses. I’ve achieved my goal, and created some sun.