From Mechanics to Understanding

Do you want to know the best way to learn about your art, your process, your self? About why you do the things you do, the philosophy and motivations behind your work? It’s a very simple answer: You explain it to others.

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I’ve discovered this secret quite by accident, through writing and teaching myself.

I always tell people that I teach because when I love to do something, when I’m enthusiastic about an idea or a process or an art form, it just bubbles up outside of me and I have to share it with others. I love the “a-ha” moment when someone gets it. When I see the enthusiasm catch in someone else and they run with it, in their own direction, I stand by with pride.

I thought that’s why I teach, but I’ve recently realized that is the second payoff in teaching. The first comes in the creation of the materials. In the process of distilling the ideas, of determining how and what my students need to know to move forward, I learn about myself. I learn why I do things the way I do them. Why my process works for me, what the important pieces are and how they work together.

For me, the time and effort I invest to clearly explain something to others is also time invested in understanding myself.

Last week, I finished the first draft of my upcoming book. (Woohoo!) It’s rough, needing a lot of editing and examples and work, but it’s enough for me to see myself more clearly already. You would think that writing a how-to book on iPhone photography is all mechanics, but it isn’t. You can’t teach without a framework, a reference philosophy that guides the intent and organization of the materials.

I had mechanics before, now I have understanding. That understanding will feed more ideas, more creativity, stronger connection to heart and soul. I already feel them brewing.

Have you found the same thing? Maybe it’s not through teaching specifically for you, but the simple act of explaining your ideas to others. In communicating about your art, you gain a deeper understanding of your self. Try it and see. Don’t worry if it’s awkward at first. It gets easier with practice. You refine your thoughts through the give and take of conversation, of question and answer.

When you understand your self better, you create and communicate from a place of confidence. You can say, “This is who I am, what I do and why.” You are less shaken by the criticism of others, less prone to periods of self-doubt.

Want to practice? Explain why you create the art you create to me in the comments below. Link to a blog post if you need more space for gathering your thoughts. Let’s get your conversation going, so you can improve your understanding and confidence too.

Creativity and Time

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I’ve been on a remarkably even keel since the returning from the yoga retreat last weekend. It’s as if I rebooted. Reset everything to a new baseline. It’s wonderful.

It’s allowed me thoughtful space and given me new clarity. I’ve been thinking about how I’m spending my time. I’ve been pondering some little changes to focus myself back in on what’s important. Writing a book, for one. Evaluating what I want to tackle in 2015. And creating new work. Always, always creating new work.

I’ve been realizing a deep truth: As an artist, everything hinges on continual creation. Everything. Self-understanding, renewal, and growth all come from a creative practice. It’s in creating that I understand the direction I want to go. It’s through my artwork that I tease out the signals to follow. I don’t wait for inspiration and then create. I create and then I get insight. And so I create some more.

No matter what else is going on, creating has to be at the core. It has to be a priority for my time. The pace may change, but it can’t go away. If it does, eventually the fuel for everything else that swirls around the art I create… this blog and the book and the workshops and the art events… will slowly, quietly fade away. And you know what else will fade away? An important, even vital, connection to my heart and soul. The connection which provides understanding of who I am and the confidence to seek my own path, no matter the influences around me.

We forget this. Our culture tells us to do otherwise. It tells us to focus on all of the other things that require our time: Work and family and friends and commitments. Things beyond ourselves. Get the work done first, then have fun. Then, with your spare time and energy, with the dregs left over, only then can you create. Everything else, everyone else comes first.

That doesn’t work, for the artist. For the artist to have a thriving creative life, creating art has to be part of the priorities. It has to be the work. You have to give it your best time and energy, on a regular basis. You have to make the right choices for yourself, even if others aren’t happy with you.

So I renew the choice, for myself, to continue creating new work. I don’t do it because I need new images to share or to blog or to show or to sell. I do it because I’m not me if I’m not creating.

I’ve worked long and hard to figure out who I am amidst the clutter. I’m not going to let that knowledge or connection fade away.

Under Water

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The weather has shifted in Oregon, and we are under water again. Grey clouds filled with it, dripping slowly down on our heads, forming puddles on the ground. It must be autumn.

I can’t say I’m all sad about this turn of events, as I sit here listening to the rain on the skylights and the cars swish by on the road outside. I have my hot tea, a quilt and a cat on my lap. I’ve broken out the cozy sweat shirts and slippers. I love a good reason to stay inside, snuggled up in my comfy chair.

And I think about warmth, and how sometimes it’s an inside out kind of thing. I can focus on the outside, trying to heat up the outer layers. Or I can focus on the inside, getting the warmth going internally before I worry too job much about what’s happening at the extremities. I am better able to withstand the cold if I’m working inside out.

I wonder if there isn’t an analogy there for life. How long did I focus on improving the outside of me, my external shell and how others perceive me, thinking happiness was derived there? If I could just get it right, get it perfect, life would be good. I lived in that belief a long, long time.

And yet, when I’ve worked on the inside stuff, who I am and want I to be at my core, more good stuff has come along. The external part just seems to happen naturally. It’s not perfect by anyone’s standards, but I am satisfied with what is. I am more willing to go in an unexpected, maybe nontraditional, direction. I can seek my own path.

I can better withstand the cold of other people’s expectations, my perception of their expectations, when I’m warming myself from the inside out. When I have that internal fire of confidence, knowing who I am, where I come from, and where I’m going, I can better withstand the storms outside.

The watery weather tells me it’s time to cozy up. After months of living on the outside, it’s time to bring life indoors. Time to get warm, and grow, from the inside out.

Certainty in Life

She would not turn back in fear, not desperately shape herself to fit into old, tightly wedged spaces. She never thought of herself as someone who would do anything other than what was expected of her, yet there was never really an arrival at any fixed point. All that wishing for certainty, all that belief in the clear path always visible up ahead. Here she was with life before her unknown, a reluctant yet inevitable traveler on the path still uncharted.
— Excerpt from Visible City by Tova Mirvis

There was a time in my life I longed for certainty. I made big choices, life choices, based on reducing fear of the unknown. If I could only follow a charted path, get further down the road of expectations, things would be certain. Then I could relax. My younger self was sure of it.

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I started my career in a time of uncertainty. In college, my family lost the business that had supported us through most of my childhood. I watched my father cast adrift, trying to figure out what he was going to do with himself without his business to run. I graduated in 1992, the middle of an economic downturn, where jobs were scarce. I was one of the lucky ones with an offer from a good company, a large corporation with a track record for stability.

Things were certain now, right?

Three months after I started there were layoffs. I wasn’t one of the ones who lost their jobs, although I was in fear of it for weeks, until one of the managers told me I was safe. “It would be cruel and unusual punishment,” he said of hiring then firing me in so short a time. Whew, I could breathe again.

Things were certain now, right?

This first job had an interesting demographic. I was the only woman in an engineering department of about 30 engineers. The closest in age to me was 10 years older, the average age was closer to 20-25 years older than me. In my quest for certainty, I looked at those older engineers with envy. They had it all figured out. Good jobs, families grown or nearly so, retirement on the horizon… To my mind, they had it all laid out. I wanted to fast forward to that point.

Things would be certain then, right?

Oh, my poor little younger self, in her quest for certainty. Now that I’m at that point I so longed to be, middle age, I understand just how uncertain life is. There is no path, no course where if you do everything right you will get the prize of absolute stability.

Life happens, life changes. Jobs go away, illnesses happen, loved ones leave us. All of the coworkers who I thought had life figured out had lots more life to live, lots more uncertainty to face, just as I did.

Looking back, I can see how naive I was to want to skip ahead. Life isn’t a destination or a goal that you can shortcut to, it is something to be lived. Something to be experienced, in all of its ranges of emotions and options. It’s the choices we make in the face of uncertainty, in the face of fear, and the lessons we learn from them, that make us whole people. It’s our struggles that make us human.

Fundamentally, uncertainty is what makes life interesting. It’s how we get to shape a life, and a self, that is wholly our own.

Like the character in the Mirvis novel, my younger self faced “life before her unknown, a reluctant yet inevitable traveler on the path still uncharted.” That young, reluctant traveler has, with time and experience, turned into a willing participant in the journey through uncharted territory. She has learned to face her fears and move ahead out of the “old, tightly wedged spaces.”

I have learned there is no certainty in life. That’s what makes it worth living.

Photo-Heart Connection: June 2014

Unexpected. That’s the word I woke up with today, my Photo-Heart Connection already formed in my head. The last couple of months have brought much that is unexpected my way: A new job I wasn’t looking for; a whirlwind trip to Ohio and my deep emotional response; a kitchen disaster that has left my house in a state of disrepair. I couldn’t have predicted the events that have come my way. I couldn’t have prepared.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that my Photo-Heart Connection comes unexpected this month, too. I didn’t even have to choose this month’s photograph. I knew, last night, as I prepared my photographs for review. I knew, this morning, as I woke up with a word in my head.

Amish Farm Boy Holmes County Ohio Kat Sloma Photography

I love this photograph. I think, quite frankly, it might be the best one I’ve ever created. There is something about the composition, the light, the moment, the processing, which all work together beautifully to tell a story. For some reason, it brings to mind the Vermeer painting, The Milkmaid. I remember seeing this painting in person and being utterly amazed by it. Vermeer masterfully worked with the subject, the light and shadow, and the moment to tell a story that spoke to me centuries later.

So, similarly, this image speaks to me. But of what? An unexpected moment. A story to be told. A story of life, unfolding before us. A story of people, individuals, that cross our path and change things. A story of events that happen outside of our control. The question is, are we there to live it? Are we ready to capture it, no matter how unexpected, and hang on for the ride? Are we ready to be jostled and tossed about as we are pulled along?

I am getting better at being ready. This photograph proves it. The time, the place, the moment – all unexpected. But I was there, and responded.

And I’ll be ready and open for whatever comes next, however unexpected.


These last couple of months have been a bumpy ride, it seems. I’m one month into the new job and still figuring it out. Our kitchen is now marginally usable and we are still getting quotes to decide what we are going to do next. My first art fair is barely two weeks away and I’m spending much of my time to get everything ready. I haven’t had a lot of time or energy for my blog, or anything online really. But my photographs, working with the images from my trip to Ohio early this month, have been an unexpected creative bright spot. I have gained so much personally from working with them, seeing the stories within them. Stories of my father, my family, me. I am amazed and humbled by this art form, which is constantly revealing layers of my heart and soul.

What have you discovered this month? What is your Photo-Heart Connection? Share it with us here. I want to thank you all for your continued participation. I love how, regardless of how engaged I am at the moment, you continue to do this practice for yourself and share it with this community. This is not about me, it’s about each and every one of you. Such an amazing and humbling thing to realize.

PS – You can now link in with Instagram photos! Learn more here.

Photo-Heart Connection: April 2014

The first thing you are going to notice in this month’s Photo-Heart Connection: For me, there is no photo. No art of any sort. I’ve not done my “homework” this month, spending the time to look for a connection. (If this is your first time in visiting, I encourage you to look at past Photo-Heart Connection posts to see what this monthly practice is all about. This month is NOT a good example!)

Rather than giving you excuses about how busy I’ve been, or how I’ve been focused on other things beside creating new photographs, or even going through the motions and picking an image to write about, I decided to spend some time examining why I’m not really interested in finding my heart connection this month. See what my heart reveals by NOT searching for a connection through my photos.

First off, all of the things I listed above are true. It has been busy and my focus this month has been elsewhere rather than creating new photographic work. But this has nothing to do with my art. From an art standpoint, I’ve never been more clear on what, how and why I create. I’ve never been more confident in what it is I’m trying to achieve in my artistic work. I’ve never been more excited to share my work with others, through speaking, exhibitions and art fairs. Connecting through my art, in person, with others. Along with creating and sharing my art in the physical world, I’m loving the connections I’m making with other local artists and how I’m becoming part of the art community here where I live.

I think my internal questions lie more in what I am doing here, online, and in other aspects of my life. How I want to engage. I came back from Italy almost three years ago with a big plan about how things were going to be, with teaching online classes and all of that. And things went according to plan for a while, until I realized I was overwhelming myself and at risk of burnout. Until I realized that the plans made in the beautiful unreality of my time in Italy didn’t perfectly fit my life as it unfolded. Those of you who have followed me through all of that have seen this change unfold, bit by bit. With this evolution, I’ve done some work to sort the questions out, but not enough. Not nearly enough.

Where I find myself this month is on the cusp of some serious personal work. It’s not so much about the art right now or what I want as an artist, but where do I want to be as a human being, a citizen of the world, a mother, a friend. I need to redefine my vision and direction, examine my values and reassess my choices across all areas of life, including this one here. I’m in week 2 of my first massively open online course through Coursera, called Better Leader, Richer Life, to help me do just that. The teacher is becoming a student for a while. It’s got me thinking, working, examining. And that’s what I need right now, I feel it deep down in my center.

I know I need the heart connection, too. Don’t worry, this practice is not going away. It’s just not right, this month, for me. As the host though, I have to post something so that you all can link in, or we don’t have the Photo-Heart Connection. This assessment of where I am and what I’m working through seemed more honest than going through the motions of the process this month, so this is what you get.

I guess sometimes the heart connection is knowing what your heart needs, without needing to look. My heart is open right now. Open, and waiting to see what comes next.


What is your Photo-Heart Connection this month? Did you look through the art you created in April, and find the one that speaks to you? Or maybe NOT find one, as was the case with me? Please share your heart connection with us here. The link up is open through May 7.