How Silent the Trees

How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. ~ Mary Oliver



I’ve been on a renewed Mary Oliver kick the last week or so, getting back into her poems after reading a couple of great articles on Brain Pickings. One of the articles included a fabulous interview with Krista Tippett from On Being

So instead of a lot of words from me, how about you listen to the wisdom and beauty of the words of Mary Oliver today? Grab a cup of tea and settle in. It’s worth your time.

What Creativity Craves

I had a plan, over Christmas. I had two weeks off of my corporate job, and I had a plan. We were visiting family, but I would have time everyday to photograph, to create new work, and to work on my book.

It was a good plan, but it didn’t work. It was missing an essential ingredient for creativity.

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Over time, I’ve learned that my creativity craves a few things. Without them, nothing seems to happen.

First, creativity craves time. Had that, check. Lots of time: Hours in the car, days with nothing more than a meal scheduled. That wasn’t the key.

Second, creativity craves an open frame of mind. I was a little low on that, since I got sick for part of the trip and all I wanted to do was sleep or sit on the couch and read. But there was a good part of the trip where I felt fine, and still nothing happened.

But here’s the kicker, what I realized was the key for me: Creativity craves routine. That is the thing that was missing — a routine, a schedule.

You see, without a schedule, having the opportunity to create anytime turned into creating at no time. I could always do it later, tomorrow, whenever I felt like it. There was no hurry, nothing to push me into action.

Without a routine, there was nothing to signal to my brain that now was the time to create. Nothing to help me over the hump that always stands in the way of getting started. Have you ever heard of “creative flow?” Routines and rituals can help you get into a state of creative flow, where creativity and productivity happen naturally. Regular, repeated practices are what help you move forward in a creative endeavor.

That’s what I was missing: the routine.

So when I got home to my busy life, the one full of a day job and long to do lists, creativity finally kicked in. When I was up early in the quiet house, in my reading chair with my tea, I started to create again. Home sweet home! It’s ironic I create better in a life that is jam-packed and where every moment matters, than one that is open-ended. But my life is full of creativity-enhancing routines to use my slices of time, and that’s what really matters.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to advocate staying home and in routine all the time in the future, though. I need breaks from the routine to refresh myself. I need travel to give me new experiences to draw on in my creative practice.

I’m just not going to expect myself to be creative while I’m gone. I’ll save that, knowing its the special treat, the everyday bonus of being at home, in the routine.

Winterrupted (A Mobile Tutorial)

I invented a new word with the title of this piece: Winterrupted. I bet I don’t even need to define it, and you could use it in a sentence like this…

We are traveling for the holidays and I hope our trip isn’t winterrupted.

See? I’m liking this word.

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I’m liking this piece too! I spent waaaay too long on it Tuesday morning, with a lot of false starts. I thought I would share the sequence of the final edit, and also give you an idea of how unrealistic it is to expect to just move through an edit directly, in so few steps.

First, it started with this image, captured in ProCamera. Hello bare trees! It’s so good to have you back. Now we can have some fun with editing.

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I cropped it in Snapseed, and also increased resolution in Big Photo.

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Next, into Mextures for a color filter.

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And then into Autopainter for an artistic effect. Remember, in Autopainter you can stop the process before it finishes, which is what I did here.

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I’m loving the colors at this point! I want to get the detail of the branches back in, so it’s into Image Blender to blend back with the cropped version above.

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I’m enjoying Decim8 again lately, I think it’s the combination of the geometric effects on the organic lines of the trees. I played around with a few effects, finding two I liked:

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These two were blended in Image Blender, to get to the final image: Winterrupted.

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Looks like a straightforward sequence, right? Of course, when I’m at the end and can trace the steps backward, it is clear. But look at how many steps were really in this process. Each image is something I tried, something a little bit different:

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The same image, the same apps, but lots of variations in sequence. There were problems with the image in the original sequence I tried. As I got further along in the edit, the upper branches became too dark and muddy and there were some blobby spots appearing in other locations, both of which required me to go back and try again. And again. I loved the colors and how they varied with the effects, so I knew I was onto something good. I kept working it until it came together. Good thing I was able to work without winterruption. ;)

Don’t ever get to thinking that mobile photography and editing with apps is a slam dunk. I’m not just tapping a button and getting a finished result with this kind of process. It’s messy and experimental and can be frustrating at times. But the mess is part of the fun, and getting a finished piece you are happy with in the end, like this one, makes it all worthwhile.

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.

Paris, anyone?

Hey, will you by chance be in Paris today or tomorrow? Yes, I mean Paris, France.

If so, you can catch my art in Création (Photographique) Mobile, a digital exhibition being presented at L’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, (Paris), during the international symposium “Arts and Mobiles.”

I am very excited and honored to have been included in this curatorship. The show includes a wonderful range of creative art from mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and even drones. I encourage you to review the selected work here.

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“From one season to another” is the piece on display. It’s really funny to me how these things sometimes happen. It’s all in the timing… I just recently created a new technique, combining apps to get this interesting painterly outline/bleed effect. I just happened on the call to artists when I was looking around for something else. I just happened to have a few minutes to send off an application.

And now my work is being shown in Paris! I am a bit floored by the whole thing.

I’ve continued to explore this technique, trying it with different types of images. You can see a few in my Flickr Photostream. I like it with these specific autumn tree images best. There is something about the beautiful color variation that is achieved, the vibrant combination of yellows, greens and reds, along with the delicate structure in the leaves which really clicks for me.

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I look at this recent work and think how far I’ve come in my art over the past few years. If my three-year-ago self ran into this piece, she wouldn’t recognize it as her own. I could not have foreseen this direction, this work. I could only experience it along the way; observe it real time.

Too bad I can’t observe it from Paris this week! :)

Is it Photography or Not?

The Philomath Open Studios Tour wrapped up on Sunday, and participating as a studio this year was both fun and challenging. Talking to so many people as they came through, I got some interesting questions and comments. The only comment that really stopped me in my tracks came from a couple of other artists participating in the event. We do an artist “pre-tour” of all of the studios, so we can see each other’s work and be able to refer people to the right studios if they are looking for something specific. It’s one of the most fun parts of the whole event, and for me it’s been the way I really get to know the other artists.

“You should call your work something other than photography,” they said, “Your work doesn’t look like any photography I’ve ever seen.” They went on to explain: People may skip my studio because they have an impression of what photography is, and they aren’t interested. I’m losing the chance to get my work in front of them by calling it photography.

I found myself with a pretty strong internal reaction to their suggestion. As I tried to explain my feelings about this as photography, I struggled to find the words. My immediate reaction and inadequate explanation left me uncomfortable. Was there something to what they were saying I should listen to? These folks are my artist friends and peers, and they have my best interests at heart. They respect my work and want to see me succeed.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a renewed internal dialogue around this question: Is it photography or not? Should I change the way I position and market my work? I’ve answered this question before. But I needed to answer the question for myself, again, in a way I could confidently explain it to others, especially artists in other mediums.

My answer?

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Yes, my work is photography. I will continue to call it photography, even if there is some fallout along with that. Here’s why…

My work starts as a photograph. The seeing and framing through the lens of the camera is vitally important. My art wouldn’t exist without the starting photograph, and the capture of the starting image is one of my favorite parts of my process of creating in this medium. I spent years and years learning to coax beautiful images out of the camera, from the technical expertise of exposure to the creative expertise of composition, and I use that experience every time I take a new photograph. Even if I’m altering it significantly, it starts with the photograph. I want to honor that.

I also want to honor the medium. Photography has a rich and interesting history. It is a wider and deeper medium than the general public understands. Most people’s interaction with photography is from what they see in the media — photojournalism and commercial photography — or their own experience with snapshots. Mobile photography is even less understood. Most people haven’t necessarily seen or explored fine art photography. They don’t know the range of art that the term “photography” truly covers. Why not help educate them, just a little bit? Why not expand their definition? We are never going to get past the limited perception of what a photograph is “allowed” to look like, if some of us don’t stand out there and push those boundaries.

This is where I had to stop and examine myself closely. Am I hurting myself, my ability to get my work in front of people to connect with them through my art, through taking on some one-woman crusade to expand the definition of photography? Am I hurting my sales by sticking with the “photography” moniker? I don’t think so. I’ve had many photographers tell me in the past that you can’t sell photography. People don’t want photographs. Given my results as I ventured into art fairs this year, I’ve not found that to be universally true.

But that fundamental belief — people don’t want to buy photographs — must be a driving factor behind some of the practices I’ve seen a few photographers use. I’ve witnessed people who are using altered photography techniques selling their work as nebulous “fine art prints.” No acknowledgement of the starting photograph. It’s not a lie, per se, because they truly are fine art prints, but it’s an omission that leaves the medium up to the imagination of the viewer. Let the viewer think it’s a reproduction of an original in another medium; what they don’t know doesn’t hurt them. That may be ok for other artists, but it would feel dishonest for me. Almost self-negating, as if I need to hide my medium in order for the work I produce to have value. And also not respectful of the artists who have spent years to hone their craft in other mediums. My work may end up looking a bit like a watercolor or some other medium, but it’s not. I don’t want to claim it is.

I want my work to stand on its own, for what it is. A photograph. An altered photograph, sure. But it starts as a photograph.

My art is a piece of me that I put out in the world. So when I make a sale, I want it to be an honest and heartfelt transaction. How I put my work and myself out there really matters to me. I want to connect with people openly and with integrity. I want to have a dialogue about what I’m creating, how I’m creating and why. I want to hear what the viewer has to say, how my work makes them feel. I want to honor all of those who came before me, who taught me, who paved the way for me to create in this medium, too.

So I will continue to call my work and my medium photography. I’m a photographer, and I’m proud of it. I’m happy to have the dialogue about what makes it photography. I relish a good discussion about the art of photography, and like the idea of opening some minds to new ideas about what a photograph can be.

And the folks who aren’t interested, who chose not to come to my studio because of their preconceived notions of what photography will look like? It’s their loss, not mine. They don’t know what they are missing.