All creative persons--whether photographers, painters, writers, dancers or musicians--must find ways to stay motivated and to grow throughout their careers. I'd like to share a few creative tools or strategies that have helped me along the way.
First, seek out other artists. Study their work. Learn about their lives and their methods of work. I love reading biographies about other artists. It's interesting because I learn about their inspirations and methods of work. It's inspiring because artists with biographies have usually attained at least some degree of success. And it is often reassuring to discover that I'm not alone in some of the internal struggles I face as an artist. We can study the work of other artists to learn about color, form and composition, or about different philosophical approaches to art. In many cases, we can even study with favorite artists by taking workshops and seminars.
Second, have a plan. Just don't cast it stone. A plan can be as simple or detailed as you like, but spend some time thinking about where you'd like to go over the next 5 to 10 years. Artistically, what do you hope to accomplish during that time? What steps can you take to get there--to hone your skills, to explore new techniques, to refine your way of seeing? Make a list. And check it periodically.
Third, update your portfolio. We tend to think of portfolios as marketing tools we develop to show others our work. And they definitely are that. But I've found them to be much more than that. The process of creating and updating a portfolio forces us to look at our own work in new ways, to identify our strengths and weaknesses. It's one of the best ways I know to begin to identify our signature style.
Fourth, keep a creative journal. A journal gives you a place to record ideas, to expand on them, and to work them out. When I'm having a creative problem, I turn to my journal and just start writing. I brainstorm. I write whatever comes to mind. I've discovered that if you sit down and just let the thoughts flow without censorship, often you find the answers are within you just waiting to come out.
And finally, always have a project. Projects are bodies of work that represent who you are and express an opinion. They offer the perfect opportunity to experiment with a new technique, to explore a new subject, to learn about your own way of seeing the world. Projects are focused efforts with tangible results--something you complete for a certain purpose or audience, ideally by a certain date in time. Also, projects are generally more marketable. Galleries like to see bodies of work that hang well together, not individual photographs. Magazines like featuring artists with specific bodies of work that can be discussed easily. And books, in themselves, are a project or body of work.