Five Good Reasons to Start a New Creative Project

As a photographer, I’ve always loved working on projects. My first serious photographic project was probably my senior thesis in college—an editorial piece exploring the recreational uses of Lake Lanier. (Okay, so maybe that was just as much about wanting to spend time on the lake my last semester of college.) When I decided I wanted to pursue garden photography, I focused on building a portfolio of "magazine" photographs of gardens. And one year, I photographed trees of all kinds, in all different ways, in every season. Each of these projects, along with others, helped me grow as a book and magazine photographer.

Over the past eight years, I have worked on four separate photographic projects exploring Amelia Island—each from a more artistic than editorial perspective. They have actually changed my way of seeing the world around me, and through them I have honed my visual style. One of my current projects is photographing plants (their leaves, seeds, pods and flowers) in a decidedly non-garden and non-editorial kind of way. 

There are many advantages to working on projects. Here are five of the most important ones that I’ve discovered:

1.     It forces you to push beyond the surface of a subject. I could have photographed Amelia Island as a tourist. Instead, I chose to photograph the island over a series of years—exploring each habitat in depth, seeing the island in different light, and embracing the changing seasons. I have learned about the tides and the local wildlife, become more contemplative in my work, and discovered places to shoot that are off the beaten path.

2.     It allows you to hone a new skill or technique. You master any skill through practice—whether it is photography, painting, cooking, writing or sewing. A project can give you that kind of hands-on, repetitive experience. You have an opportunity to try things many different ways until you find those that work best for you.

3.     It gives focus to your work and helps you stay on track and productive. Whether you are working toward a specific goal (a painting a day, a book of photographs, a finished quilt) or simply taking a deep, exploratory dive in which you trust the process without knowing the outcome, a project forces you to focus your energy in a specific, productive direction.

4.     It can both break a routine, which encourages creativity, and help you establish a new routine when necessary. While good habits can make us more productive, they often lead to creative ruts. It is said that something as simple as changing your route to work can open your eyes to new things and spur creativity. Just imagine what changing your focus or learning new skills can do! 

5.     It allows you to build a body of work—whether an exhibition, a book, a notable collection of stock images, or art you can market to retailers. As an artist, you need bodies of work to present to galleries, collectors, art directors and publishers. They are far more marketable than random pieces of work, and they demonstrate your ability to focus and produce.

In my next post, I’ll share a bit about my newest project. In the meantime, think about your own work: What projects have you completed and in what ways have they helped you grow? Are you working on a project now? What will your next project be? Can you get started today?

The Power of Reflection

Sometimes it seems there’s so much going on that all we ever do is plow ahead to the next assignment or activity. In truth, one of the most important things we can do is to take time to reflect on what we’ve just experienced or accomplished before moving ahead too quickly. This can be especially rewarding when wrapping up a major project, completing a workshop or conference, undergoing a transformational experience, rising to a special challenge or, yes, even making a mistake or failing to meet our goals somewhere along the way. (And I’d like to add that making mistakes is often a sign of something very positive—that we are growing, being creative, stretching our boundaries and learning new skills.)

It’s nice if we can take some time off to reflect. I love nothing more than a road trip or time alone on the beach to think. But in reality, we’re probably talking more about a walk around the block or snatching an hour here or there. I had a wonderful teacher this summer who said that she likes to take one hour “mini-vacations” during the day to reflect, or perhaps to sneak away a half day. This time could be spent journaling, discussing our experiences with a friend over happy hour, or just sitting quietly and thinking about what we learned and accomplished, how we might apply those lessons in the future, or what we might change if we had to do it all over again. Doing this helps us make sense of our experiences, to learn from them, and to grow. It’s the last step in any process and can provide us with direction, helping us to figure out what comes next.