Every artist and photographer suffers from creative blocks. They are a normal part of the process, and typically a sign that you need to make a change or do some self-reflection.
Making art is challenging for many reasons, but if you get to the core of it, one of the primary existential reasons we stumble is because there's no right or wrong answers. It's ultimately up to the artist to determine if their work meets their artistic standards.
On top of that, creative work is meant for an audience, and audiences can be harsh, and judgemental, so there's always the psychological burden of wondering if what you're doing is effective and resonates with the audience you want to reach.
As if all of that isn't challenging enough, creative work is often done in complete isolation, and getting help can be difficult if you don't have a strong network or trusted community. There are often no easy solutions, but as this is a problem artists and thinkers have confronted for years, there's some conventional wisdom that we can turn to when we hit a block.
Before we get to some of the solutions, let me provide some personal context on how I have confronted creative blocks.
I have been fortunate the last few years as I have rarely encountered a long period where I have been blocked. I believe I have entered a prolonged flow state because of the solutions I have implemented over the years. For a few years, I was in a deep rut, and didn't know which direction I wanted to go with my art and photography.
In mid 2017, I wrapped up a series where I walked all of the trails in the New York City park system, and was working a job at Shutterstock that kept me busy. I wasn't sure about the direction I wanted to take my creative work but felt this deep sense that something was missing.
Over several months, the creative crisis built and started to impact my mental health in a negative way. On top of that, I knew I was physically unhealthy as well. My BMI put me the obese category. While I firmly believe any BMI can be healthy, I knew this was not healthy for me, and as I was hitting my forties, my health anxiety kicked into high gear, making me fear the worst.
I had to make changes. I was suffocating. I returned to a process I knew worked. I bought a bunch of Fuji Provia 100 slide film and decided I was only going to use film, and my Bessa T rangefinder.
On weekend mornings, I would wake up early and start walking without any type of plan other than to stay within walking distance to my apartment. I found myself steadily expanding outward from my apartment and creating my own psychological neighborhood. Using the slidefilm forced me to think about color in a more focused way than I had in the past.
This was a big help creatively, but there were still blocks! It was deeper than my photography or art. I needed to evaluate every aspect of my life. The first step was to move apartments. I left Astoria after 5 years and settled in Sunnyside, which turned out to be the best apartment I ever had in New York City.
Things were moving but I still felt unhealthy, and I wasn't losing much weight. The pressures of working in social media as a profession were pushing me toward burnout. I would use my lunch breaks for 45 mintute walks to alleviate the stress. I would walk another hour after work. On the weekends, I would walk as much as possible.
I knew walking was part of the solution but how could I possibly find time to walk more? And why was I compelled to walk so much? I had always been a walker but something was changing inside of me. There was an urgency.
As we enter different stages in our lives, we go back to the big questions around our careers and creative practice. We see this happening all over our culture right now as we hobble into the new reality.
When I was out walking, the questions started to disappear. There was harmony. The momentum went in the other direction. The walks were creative. The walks allowed me to think, and ideate. I was more focused, my attention was where it needed to be.
In the spring of 2019, I decided I needed to take time off from corporate work, so pursued part time freelancing, while spending time walking as much as possible. Over the course of 3 months, I lowered my BMI, lost a lot of weight, and started down a new creative path, with the focus on walking and urban green spaces. And that's also when I launched this newsletter.
So, here we are now!
In a new article, I have fleshed out some ideas for solving creative blocks based on my experiences. It's too long to include directly here, so you'll just have to click through to learn more but in short, here the solutions you can learn more about.
- Understand the Seven Mental States of Creative Work
- Optimize Your Walks
- Work on Multiple Projects
- Start a Journal for Brain Dump Writing
- Talk it out
- Take a break
- Examine Your First Principles
- Invent Your Own
I love photography and creativity, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than talking shop with photographers, and learning about their projects.
Over the years, I have helped a handful of photography friends with various aspects of their photography work. With some, it was consulting on editorial strategies and social media, while others wanted feedback on their photobook projects.
I know there are a lot of photographers out there that work day jobs, and then pursue their projects on the weekend. It can be tough to figure out the direction to take projects, and hard to find people that will listen to you work through your ideas.
This is the part of the process that I love the most, and always get excited learning about new projects, and ideating around the what ifs.
I want to help photographers develop concrete plans and strategies so they can complete their projects. There's nothing like knowing you've executed a plan for a project, and can look at it knowing you have put your full effort into it, and now have a project you are proud to show people. That's how you build your pracice. You need to finish!
I am offering FREE 30 initial calls if you want to chat, learn more and share your project ideas.
huh, A Cafe With a View of the Waterfall by Craig Mod
Wild jumble of sugi, stochastic downage, snapped like toothpicks, thrown across the path by typhoon, one of many yearly typhoons, typhoons getting worse and worse it seems, the Kii Peninsula receiving a sort of blunt-force climate change trauma; years before, the first time I walked Kumano Kodō I saw the muddy river, muddied, they said, because of the tremendous recent typhoon, the one that killed this person’s husband, the one that erased this mountain road, the one that all the diggers in the river were cleaning up, “fixing” the flow; and yet, in 1889 other floods, Hongu Taisha moved from Ōyu-no-Hara to higher grounds
Craig Mod is a innovator. He's always working on some type of experimental project to supplement his core newsletter and book projects. I didn't subscribe to 'huh' when he launched it but I was back on his site reading something that he linked to in his newsletter, and then I found myself reading these quick hit posts.
And I love them! They are short photo+text stories and they work perfectly. Most importantly, they are a good example of how you can keep it simple for a newsletter. A photo and 300-400 words are all you need.
It can be as experimental as you want. If you are hesistant about starting a newsletter because you think it needs to be like what I am doing (wordy, philosophical, full of bullshit), then I am here to tell you, it absolutely does not!
If you want to just share 10 recent photographs you really like with a short caption, that's all you need to do, and if you have an audience that loves your photography, they will be happy to see each issue land in their inbox.
There are no rules when it comes to using these publishing tools and formats. If you are bored with Instagram or think Twitter is too noisy, then start a newsletter and share exactly what you want to share.
Links of note
- Noah Kalina is out with his latest version of his long term Everyday project, and there seems to be a new technological twist to this one. It's started to feel like he might be creating a virtual version of himself. This could get weird as the technology keeps improving. Always worth checking out.
- As I said on Twitter, this is a story filled with intrigue, mystery, grifters, lawyers, curators and long lost relatives: Who owns Mike Disfarmer's Photographs?
- A new book by photographer Jason Fulford collects some interesting perspectives on the things you should, well, not photograph. Here's a good article on the book from Buzzfeed: Photographers Shared Their Biggest Photography "No-Nos"
- Photographer Stanley Greenberg with an interesting then and now project: A Photographer Retraces New York’s Forgotten Springs and Wells
- Always good to learn about the next generation and their fresh ideas: The 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize: 26 to Watch
Just work. That’s it. Focus on what stirs you up inside, what is beautiful and true. Work on making something good—not something that is liked. Take responsibility. The work will lead you home. - The Inner Ring of the Internet
I’m a photographer and consultant from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. This is my newsletter on art, walking, and mindfulness. Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at email@example.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter