Investing in the Creative Process

Creativity is a practice. This is something I strongly believe. While creative pursuits often have an end goal or outcome – creating an image, writing a book, composing or playing a piece of music – the process is equally, if not more important.

How, and why, we get there matters.

The key to being good at something is enjoying the process as much as the end result.

I’ve always wanted to play music. I’ve picked up various instruments and tried to learn at least half a dozen times over the years. The reason, I think, that I never became particularly good at playing music was because I always wanted to jump to the end. I wanted to be good at playing but I didn’t want to be bad at it first.

I didn’t love the process.

Photography is different.

When I pick up my camera, I find it to be an almost meditative experience. Sometimes there is a quietness, where all the noise falls away – the viewfinder acts like blinders, removing all outside distraction until only what is inside the frame matters. Sometimes there is a flow state, where one small thing leads to another and inspiration seems endless like it’s being driven by an outside force. Sometimes there is a connection, where nature and I find an understanding, a shared conversation that is documented through the art. Sometimes in a self-portrait, I see myself from both the outside and the inside at the same time. I am fully present. I map the internal and external landscapes of what I find. I am in that moment.

Sometimes I review my photos and I’ve captured something beautiful. Other times, there is not a single image that speaks to me. But I have almost always found something in the process of picking up my camera that made the experience worthwhile.

Photography is my language of expression. It’s also my tool for processing and introspection. It allows me to creatively interpret my experiences and feelings, and this itself is a process that has to be worked through. There is obviously something very rewarding as an artist in finishing a piece of work, but this is only part of the goal. Because everything I invest in the creation of a photograph becomes part of the finished piece. The experimentation. The mistakes. All these things are woven into the story.

Enjoying the process also means I am more resilient in my practice. I don’t give up easily when things don’t work. I give myself the time to learn new skills, to be bad at something before I am good at it. I benefit from discomfort and failure because it ultimately makes me better at what I do.

Practice makes perfect is an idea that is familiar to most of us. While I’m very rarely seeking perfection in my photography (the nature of my work and the ideas I explore require imperfection to be an honest interpretation) the ability to effectively communicate is important.

When I shoot, my camera becomes almost like an extension of myself. I work primarily with a Canon 5D Mark III and one of the reasons I love it is because of the way it fits so perfectly in my hand. I change settings without looking because I know them by feel. I choose the settings by intuition now, but only because I invested the time to learn and practice them until they became second nature. The less I think about my equipment, the more I can focus on the art, digging deeper into what I want to say. I can find the techniques that best express my ideas. There is a beautiful state of free flow that happens when you let go of expectation and let the creative process take on its own momentum. In the end, this is also often where the best images come from, because they are honest.

Pianist and composer Rose Riebl (I’ve mentioned her before, and I probably will again because she’s incredible) said of her writing process “I think the trick is to play for hours to find the few minutes that work. Late at night, early morning, in pain, when you’re bored. All the time. Just to keep playing and find the melodies, find the bit that feels real.”

We often think of art in terms of the finished product – the painting in the gallery, the song on the radio. We forget that art is, by its nature, a practice. The process is important.

How, and why, we get there matters.