Establishing a Creative Practice of Your Own

Leaving the Nest

“Sooner or later (and despite our best efforts at denial) classroom assignments become just another exercise in work-avoidance.”

– Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

The best work I created in college was in my Color Photography class in 2012. The assignment was ‘narrative.’ Open ended. My idea was odd and nowhere personal, but my images tapped into something I’d been skirting around- miniature scenes. Most of the other work I made in undergrad was simply bad. And most of the work I made in photography classes or otherwise was just for the grade, not for any sort of self improvement or learning.

“Leaving school allows the voices of teachers and peers to stop echoing in your head. Leaving school allows you to listen to your own voice. Leaving school opens the path to the future.”

– Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

I came back fully to creation a year after graduation. The world had opened up to me and I began to form my own artistic ideas and challenges. My worked bloomed.

2017 I got swooped into an online community. In large part a hobby community rather than an artist collective. That’s okay in its own right and I made plenty of work I’m proud of in this time, but my artistic ideas got muddled. It took more effort for me to form ideas, my focus wasn’t as narrow. I made art about molding a place of comfort and that was in direct opposition to my surroundings.

Fully breaking off in 2020/21 my creative process is again flourishing. I’m thinking about art making again and my creative goals. I am the only person influencing my artistic creation.

In summary, Making assignments for yourself, being able to pursue your own creativity or trust your own artistic compulsions is the only way to make distinctive work that sticks with yourself and others. It’s the only way to prevent yourself from becoming stagnant.

“The most distinctive quality of artmaking is the investment of the artist’s own humanity in the finished piece.”

– Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

To be able to form your own ideas, no matter how vague, and act on them, is the only way to have true self expression.

Do join communities. Do buy those books that give you 100+ photo assignments. Do get a BFA, even an MFA. But use those as moments of learning. Don’t center your life within them.

Establishing Routine

So then, how do you form your own assignments for yourself? Assign deadlines? Remain constant?

In large part, if you’ve chosen to be an artist, if you remain driven to create in spite of all the difficulties, you have a compulsion to create. This makes this next part a tad easier.

Set aside time to create everyday. This doesn’t have to be a finished photo or painting, or the creation of an art piece at all. Instead write, plan, brain storm, collect. Do anything that contributes to your creative practice.

In this, log your ideas mentally or physically. Note what inspires you and makes you tick – a color, a location. Return to that over and over until you feel finished exploring it. You don’t need to know the why just yet, just act on your intuition.

“Artists often have good reason to avoid inquiring too closely into motive and purpose – especially while they’re in the midst of working…When it comes to making art, our intuition is often light-years ahead of our intellect.”

– Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

You don’t have to rush the completion of any art piece. And in all likelihood there will be some reworking along the way. But have an idea on when you would like to get to photographing, to painting, to writing. Overtime great ideas fade to the background as new ideas form. If you don’t act on them when they come to you you may lose them for good.

I’d love to hear from you. Reflect on your creative practice in a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Establishing a Creative Practice of Your Own

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  1. Thanks for this post, Jennifer! Within the communities you mention, I often get asked how I work. I’ve made plenty attempts to answer this questions, finding myself struggling with language although I write professionally. So the hint at intuition, at non-intellectual processes really helped me to come to a grip with this issue. Although always labeled an intellectual, rational person, I seem to rely heavily on intuition when I photograph…
    You also seem to imply that, simply put, it is better to realize your vision than to attempt to please others. I second that: If I am not fully behind a picture, all the praise it might elicit just feels wrong!

    1. I’m so glad you found some value in these words. I’ve been told I think too much in general, but in this case about my work. And I certainly do think in mountains about it. But the symbolism, the overall look, etc does rely so fully on my intuition. And yes, so much so, we both, we all, need to create with ourselves in mind first. Some of the best reactions I’e gotten have come from pieces I’ve made with others in mind, but I always feel so frustrated with the feedback. I’m glad others like those pieces, but I never fully will.

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