We are called to be many things in this online life. And alongside the more mundane, behind the scenes admin, the demand for creativity is constant. So how can you go about finding creative inspiration and maintain any kind of originality? How can you set yourself apart from the crowd?
This is a question I ask myself regularly. I am putting together my October calendar post this week and increasingly I have been wondering what sets my work apart, what makes my photos recognisable as mine? What makes my posts ‘me’? Because there are one heck of a lot of calendars out there now and you know what, I can’t exactly put my finger on anything other than they are how I want to see them. They have been through a couple of years development and they represent a bit of me. The colours, edits, writing. All representations of me.
Before I look at finding inspiration, I just want to share a little back story. The question of what makes my photos ‘mine’ itself is currently raised by the ever expanding repertoire of calendars I see each month. I know it’s not a new idea, but there are an awful lot that look a *bit* like mine now and this question is important to me in deciding whether to continue making them or to shelve them and move on to the other photography ideas I am keen to play around with.
Of course the idea of a calendar per se is far from original. And of floral wreaths you could say the the same. This project for me was born of a need to move on from cups and flowers, inspired by the test shots I always took before pouring the drink. It started with a digital word and now I handwrite them all, carefully layering them in Photoshop. There wreaths too have developed, you can see their progress (and some very early leaf cutting calendar ideas) here.
So originally, the idea grew from pulling other ideas together. I’ve said it many times, a vine that trailed itself around my cup put the cogs in motion.. But mix that with Christmas wreaths on the door and the trend for illustrated wreaths a few years ago, and there you have my best guess at what inspired me. One thing I can absolutely say is the idea was not from a photograph I had seen on Instagram…
Finding your photographic voice – especially the creative one – can often involve finding your signature photo. The one that can be adapted and repeated to create the cornerstones of your Instagram gallery or of your blog or website. Wherever you share your photographs.
My point is this,
if you want your creativity to stand out, you have to do things your own way.
Not the way you have seen others do. You need the story, the history and the development of ideas. And that means trial and often error, personal development and – most importantly – not copying anyone else.
So where can we look for creative inspiration and how can we interpret what we find?
creative inspiration – look beyond
Interpretation is everything. I have said it before and will say it again, nothing is ever truly original. What makes creative inspiration acceptable is interpretation. If you spend any amount of time absorbing visual media, it is inevitable that some of it will leave an impression on you. What you do with that impression is what will define you as creative or copycat.
For example, I never directly reference anyone else’s work when creating my own. I move things around and play with set ups till it works in my eyes. My inspiration is often from many sources and none exactly the same as the ‘product’ I produce.
Don’t simply look at a photo and think “I’ll try that”. Look at a photo and think “if I tried that, I would do it this way…”
Do you see my point?
So where to look?
Look beyond the immediate and easy. Inspiration is, quite literally, everywhere.
So look everywhere. Except perhaps the place you want to share your work…
Yes, really. If you are creating for Instagram, close the app down and look elsewhere for inspiration.
Open your eyes to the world around you. Look to artists, writers, musicians. Explore print through books and magazines. Visit art galleries. And think like a child because to them, anything is possible.
I love visual input. For example, I love Pinterest, I love a Pinterest journey. Click on a photo and their algorithms will show you several similar photos. Keep clicking, see where it takes you. There is an entire world of inspiration there. But if you are using it for inspiration, commit what you see to memory and don’t go back for repeat looks at what you think you’d like to create. That way your inaccurate memory will mean you create something different anyway.
But my very favourite place for shaking off the cobwebs and embracing creativity is the outdoors. To me, nature itself is the most amazing creation. The sounds, sights, colours, feel. All of it. As you can see through all of my photography, natural elements are almost always there. Plantlife. Florals. Landscapes.
Think of what makes you tick…? Know yourself first then apply that to your creativity. Do you love colour? Food? Florals? Sunlight? Artificial light? Interiors? Exteriors? All of the above? Really look at the world around you and use what you see.
If everything has been done already – and often extremely well – the only thing you have that gives you and edge is yourself. So use it. Be original. What I see one way you will see another. Exaggerate that and run with it without any kind of apology for how you see the world. Be you.
I like to cut the heads off flowers and arrange them in a circle. What do you like to do?
Forget adulting, save it for later, and imagine. Irrationalise, think illogically. Could you pick up one of my flower wreaths? Nope. But you know what I’m trying to show when I photograph them don’t you? The act of illusion is a part of the success of creativity. Evoking emotion or simply leaving something up to the imagination should be a part of the final picture..
Leave the viewer with a question.
How? That’s my favourite. Or what if? Why? Draw the observer in with what is left unspoken.
Make time to be creative
I mean just for the sake of it creative. In whichever way you enjoy. It is so good for the soul to just make something out of nothing. Whether it be perfectly imperfect or a complete failure is irrelevant, find time to enjoy the process.
By setting aside time to create just for the sake of it, you open up a creative process that will continue. You don’t always have to photograph it either. Just arrange your table as you eat your lunch. Or pick up some leaves and lay them out. Colour coordinate them. Lay them in a pattern. One of my favourite things to do when we go to the beach is to gather pebbles and arrange them. Forever inspired by the artist Andy Goldsworthy and his work in a book called ‘Parkland’ that I have had since I was a teenager.
But it doesn’t have to be a permanent work of art, just enjoy the process and embrace the temporary.
accept the less than perfect
There has to be a fair amount of less than perfect before you can ever get close to an idea being how you envisage. And that is OK, it’s a fundamental part of the learning process. I’d be much more sceptical of an idea that seems to be perfect from conception because that isn’t human.
Exploration is a huge part of the creative process and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Though those moments when it does work are their own kind of magical.
Whatever you decide to do with your imperfect creations, you will always have learned something from them.
So don’t be afraid of the failures along the way. In fact, I would go so far as to say embrace them. You don’t have to post them online but you know what? Some of my early Instagram photos I keep simply to remind me how far I’ve come!
Take time away
When ideas escape you or things aren’t going the way you hope they will, as contradictory as it sounds, stop trying to create. Put whatever it is down, shelve the idea. But don’t forget it.
Perhaps the essence of what you are trying to create is good, you just need a little re-think. So come back to it later. In an hour, a day, a week, who cares. But you can’t force creativity and it’s better to pause an idea than to create it half heartedly.
its all about interpretation
Yes, as above. But there is one more element to interpretation here.
Interpretation itself is subjective. What I think is a close copy, someone else may think is completely different. And speaking from experience, sometimes it won’t occur to either the person creating that copy or the viewer of their creation that there is even a relationship between it and their source material. Or the viewer may not have seen the source material.
My point is this, if you find someone has copied your work, more often than not it won’t be with malicious intent. I know they say imitation is a form of flattery, and I also know it really doesn’t feel like it. But feeling frustrated is a complete waste of time, channel that energy into creating something new or making your creations better. Up your game.
And as always you have two choices. To be your creative self and accept that once something is in the public domain, you’ve lost control of it. Or to keep your creativity away from public eyes. Neither is right or wrong. Choose whichever feels best to you.
I will leave you with these. Two interpretations of my work. I say this not in vanity, but because the creatives told me so. Each their made their own by drawing reference from my work. And therein lies the creative process, to adapt and change is a skill we should all learn. Never to simply copy.
And just one more thing, if you are so inspired by someones work that you create something tangibly similar, please do credit them as inspiration. That small acknowledgement goes a long way when your work is often used by others, believe me.
Facing creative block? Try this.
On finding your unique photographic voice, more here.