A Path to Creative Life


Creativity is something to be uncovered. This I wrote in my blog post Uncovering Creativity last week. I also stated that I believe we all have access to creativity, that we all have creativity within us. As a continuation of the post I want to raise the question; how do we uncovered our inherent creativity and connect to what I often call our creative well (by the way an expression borrowed from Julia Cameron and her excellent book The Artist’s Way)?

A lot has been written and said about creativity and the mechanisms of the creative process. One thing that recurs in most of the literature – and one of the most important factors in my opinion when it comes to the creative process is passion. Passion is the connection between you and your creativity. If you want to become more creative and be able to develop beyond the ordinary – if your want to find your personal artistic voice – your need to approach your creative work with passion. For me this is where all true creative work starts – no matter what you do. Without passion for your work and through what you are trying to express the process will be nothing but an exercise. Passion ignites the creative process. In this I am not only talking about passion for the craft itself, for instance for photography if you are into photography – which goes without saying, but even more so what you try to capture with you camera – again if you are a photographer. What I am saying is you need to be passionate about your subject, if you want to capture strong images; you need to care passionately about what you are photographing. It’s about emotional investment; if the subject isn’t important to you, nobody else will care about it either. In other words, photograph – or make art about – whatever is important in your life.

When you have found out how to channel your passion into the creative process by finding projects you care about, next step is to connect to your creative well. This is about getting into a state of mind of being in flow, where time stands still and you are completely absorbed by the work. This might be the hard part, because each of us has to find our own way into flow. For many starting is the barrier; by just getting started after a while things begin to happen, you sink into a deeper layer of concentration and feel as if being connected to an external power. Part of this is letting go of fear; fear of failure, fear of others’ judgment, fear of not being creative, fear of loosing control, fear of not being good enough. Part of the process is also letting go; letting go of rational thoughts, letting go of control, letting go of oneself. The before mentioned Julia Cameron suggests something she calls morning pages to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. It works and it’s recommendable (for more about morning page, look up my post Finding the Creative Well) .

A third important prerequisite for the creative process is putting in enough work. Even if you are the most talented artist in the world; if you don’t work hard, you will never really get in touch with your deeper creative self. You have to do the work, there is no way around it. When you do the work, you develop your creative mind and you slowly by slowly develop your artistic voice. Through hard work you find confidence and maturity and your unique way of expressing yourself. Give yourself projects and force yourself to complete them. Nothing will develop yourself as much as doing the work. After a while a whole new creative world will open up for you.

As I mentioned in my post Uncovering Creativity, creativity is not a scarce resource that runs out if you draw on it. On the contrary. But sometimes you need to replenish the creative well. By this I mean draw inspiration from other creative persons or artists or anything that makes you feel good. Why not spend a day in a gallery looking at contemporary art? Even just watching a good movie will expand your creative horizon and fill up the creative well again. Nothing is probably better than spending time in Mother Nature. Reading is good too, as are concerts, meditation, or even just treating yourself with a good cup of coffee in a stimulating café.

Related to replenish is retreat. Sometimes when you are struggling with your work, it may be a good idea to step back and let it go of it for a while. Do something different, go for a walk, sleep, see some friends or play with your children. Because even when you consciously let go of your creative work your unconscious mind still keep running in the background. This is a time of incubation. Suddenly when you get back to the work you were struggling with you will find that the challenge has solved itself.

One thing that really boosts creativity is to challenge yourself. When you feel too comfortable and keep doing what you are already able to do well, creativity stalls. Instead you need to face your fears and challenge yourself by doing work you don’t feel comfortable about doing, and in so doing expanding your creativity. If we want to develop our art – be it photography or other artistic expressions, we cannot keep staying in our comfort zone. The result is inevitably stagnation and boredom. Related to challenging yourself is stepping out of the box. This is another way to expand by doing your artistic work in a way you normally don’t. For instance try to photograph simple pictures if you usually prefer complicated images, or vice verse. Or handhold you camera with a slow shutter speed when you usually work with a tripod. This is just two examples, but you get the picture. By forcing yourself out of your usual habit your stretch your craft and find new ways to approach creativity. Related to both these steps are the willingness to learn. If you never stop learning, you will continue to grow and develop. Read books, join workshops, attend lectures, subscribe to magazines or talk with your peers about your craft and the creative process.

Another important part of the creative process is completion. Completion makes the work available to others, makes others enjoy all the creativity we have put into the work. Sometimes we create for ourselves, but even then we need to complete the work. Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself.

A few more ideas that can be used to develop your creativity and help you connect to your creative well: Make a plan for your creative life and put some effort into thinking what you want to accomplish. Set goals; be it a book, an exhibition, a multimedia program, a show for your friends or something else. Planning can really be a driving force for your creativity. And why not try to create with other? Collaboration can very much spurs the creative process. By working together you may induce way more inspiration in each other than you are able to do on your own. A successful collaboration provides credibility, it gives you an opportunity to gain experience, and it expands your knowledge base, widens your sphere of influence, deepens your relationships, and gives you a real-world resume. But one of the most important takeaways from collaborating is that it promotes your work ethic.

112 thoughts on “A Path to Creative Life

  1. excellent advice from beginning to end; i liked the early-morning writing concept. at dawn this morning i was instead counting so many birds that flew by that i could not count them all! instead i placed dots and dashes on paper. tomorrow i’ll switch to writing my thoughts!

    step outside of the box? i live outside of the box!

    you continue to supply us with amazing material; a book or two is surely in order?


  2. Great, thought provoking post, Otto. I’m looking forward to finding my creative Voice… Have been looking at some other photographer’s work, to see if I see anything that sparks an idea…..And I need to allow myself to spend more time being creative

  3. Great post Ott, thanks. I did for a while the morning pages thing and I have to say it worked well. Than I gave up, sometimes laziness comes into play! But your “reminder” push me to start again before the morning coffee! And work (hard?) is the other key word which sometimes we (me too? yes) tend to under evaluate. Grazie
    PS: for me among the point you made the most important is to stay in contact with other creative people, not necessary photographers.

  4. This is all excellent stuff Otto. I’ve been working on a project for the past few months now, it’s been really challenging me, I’ve entered into another genre and style and it’s been so liberating and exciting. All will be revealed soon but suffice to say, everyhing you say about stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself I can vouch for absolutely through recent experience!

    1. Non credo che qualcuno ha poca creatività. E quando guardo il tuo blog, è chiaro che non manca nessuno. Ma ci vuole un certo sforzo per tirare fuori il meglio. Ti ringraziamo per il tuo commento, Patrizia.

  5. Hej Otto, intressant inlägg och så bra att du sätter ord på och organiserar upp faktorer som man själv kan påverka. Värdefullt och känns helt rätt.
    Morgonsidorna har jag tyvärr aldrig kommit igång med, har aldrig lockats av detta. Bilden tycker jag passar ypperligt till detta inlägg.

  6. You have very deep insight into basic mind. The process is not only applicable for creativity in art form but in my opinion it goes in any thing you want to do.

  7. What a great post.. my creativity (or artistic passion) has always been an evolution.. I was a ballerina for 15 years and when the knees gave out I evolved into writing poetry, the pen wrote what I felt, a year ago I felt an internal shift from writing to photography.. I am not skilled in technique nor own thousands of dollars of equipment but what I do have is passion for this craft..Where it takes me I do not have a plan yet but I do know I want to leave a collection of photos behind that show humanity and my deep, undying love for us..

    1. Sounds like you are on a fantastic path of creativity. And I am sure you will me able to channel your passion into some very interesting photography. Technique and expensive equipment is the least important. Thank you for sharing your experience, Lynne.

  8. Alright Otto, I believe that this is it. This is hands down my favorite photo of yours. I love it. I especially like your processing. Such an amazing creative job! I also like the perspective view of the pier. I know that it ends somewhere, but it appears to go on forever.

  9. Replenishing our creative well comes from so many and such varied places and people. It’s all a matter of seeking and seeing. Many good thoughts for us here, Otto. I must start morning pages.

  10. I have thoroughly enjoyed both this and the previous post. I tend not to spend much time putting my thoughts/actions into words, which you seem to do perfectly and it helps me rationalise them.

    1. Thank you Andy. And thank you as well for bringing my attention to you new blog iSighting, which I think is a great resource for all photographers. I look forward to follow it in the future.

  11. Hi Otto, thanks for stopping by my blog, cos it has led me to yours. You have amazing photos and a wonderful perspective. Looking forward to learning a lot from you.

  12. thanks otto for coming to my website..
    i just surprice since you’re the first one who comment on it..
    anyway iam totally agree with this.. you got very well written about it

  13. Excellent post. These points are some of the hardest things about srtistic creativity to get across to many people. It’s also extremely difficult to convince many that pretty much everyone inherently can do this, it’s just that most of modern society has made us too adept at supressing such abilities because they are felt to be frivolous.

  14. Wow, what a great post Otto ! You are such a good motivator and you always have the perfect words to explain things. I would say my weak point is to challenge myself, I don’t do it enough. I will try to ameliorate this point. I really love the photo, so beautiful 🙂

  15. Really appreciate your putting the time into this post, it has inspired me to delve more into ‘finding my creative well’ through your suggestions. Thank you!

  16. You let your imagination flow with your photo–and I do think it is probably more magical and enjoyable for it. Your article is a good “check list” for any creative person and could also be applied to many other pursuits in life. Opening eyes and unlocking the mind and stretching in actions–it’s what we are meant to do! Super writing, Otto.

  17. To overcome the “starting” barrier I sometimes just grab the biggest art brush and begin smearing color everywhere on the canvas– till a ghostly hint of a picture emerges. Or I’ll look at the mess on my work desk area, visualize a scene from the items cluttered about and start penning something out– and I might just get even a one liner to use in the now or later. Thanx for the post, Otto.

  18. I agree, very motivating indeed, but you hit a chord when you said “you’ve got to do the work”, there is no way around it. I haven’t yet processed why, but when I began to take photography more seriously, I started to enjoy life more, through the lens, does that even make sense?

    1. It does make sense. The using the camera makes you more aware of your surroundings, more perceptible – even when you don’t have a camera with you. Thank you for commenting, Marie.

  19. I hold a different perspective about creativity. I believe it is not about trying to locate that creative spark within us. This would imply that we are searching for something from outside. Creativity, to me, is wearing a different set of glasses and looking at possibilities external to us from within.

    Would you agree?


    1. I think we agree. As far as I see it we just use different words to express the same. Maybe. What is external and what is internal – I am not sure. But your comment made me ponder more about it. Thank you, Shakti.

  20. So many wise reminders for creative self-management. Yes, Julia Cameron’s morning pieces, I often wonder why I resist doing them. It might explain why my flow is definitely is clogged up for much of the time.

    1. We all have our many moments of clogged up flow -as you put. The morning pages is only one way to open the flow – and it does take quite some commitment, that might be right for some and not for others. Thank you for the comment, Tish.

  21. What an uplifting reassuring and motivating post this is for me Otto . I think I shall be reading it over a number of times again . Tapping into the creative side of oneself is not always easy I find, but when passion and the being ‘in the flow ‘ come together the experience can indeed be very satisfying, and on some – but not all of course – 😉 occasions the ultimate outcome can be surprisingly pleasing .

  22. Thanks you for posting this. I am a photographer and there has been something missing from my portraits. Saying that you have to care for your subject to capture emotion….I needed to hear that. I think I need to spend time with my clients prior and get to know them more in order to capture better emotion. Thank you for your post!

  23. My friend, thanks of inspiring us to keep pursuing our creative passions. To me, it’s one way to feel truly alive from within and turns ordinary days to something unforgettable. Best of blessings to you and your family.

  24. This is one of the best posts I’ve read – period. It’s very inspiring and thought provoking and for that I thank you very much. The photography I’ve seen throughout this blog is also inspiring and again for that I thank you. All the best Mark

  25. Thank you for liking “Fun Verticality.” I like how this post describes creativity as a process with different parts that people can easily recognize. I see several different parts that I need to work on as an artist: doing my work, challenging myself, and making a plan. Thanks for sharing this information. Great post! 🙂

  26. Nothing like a great inspirational blog like this to help one get creative again. 3 really great points to help one keep their creativity flowing. As I read these visions of what I want to capture here in the detest came to me. I also need to push the work part more. Thanks for sharing.

  27. hey Otto. great thoughts. and beautify photos. thanks for stopping by my blog. you are giving me more and more inspiration! JT

  28. Just found your site Otto and it is very inspiring. I have decided after much thinking about it that I wan to do a blog, just to communicate with other like minded people. You have givrn me a bit of inspiration. Thank you.

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