Listen to the Muses

As creative people we need to learn to listen. That’s the way we get in touch with the creative well, or the universe of ideas, or our inspired self. Listening is essential in the creative process. Listening opens the door to getting in flow, a central element in the creative process.

When listening there is only now. In Buddhist practice, a bell is rung as part of the ritual. The sound instantly pulls the participants into the present moment. It’s a small reminder to wake up.

As in the good conversation, the one with the ability to listen will learn, while the one who only talks will inevitably continue to repeat himself.

If you are to draw impulses from the creative well you must become more open and receptive. You must listen. Creating is closely linked to the ability to listen. Listening to our unconscious mind, or listening to the muses, or listening to the creative power of the universe of which we are a part, or listening to our inner voice—whatever you prefer to call it.

We do not create in a vacuum or out of our little selves. We create in an exchange with something greater than ourselves. By listening to what always flows through us like an underground river of creativity, we are able to form works of art that express a deeper truth or communicate a universal, human experience. It doesn’t matter if we photograph, write, dance, act, paint, sculpture or express ourselves through other types of media. By listening, we create with an unknown strength as if we are mediators of a creative force stronger than ourselves.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes: “Art is not about inventing. It’s about the opposite – getting something down. The directions are important here.”

If we try to think something out, we strive for something just beyond our reach, “up there, in the stratosphere, where art lives,” as Cameron writes. This “up there” is indeed difficult to reach when we try with compulsion. If, on the other hand, we let it fall down by itself, just listening for it, there is no load attached to the process. We don’t do anything, we get. Something outside of our awareness of what is me. Instead of trying to invent, we become engaged in listening and taking it down.

The master Michelangelo is said to have stated that he freed David from the block of marble he found him in. Or as Jackson Pollack put it: “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it show.” If you have experienced being in flow, you know the feeling that what you are creating already exists in its entirety. Our job when we create is to listen for this, see it with eyes turned inward and write it down, photograph it, paint it, sculpture it.

While the eyes and mouth can be sealed, an ear has no lid, nothing to close. It takes in what surrounds it. It receives but can’t transmit. The ear is simply present to the world.

When we hear, sounds enter the ear autonomously. Often we’re not aware of all the individual sounds and their full range. Listening is paying attention to those sounds, being present with them, being in communion with them. Though, to say that we listen with the ears, or the mind, might be a misconception. We listen with the whole body, our whole self.

Many of us experience life as if we’re taking it in through a pair of headphones. We strip away the full register. We hear information, but don’t detect the subtler vibration of feeling in the body, we don’t listen to the inner river of creativity.

When you practice listening with the whole self, we expand the scope of your consciousness to include vast amounts of information otherwise missed, and discover more material to feed your art habit. If it’s music you’re listening to, consider closing your eyes. You may find yourself lost in the experience. When the piece ends, you might be surprised by where you find yourself. You’ve been transported to another place. The place where music lives.

Lose yourself in the listening. Lose control and be nothing but receptive. Listening is the way to experiences your creative well of unknown ideas.

Would you like to get motivating thoughts related to the act of photographing? Every once a month I write Sideways—nuggets of inspiration on photography. Sign up to receive Sideways in your email.

Photo Workshops and Tours in 2023
These are the photo workshops I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan for this year.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 9th to 11th 2023.

”Along the Streets of Prague”—five days in the beautiful city of Prague, The Czech Republic. This is a jewel in the middle of Europe with its historical, cultural and human melting pot. September 7th to 10th 2023.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. October 23rd to 31st 2023.

”On the Tracks of Che Guevara”—ten days in eastern Bolivia. This is a great opportunity to discover one of the most beautiful countries in South America. October 23rd to 31st 2023.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.


Creative Routines

If you want to stand out as photographer (as any artist, as a matter of fact), you need to put in the work. Simply put; it takes a lot of work to excel. Often enough I have written about the necessity to work hard. However, almost as important is developing good habits.

As Twyla Tharp, the dancer and one of America’s greatest choreographers, concludes in her book The Creative Habit: “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive pattern of behaviour—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, and going the wrong way.” Tharp wakes up every morning at five-thirty and takes a cab to the gym—a trite ritual but, as she writes, “a lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.”

Most renowned artists have and continue to develop good habits for the creative work. Frédéric Chopin played Bach preludes and fugues. Beethoven took a walk with a sketchpad to jump-start his mind and jot down rough notes. Novelty in creative endeavours usually arises from routine—you have to be familiar with something before you know what is novel.

In his book The Accidental Masterpiece, Michael Kimmelman writes about the artist Philip Pearlstein—as one of many artists he highlights in the book. Kimmelman, chief art critic of The New York Times, followed Pearlstein’s process when creating one of his paintings and in so doing, observe the routine of his life. Pearlstein’s paintings are unusual and provocative. He paints in a style that has become recognizable his own. As to his work routine, though, he does essentially what most of us do whether we are in an office or teach in a school or we drive a truck or we raise children at home: he follows pretty much the same schedule, day in and day out, trying to make something constructive of it. Contrary to the myth that artists are eccentrics, leaping from one peak of inspiration to another, Pearlstein exemplifies the greater truth that most artists live as they work, incrementally, day by day, in the same way that they build up a canvas or chisel a sculpture. According to Micheal Kimmelman.

Kimmelman also refers to the artist Chuck Close who makes prints out of small, nearly identical dots. Close’s work is painstaking, repetitious, and methodical. As he says to Kimmelman: “My favourite analogy is a brick building. Stacked up one way the bricks make a cathedral, another way they become a gas station. Having a routine is what keeps me from going crazy. It’s calming. My working methods are almost Zen-like, like raking gravel in a monastery.”

Daily routines are also essential for Julia Cameron. She has inspired plentiful of artists and artists in coming by her book The Artist’s Way. The book describes a program for how to open up the creative self and become more in touch with one’s muses. An essential part of her program is what Cameron calls The Morning Pages. As the first think every morning, you sit down and basically empty you mind onto three pages of handwritten notes. The routine will help your artistic development and spur the creative drive.

Good habits create space for creativity. It frees up your mind and inspiration, when you otherwise might get bugged down by the mere thought of what could end up becoming insurmountable chores. Again, to quote Twyla Tharp: “Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing.”

One way of developing good habits for a photographer is doing what the photographer and teacher David Ulrich calls Your Daily Record. In many ways it’s similar to Cameron’s Morning Pages, except instead of writing it encompasses photography. Ulrich describes Your Daily Record in his book Zen Camera (which I reviewed in my post Zen Camera).

The baseline for Your Daily Record is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing, improve your ability to discover potential subjects and become a better photographer. You need to develop photographic habits. Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions—like Morning Pages. You let go of conscious thoughts on how you ought to photograph and let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. Ideally, you dedicate time for daily shooting. It doesn’t have to be time solely for shooting; use off time if you have a change. Shoot while you go for your daily walk, or shoot while commuting with bus or train, or during your lunch break. Now just see and record what you see with you camera (or cell phone). Don’t worry or think about making good photos. These are only sketches. Take photos of everything you see and that strikes you enough to make you become aware of it. Photograph anything and everything that ignites any kind of response or resonates with you. Just captured images without thoughts and any worries about composition, light or technique.

Reviewing the images is just an important part of Your Daily Record as the shooting itself. This is how David Ulrich describes this second part of the process: “Organize your photos and view them daily. You can do this at night or odd times throughout the day when you have a free moment. You want to look for recurring themes and core forms or shapes that appear and reappear. Study how you use colour and form, and your magnetic attraction or revulsion to certain subject matter. Above all, seek the pearls of resonance, those images and scenes that call to you from the deep within, that touch your being in ways you cannot yet identify. Place these, and only these gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

I try to shoot and follow the guidelines by Ulrich on a daily basis, although I don’t always manage to set aside time for Your Daily Record. Nevertheless, I notice how it has sharpened my awareness and even increased my effectiveness when I photograph an assignment. I am quickly able to get in flow. The photo following this post was shot one morning some time ago during a walk while shooting Your Daily Record.

For the record, Holly who writes the blog House of Heart, recommended The Accidental Masterpiece to me. She creates beautiful poetry. I suggest visiting her blog.

Candy to the Creative Child

Et nysgjerrig esel på den karibiske øyen Bonaire.

Some days I am flowing over with creative energy. There is no end to my cornucopia; it’s like an endless stream of ideas flowing through me combined with an unstoppable desire to create. I can go on and on and on. Other days my mind is completely empty, I feel drained and I don’t even want to think about creative work, let alone attempting to do such futilities. I just want to shut myself down, crawl up in good chair and read a completely unchallenging book.

How do I go about those days? Well, sometimes I do exactly that, shut down and do something utterly mindless. But in the long run that is no solution at all. I risk never getting up of that chair, figuratively speaking, because most times I feel creatively drained not because I am really creatively exhausted, but because being creative is scary as hell. It’s not for no reason that the American existential psychologist Rollo May talks about the courage to create—because it does take courage. It’s a daring path to choose. Or as George Bernard Shaw once stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz; it’s an active battle with the gods—and with oneself I would like to add for my part. The courage to create is something I have already written about in a previous post, so I won’t dwell far and wide about it now.

The question is what do we do when we get into that stage of inertia and creative apathy? As far as I see it, there are four ways around it. We can do nothing, find that brainless book and hide from ourselves. I have already made my point about that solution.

A second solution—which is not a bad solution at all—is to rest your creative mind, not by withdrawing, but by filling it with inputs and new impressions. It’s what I called replenishing the creative well in one of my other, previous posts. Replenishing the creative well (by the way an expression I have taken from Julia Cameron) could be visiting an exhibition, it could be gathering some creative friends and discussing each other’s work, it could be as simple as going to a coffee shop and have a nice espresso or a long walk in Mother Nature.

Another way out of the misery is simply to force ourselves into a creative mood. Is that possible you might ask? Yes, and no. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes the creative work you are pursuing will not come alive with pure force of mind. Other times it’s all it takes. I know for sure when it comes to myself, that for instance when I have been travelling and shooting on the streets for some time, at some point I run into a wall. Suddenly I feel drained, I can’t face the street again with a camera in my hand, and I just want to spend the day in a nice hotel room or even better in a nice bar somewhere. But then I know if I just make that first step into the street again, with camera in hand and start shooting, albeit it will be lousy pictures in the beginning, at some point the energy comes back again, and I am suddenly back on my creative path again.

The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing. So what do you do when a child has decided to put both feet on the ground? You promise it something nice and alluring, something it cannot say no to—if it only starts moving again. It’s simple psychology. If it takes a candy to get the child over the hill, then give the child a candy! So it is with my creative child. If I am only willing to walk down one more street and take scores of photos along the way, I promise my creative child a new camera! That is something that can get me going. Well, I guess I would quickly become a poor photographer if I really did that. But I think you get my point. The point being, you need to find something that you can give yourself to keep going down that creative path you don’t really feel like walking. It’s about motivating ourselves. If not a new camera, maybe I will buy myself that photo book I have long been drooling for. Or maybe that nice bar—but at the end of the day. Give it as a present to myself when I have done my dead, instead of sneaking in with a bad conscious before I have accomplished anything all. Again it comes down to motivation and luring that child to keep going. Just give that creative child a candy!—Or a carrot to the donkey…

Your Daily Record

As mentioned in my last post, over a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Year I have been trying to connect and replenish my creative well. I have spent time letting the inspiration flow and getting in touch with my muses again, particularly in order to renew this blog.

One way to tap into our creative mind is by something called Morning Pages. I will get back to this in just a second. The reason I mention Morning Pages is a book I have just finished reading. It’s called Zen Camera and written by the American photographer and teacher David Ulrich. In the book, he suggests something he calls Your Daily Record, which has many similarities with Morning Pages except instead of writing it’s a journal of photographs. I think Ulrich’s idea can be beneficial for all photographers at all levels, and that’s why I want to pass it on to whoever is interested in developing their photography.

But first Morning Pages: Let me quickly summarize what they are all about. The award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker Julia Cameron developed the concept. Despite her extensive film and theatre credits, which include such diverse work as Miami Vice and the prize-winning romantic comedy God’s Will, which she both wrote and directed, Cameron is best known for her hugely successful works on creativity. Particularly her book The Artist’s Way has gained worldwide recognition. The book teaches techniques and suggests exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills. One of the basic tools is what Cameron calls Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are a way 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. The idea is that when you wake up you are still very connected to your unconscious mind—which then expresses itself through your writing. It really works (for more about Morning Pages, look up my post Finding the Creative Well).

I recommend anyone who has embarked on a creative endeavour to do Morning Pages, or at least try out the idea. Despite the fact that you have to write, it’s by far for writers only. You don’t even have to be able to write. Well, literally you will have to, of course, but Morning Pages are good training for photographers and everybody else who is creating even if they don’t believe they can write any good. It’s not really about writing, but about getting those unconscious processes to flow and become an integral part of your creativity.

I read The Artist’s Way long ago and ever since have done Morning Pages—admittedly on and off. Nevertheless, already back then in the beginning, I thought the idea could be morphed or moulded into a similar processed using the camera. I did try my morning photographs for a period of time, but never made it work.

But, alas, here comes David Ulrich and Your Daily Record. In the preface of Zen Camera he does himself compare Your Daily Record with the Morning Pages. Imagine how excited I was when I found out. He had developed a method that works.

The baseline for the idea is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing and become a better photographer. How much then? Personally I will strongly recommend trying to shoot on a daily basis. I know, it sounds like a lot, but I am confident that you relatively easily may accomplish some shooting during the daily rut of things you need to do. At least the way described by Ulrich. Doing so will encourage development of your skills as a photographer.

Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions. You let go of conscious thoughts on how you ought to photograph and let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. When doing Your Daily Record, make it easy for yourself and use your cell phone, which you always carry around anyway. And if you use a “real” camera put it on automatic or program mode. Furthermore, capture images in jpeg-format. I am an ardently believer in shooting with raw-format, but for Your Daily Record, jpeg makes sense since these are images you would normally not process but only capture as sketches and for you to become aware of and develop your photographic mind (truth be told, though, I have set my camera I always carry to capture both formats, just in case…).

Now dedicate time for the daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be time solely for shooting; use off time if you have a change. Shoot while you go for your daily walk, or shoot while commuting with bus or train, or during your lunch break. Whatever works and doesn’t feel stressful. Now just see and record what you see with you cell phone (or camera). Don’t worry or think about making good photos. These are only sketches. Take photos of everything you see and that strikes you enough to make you become aware of it. Photograph anything and everything that ignites any kind of response or resonates with you. Just captured images without thoughts and any worries about composition, light or technique. Use your emotions as a guiding light, photographing what hits you in some way, whether positively or negatively. Shoot a lot and quickly. Shoot from the guts. Over one week, you should try to capture at least 100-200 images according to Ulrich.

Reviewing the images is just an important part of Your Daily Record as the shooting itself. This is how David Ulrich describes this second part of the process: “Organize your photos and view them daily. You can do this at night or odd times throughout the day when you have a free moment. You want to look for recurring themes and core forms or shapes that appear and reappear. Study how you use colour and form, and your magnetic attraction or revulsion to certain subject matter. Above all, seek the pearls of resonance, those images and scenes that call to you from the deep within, that touch your being in ways you cannot yet identify. Place these, and only these are gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

Before starting the reviewing, upload the images to a computer. It’s much easier than watching them on a small cell phone screen. Then go through them, initially without any editing or judging. Remember that Your Daily Record is most of all about the process and much less about the final product. And remember—once again—that these images are merely photographic sketches. May I finally make a recommendation at least for those of you who are serious about your photography? Make this exercise a lifelong habit. Keep shooting a journal of free images every day. I promise you it will take your photography to places you wouldn’t even imagine. I have started myself.

Listen to the Creative Flow

The act of creating is closely related to the ability to listen. Listening to our unconscious mind, or listening to the muses, or listening to the creative power of the universe that we are part of, or listening to our inner artist—whatever you prefer to call it.

We create not in a vacuum or out of our little self. We create in an exchange with something bigger than ourselves. By listening to what is always flowing through us as an underground river of creativity, we are able form work of art that expresses a deeper truth or communicate a universal human experience. It doesn’t matter whether we photograph, write, dance, perform, paint or sculpture or express ourselves through other kinds of media, by listening we create with strokes of unknown potency as if we are vehicle for a creative power must stronger than ourselves.

I think we too often forget to listen. Because of that, we often end up with a writers block or aren’t able to break through a barrier of mental obstacles that holds our creative back. We yearn to create something unique or something that expresses who we are, and in so doing, we try to wrestle it out of our conscious self. That’s not how it works, though. We need to listen instead of speaking—figuratively speaking.

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes; “Art is not about thinking up. It’s about the opposite—getting something down. The directions are important here.”

If we are trying to think something up, we are striving to reach for something that’s just beyond our reach, “up there, in the stratosphere, where art lives,” as Cameron puts it. On the other hand, if we try to put something down, there is no strain. We are not doing, we are getting. Something outside of our conscious self is doing the doing. Instead of trying to invent, we are rather engaged in listening.

The great Michelangelo is said to have remarked that he released David from the marble block he found him in. “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through,” said Jackson Pollack. If you have been in flow, you know the feeling, that whatever it is you are creating already exists in its entirety. Our job when creating is to listen for it, watch it with our mind’s eye, and write it down, photograph it, paint it, sculpture it.

I think it’s nowhere easier to understand this idea or concept than in photography. As photographers, we are not creating a new world to photograph (well, if you are not a studio photographer that is). We take what is, we see—or we listen, figuratively speaking—and transform what we discover in this process into a photograph. We often talk about “taking” a photograph, which I find to be a somewhat imprecise phrase. It implies that the photograph is our doing, rather than we see and received what is offered us. The American documentary photographer Charles Harbutt often said that he doesn’t take photographs, photographs take him. The New York photographer Jay Maisel has a similar approach. He doesn’t look for specific photographs. Rather, he’s open, perceptive, and ready for what comes to him unexpectedly.

The thing is, in the act of creating, we are more the conduit than the creator of what we express. The making of art is like dropping down in this underground river of creativity. It is as though all the stories, paintings, music, images, performances live just under the surface of our normal consciousness. Like this underground river, they flow through us as a stream of ideas that we can tap into. By listening.

I have a good friend of my, a colleague in photography, who is staging his photography meticulously. He is in full control most of the time, and don’t let anything be formed by coincidences. Yet, he often shoots his most brilliant imagery when for a split second he let go of the control.

When you learn to trust the process, you will see that inspiration—whatever that is or whatever word you want to use for it—will come to you. You will hear the dialogue you need, find the right light for your photo, discover your David in the clay or hear the right tones for your song.

We must learn to listen to the creative stream. The more we practise the better we become at it. In the beginning, it might be difficult to quiet the mental noise that we impose on ourselves. One way is for instance through free writing or through free photographing as I wrote in my post Free Shooting a couple of weeks ago. That is, to create without thinking, just letting go and flow with whatever comes to mind without trying to modify or reshape whatever comes to you as you think it ought to be. This way of creating you can do in all works of art.

Listening is imperative in the creative process. Like in the good conversation, the one with the ability to listen will learn, while the one, who only speaks, inevitably will keep repeating him- or herself.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Nikon FinePix E900 with the lens set at 28 mm (the equivalent of a 128 mm full frame). The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Breath of Life

På toppen av Navaho Pass med utsyn mot Mount Stuart

Choosing a creative path isn’t always an easy course to travel. It’s a path of much struggle. At the same time, though, it’s also a path of much joy and fulfilment. For me creativity is a healing path. Part of the struggle is because when we open ourselves up to creativity, we open up to our vulnerability. We learn about ourselves and we see ourselves in a different perspective, cannot hide all that we so often try to ignore about and in ourselves. Being creative means opening up—and that can be very challenging.

I think every human being has creativity in her- or himself. We are all creative beings. Life itself is but creative. Every creature (and just the word itself gives away the fact) is part of the natural order of creativity. We are ourselves creations. And the natural order for us is to continue the creation through our own creativity. But along the way to adapt to life’s demands many of us lose sight of our natural creativity.

To get back on the creative track, particularly for those of us who have been away for a long time, can be a roller-coaster experience. It can be painful, full of doubts and mountains of frustrations. However, as long as we don’t give in, we will eventually experience the fruits of becoming creative again. The fulfilment. Feeling whole. Feeling connected. The creative joy. Yes, creating.

Being creative, means to live. As the poet Alain Arias-Misson once said; «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate—it is life, intensified, brilliant life.»

When you begin down the path of creativity, you will encounter challenges and moments of insight and growth, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. You will always experience downturns as well as highs. As the writer, director and producer Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist’s Way. «Frustration and rewards exists at all levels on the path. Our aim is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you.»

The peaks-and-valleys that are part of the growth along the creative path are like a series of expansions and contractions. It’s like breath of life. We breathe, in and out. Expansions and contractions. We create, in and out. Thus, become alive.

So at times when you feel lost, don’t feel creative at all, when everything seems like at a standstill; know that it’s just a time of contraction. It’s necessary in order to be able to expand again. Don’t get discouraged. We are all in this cycle of expansions and contractions. We all have times when we can’t get out of the box, feel discouraged, but then suddenly the box fall to pieces, we feel free again, free to create.

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may remember that I was in a deep contraction just before Christmas. Now I am in an expansive uphill. Things begin to open up again. And I enjoy being creative, see things that I otherwise would ignore, feel like I am paying attention to life’s details as I wrote about in the post Pay Attention, two weeks ago. It’s a joyous place to be. But I also know, as certain as rain follow sun in my part of the world, that before I can blink I will be moving into a contraction again. Being alive means constantly alternating between expansions and contractions. Each time I enter an expansive mode, I see new vistas, I learn to appreciate all creation with different eyes—yes, I expand.

Replenishing the Creative Well

Last week I wrote about morning pages, a tool to access one’s creative well and to regain creativity if you have lost sight of it. This is something Julia Cameron describes in her book The Artist’s Way. But just as important, and as part of the creative development, is to replenish that creative well. While morning pages can be look upon as withdrawals from the well of creativity, what Cameron calls the artist date can be looked upon as deposits. Every so often we need to fill up the well with new impulses and give ourselves some nice experiences without having to be creative ourselves.

Cameron writes: «Think of this combination of tools in terms of a radio receiver and transmitter. It’s a two-step, two-directional process: in and then out. Doing your morning pages, you are sending – notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfaction, hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving—opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance».

The artist’s date is nothing but a treat to yourself. Going to a concert. Enjoying a moment of silence. Going for a walk. Watching a movie. Treating yourself with a nice meal. Visiting an art museum. Doing meditation. The important thing is that is has to be done by you and you only. No friends, no spouse, no kids, no lover, no dog, no colleague is allowed to come along. It’s a date with the artist within you, and only the two or you. Your inner artist needs to be taken out, to be pampered with and listened to. It doesn’t even have to cost anything. If you are running love on money, take a solo trip to the beach, visit a great junk store, make yourself an omelette or watch an old movie. It’s not about money, it is the time commitment that needs to be fulfilled. An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. For both the morning pages and the artist date to work, you need to do it consistently over a longer period. Just as you need to write those three morning pages every day—every day—you need to treat yourself with an artist date every week—every week.

Cameron again: «As artists, we must learn to be self-nourished. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond, so to speak».

So go out there and have some fun. And know that it’s only doing good for your creative self. As a matter of fact it’s necessary.

As I am writing this, I realize I haven’t been nourishing my creative self for quite a long time. It’s been a lot of work lately. There has been time off, too, but spent with friends, family and love ones. It’s time to allocate some time for myself—and only for myself. Maybe go to a concert or maybe just take a couple of hours off, buy a cafe latte and sit down by the water contemplating life and what is good about it.

Finding the Creative Well

It might sound a little strange, me being a photographer that is about to recommend anyone who is working creatively, to start writing. Because that is exactly what I am going to do—and I am going to recommend it even for photographers and other non-writers—yes, even if you think you can’t write. It’s about getting in touch with the enormous creative well that dwells within us all, but at times seems to be completely gone or empty. We all have days or weeks or even longer periods of time when we seem to be creatively stuck. Our imagination seems to have vanished, we can’t get anywhere, and we feel paralyzed. Writers talk about writer’s block, but it happens to everyone who is working creatively. A photographer might just as well talk about photographer’s block, a painter about painter’s block, a musician about musician’s block, and so on; name you creative field and the block follow suit.

The question is; why is that some days the creative well seems to have completely dried out, and, more importantly, how can we get access to it again? Because it isn’t really dried out, it seems empty only because we have lost sight of the source. What happens is only our own censorship that cuts the connection with the creative well. When we start to think «it’s not good enough», when we start to doubt our own creativity, that’s when the creative well starts to dry out—or seems to dry out. We are simply victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic that resides in our (left) brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive and negative remarks that are often disguised as the truth.

In her book The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron talks about the Censor. «The only sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs the Censor likes are the one that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings. Not exploratory blurts, squiggles, or jotting. Listen to your Censor and it will tell you that everything original is wrong/dangerous/rotten», she writes.

I have referred to Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way before, simply because I think what she has to say about regaining one’s creativity and setting it free, is among the best ever written about the theme. Her book is actually a twelve week program for recovering of the creative spirit. She describes two tools for getting in touch with one’s creative well. First of all what she calls morning pages, which is daily unconscious writing, and the artist’s date, which is a way of filling the well again—and which I will write more about another time. For now I am just going to stick to the morning pages. It’s an incredible strong tool to make you dig into your inexhaustible well of creativity—even if you believe you cannot write.

Morning pages are in essence very simple. It’s three handwritten pages every morning as the first thing you do after waking up. You just sit down and write whatever comes to your mind, without consciously thinking, or without any censorship. Whatever pops into your mind gets down on the paper. It has nothing to do with art or good writing, but just streaming you mind onto paper. If nothing comes to you mind, then you only write «nothing comes to my mind» until you have filled three pages. As Cameron writes; «The morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the paper and writing whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included».

The whole point is to retrieve you creativity. Morning pages get you to the other side; the other side of fear, of negativity, of your moods. Above all, they get you beyond your Censor. It actually works and I can only recommend you to give it a try. Not only a couple of times, but every day—I mean every day—for a longer period of time. Months. The one only rule, is not to skip a day. It works. After a while you start to see yourself, discover beauty within yourself, feel inspired. You are beginning to connect with your inner creative well again. Try it out! And more so I strongly recommend reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Camero—and try her twelve week program. Reconnect with your creative well.

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.


En av mange ortodokse kirker i hovedstaden

Trust your creativity. It will not let you down – if you only have faith in it. In many ways that statement is my religion – at least when it comes to the creative process. It’s certainly the philosophy I base my workshop and teaching on. We are all born with a connection to what I call our creative well (an expression I have borrowed from Julia Cameron, writer of the book The Artist’s Way). Have you ever seen a child not being able to be playful – which in essence is the same as being creative? Unfortunately this playfulness is something most of us will lose as we grow older. Only the talented ones keep playing with their creativity after a certain age. Or is it really so? Is it only conventions and expectations of what it means to grow older that lead us to discard our creative child?

For one thing I don’t believe talent has anything to do with being creative. The fact is talent or lack of talent has never been a limiting factor for any artists willing to do the work. It might set the perimeters for your potential as an artist, but hardly any artist hits the roof of his or her potential. With hard work and trust in your creative abilities you will reach as far as you want to. Again talent isn’t as necessary requirement for being creative. On the contrary I believe creativity is accessible to everyone. If only you open up to your creative well and are willing to trust it.

Creativity can’t be learned in a traditional sense of learning. You just have to start with what you have gotten in you. Slowly (or sometimes faster) the creative well will then open up to you. You can learn to facilitate the creative processes; you can get inspiration from other artists as well as from all kinds of sources in your life. One thing you can’t do is to sit down and just wait for it to happen. Inspiration doesn’t come out of a vacuum. Creativity is something to be uncovered, not something to be wished for. If you let your self open up to the creative resources within you, you will find that it is not a scarce resource. It will not run out no matter how much you draw on it. On the contrary, the more creative you are the more creative you become. Creativity is limitless. It’s a never ending source, filling up ever quicker every time you draw from it. There are only three prerequisites: You have to open up for it, you have to work (hard) with it and you have to trust it. Sounds like religion? Well, I am not really much of a religious guy, so I don’t care what it’s called, but I believe this to be real.

A recent example from myself: Over the last couple of months I have been working on the plot of my latest novel. Slowly by slowly the structure of the novel was getting laid out. As I got closer to the end, I started to get worried about the ending. I needed a strong ending, one that turned everything around while at the same time tidied up all loose ends. But I couldn’t see it, it wouldn’t come to me. But I just kept developing the plot towards the end, trusting that something would come up in the process. I wrenched my brain; I tried to lay out different strategies like mathematical equations. But nothing worked. Not until I was only few sections away from the ending. And then suddenly it just came to me while writing it. It was as it had been there all the time, only I hadn’t seen it. But the more I needed it, the more it got revealed. In the end I got the strong and surprising ending I was looking for, and it even used elements I had put in the plot earlier without really knowing what to do with them. I trusted the creative process. And I was «rewarded».