Is this possible day in and day out? Some days it’s easier than others. A big part of the job is staying inspired.
To do my best work, I’ve realized it’s critical to look outside of the j.o.b. Fifteen years into my career, I began to feel drained and started to seriously doubt my own creative abilities. I contemplated several remedies, some more extreme than others. The demands of the job were relentless, but I had to get my creative mojo back.
Inklings and insights can come from anywhere. Creatives need regular infusions of those. Sustained inspiration is something different. The experience that comes from regularly engaging in creative or artistic pursuits resonates. It changes you.
It turns out my struggle at the agency was the genesis of an entirely new creative obsession: making art and sharing it in galleries.
For the last decade, I’ve relied heavily on extracurricular creative pursuits for inspiration. The result has been wide-ranging art shows: Untotaled—sculptural photography that involved crushing cars; Zoom—impressionistic, painterly photography of the natural world; and Eternal—an evocative shoot in an Indiana-Jones-like site in India.
These projects aren’t linked by common themes. I’ve been asked if I’m drawn to ideas because they’re complicated or if I’m just determined to make them that way. My goal, like nearly every other creator, is to make unique things. That often creates complexity. For me, creative growth is the prime motivator.
I traveled to many points in Indonesia, but the greatest opportunity for me to create material for a new show came in Amed, Bali. I went there to work with impressive athlete-models who practice freediving. Some refer to themselves as mermaids. I knew if I could pull it off, the resulting work had the potential to be empowering and beautiful.
I aspired to capture their grace and power, soaring in an infinite liquid world. I wanted to play with the perception of gravity and space.
For most of us, freediving is just plain crazy. The goal is to push to go deeper and deeper into the dark, cold water on a single breath of air. The most important thing, I’m told, is to relax and “resist the urge to breathe.” I’ll bet most humans would agree, being more than 100 feet underwater and wanting a breath you cannot yet take is about the scariest thing imaginable.
I was to be on scuba, but I had no experience directing models underwater. It’s difficult and potentially dangerous. There were too many variables for me to anticipate, let alone control in a production like this, like the magnitude 7 earthquake that rocked the island in the middle of the shoot.
We shot for three days in stunning Jemeluk Bay. Sharing the images daily with the models proved essential. Their enthusiasm grew as did their awareness of how they looked through my camera. We dialed in the plan on land and again on the surface, but the models were great improvisers, taking turns diving down to my location and beyond, surprising me time and again with their creativity, athletic prowess and control.
The second evening, we were together reviewing images when the building began to shake. Hundreds of people died 50 miles away, and Amed suffered some damage. While our group wasn’t harmed, we felt our nerves kick in as the aftershocks continued for days. A crazy energy took over the project as we created some of our best images of the shoot.
I took more than 10,000 photos during my six weeks in Indonesia. Simply being there was rejuvenating and inspiring—but for me, the full-on act of planning, connecting, coordinating, adapting and creating feeds my soul and makes me who I am.
Days after landing in the United States, I returned to Boulder for fall classes. It was definitely my most fulfilling semester to date.
As a rule, I ask students to share their outside art interests and where they find creative inspiration. We talk about it regularly, but in the final week of my Creative Concepts class last fall, I asked the students to really share, as in bring your art into the classroom.
Projects ranged from collage and photography, to painting and illustration, calligraphy and tattoo artistry, short films, personal poetry and a beautiful violin solo. From the reactions, I’m sure we were all moved.
Design and advertising students fundamentally understand that creative outlets are important. But beyond doodling, beyond posting phone pics to Instagram, beyond occasionally journaling—a wholehearted investment in one’s own creativity will make a career of difference.
I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also worked hard for success. Looking back, the extra effort required to produce personal passion projects has been more than worth it. In fact, I’d say that my success as a design leader and as an artist are inextricably linked.
Agency life can be all-consuming. Literally, it can consume all your creative energy, but once you experience the symbiotic effects of creative pursuits enhancing one another, you’ll dig deeper and find the energy.
It’s not about choosing a creative pursuit that relates to your job. Do things you love, and do them regularly. Keeping the creative fire burning is essential.