Skip to content

Posts from the ‘For Artists’ Category

A Necessity: “White Space”



“White space” is negative space.  In design, it is balancing the remainder of the design by providing some relief on the page or screen, which helps focus your visual attention.

What if you analyzed your daily schedule with an eye towards design?  Some questions one can ponder are: Have you preserved enough “white space” within your daily work?  Or does the way you design your day look very busy and cluttered?

We all need white space in our daily lives just as much as we need it in designs because the concept is two-fold: If our lives are over-cluttered and over-booked, we cannot focus properly on anything.  Importantly, this way of working actually diminishes our ability to think creatively.

In their book Scarcity, the researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir make a compelling case for how “time scarcity” — the state of being constantly over scheduled lessens our imaginative powers.  Below is an excerpt:

Because we are preoccupied by [time] scarcity, because our minds constantly return to it, we have less mind to give to the rest of life.  This is more than a metaphor.  We can directly measure mental capacity or, as we call it, bandwidth.  We can measure fluid intelligence, a key resource that affects how we process information and make decisions.  We can measure executive control, a key resource that affects how impulsively we behave.  And we find that scarcity reduces all of these components of bandwidth—it makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled. And the effects are large.

If we want to create an environment that nourishes innovation and imagination, we need to build quiet points into our daily rhythm.  These small moments of “white space,” where we have time to pause and reflect,  go for a walk, or just breathe deeply for a few moments  are what give balance and flow and comprehension to our lives as a larger whole.

It is important to see how you can open up your schedule and let some white space in.

But what exactly is white space?  Ultimately, that is up to you to define what works best.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Sitting quietly and letting your mind wander
  • Free drawing with no specific objective
  • Going for a walk around the block
  • Doing a mini-workout
  • Journaling and writing
  • Taking a short nap
  • People watching
  • Meditating

Ask yourself: Do you have enough white space in your daily routine?  Or do you plow through an over-cluttered schedule day after day, unconscious of how much this pattern is cramping your creativity?

Consider building a few white space blocks directly into your schedule weeks in advance so that no matter what meetings or deadlines come up, you still have time blocked off to take a few moments and think about the big picture or think about nothing at all.  Not having enough “white space” in one’s life will eventually lead to immense burn out and significant fatigue.

We’re All Pros Already

Here is a little inspiration for today from one of my favorite books…

We’re All Pros Already

We’re all pros already.

1) We show up every day

2) We show up no matter what

3) We stay on the job all day 

4) We are committed over the long haul

5) The stakes for us are high and real

6) We accept remuneration for our labor

7) We do not over identify with our jobs

8) We master the technique of our jobs

9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs

10) We receive praise or blame in the real world

— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art




Over the past few months I have been rising in the mornings with Doug, around 4:45 a.m.  At first it seemed quite early to rise, but I have adjusted; I pretty much wake up now on my own around this time, on most mornings during the work week, and even sometimes on the weekends.  (We do make sure we go to bed early during the work week).  I am working on final edits for my photography project, and I find that I work best in the early morning, versus other times of the day, while the entire the house is very quiet, Victory is back in our bed resting (after potty), and meanwhile, it is still dark outside.  It is also nice to watch the sun rise.  So if you are trying to get a project done or trying to find extra time in your day to get something done or begin something that you always wanted to do, I highly recommend utilizing the early mornings.  You will be amazed how much you can actually accomplish during this time frame.

What I have found from this practice is that it is best to show up every single day, even when it’s hard.  I have also found that it is best to suspend expectations and the be present and in the flow of work and not be occupied or concerned with what gets done or how.  Some days you will be ‘in the zone’ and everything will flow; and other days, you will feel tired, the work will feel more difficult to wade through, and it feels like little progress is being made.  Sometimes, however, when you hit a roadblock, it helps to step away and work on something else and come back to the issue that is giving you a problem or difficulty; giving space, during these times, will help the issue resolve, without much effort.  It is amazing.  Sometimes I will be stumped on an image that I have been working on for a long time, without resolve, and them I step away for a couple of days, and it finally resolves, i.e., I figure out what I need to do to make the image work.  Nevertheless, just keep going.  Roadblocks are not permanent, they are chance to persevere.

“I work all the time.  I never leave home.  I mean, I just stay honed in on what’s ahead.” — Sally Mann

“It is the thousand of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive.”  — Dani Shapiro


Insights: How Artists Work


I just finished re-reading, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey, a really good read.  I highly recommend this book, as it is fascinating to read about artists’ working routines that they utilize to create their work.  Below are some artists’ quotes that I found particularly helpful.  Many of these artists featured in this book held full-time jobs while making time to create their art.

Toni Morrison — “But the important thing is that I don’t do anything else.  I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing.  I don’t go to the cocktail parties, I don’t give or go to dinner parties.  I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then.  And I can concentrate.  When I sit down to write I never brood.  I have so many other things to do, with my children and teaching, that I can’t afford it.  I brood, thinking of ideas, in the automobile when I’m driving to work or in the subway or when I’m mowing the lawn.  By the time I get to the paper something’s there — I can produce.”

Ann Beattie — “I really think people’s bodies are on different clocks.  I even feel now like I just woke up and I’ve been awake for three or four hours.  And I’ll feel this way until seven o’clock tonight when I’ll start to pick up and then by nine it will be O.K. to start writing.  My favorite hours are from 12:00 to 3:00 a.m. for writing.”

Arthur Miller — “I wish I had a routine for writing,” Miller told and interviewer in 1999.  “I get up in the morning and I go out to my studio where I write.  And then I tear it up!  That’s the routine, really.  Then, occasionally, something sticks.  And then I follow that.  The only image I can think of is a man walking around with an iron rod in his hand during a lightening storm.”

Henri Matisse — “Do you understand now why I am never bored?  For over fifty years I have not stopped working for an instant.  From nine o’clock to noon, first sitting.  I have lunch.  Then I have a little nap and take up my brushes again at two in the afternoon until the evening.”

Stephen Jay Gould — “I work every day.  I work weekends, I work nights….[S]ome people looking at that from the outside might use that modern term “workaholic,” or might see this as obsessive or destructive.  But it’s not work to me, it’s just what I do, that’s my life. I also spend a lot of time with my family, and I sing, and go to ball games, and you can find me in my season seat at Fenway Park as often as — well, I don’t mean I have a one-dimensional life.  But I basically do work all the time.  I don’t watch television.  But it’s not work, it’s not work, it’s my life.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I like to do.”

Gerhard Richter — “I love playing with my architectural models.  I love making plans.  I could spend my life arranging things.  Weeks go by, and I don’t paint until finally I can’t stand it any longer.  I get fed up.  I almost don’t want to talk about it, because I don’t want to become self-conscious about it, but perhaps I create these little crises as a kind of a secret strategy to push myself.  It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you.  You have to find the idea.”

Maya Angelou — “I usually get up at about 5:30, and I’m ready to have coffee by 6, usually with my husband.  He goes off to his work around 6:30, and I go off to mine.  I keep a hotel room in which I do my work — a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin.  I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room.  I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon.  If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30.  If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well.  It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous.  I edit while I’m working.  When I come at 2, I read over what I’ve written that day, and then try to put it out of my mind.  I shower, prepare dinner, so that when my husband comes home, I’m not totally absorbed in my work.  We have a semblance of a normal life.  We have a drink together and have dinner.  Maybe after dinner I’ll read to him what I’ve written that day.  He doesn’t comment.  I don’t invite comments from anyone but my editor, but hearing it aloud is good.  Sometimes I hear the dissonance; then I try to straighten it out in the morning.”

Philip Larkin — My life is as simple as I can make it.  Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings.  I almost never go out.  I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time — some people by doing a lot, being in California for one year and Japan the next.  Or there’s my way — making every day and every year exactly the same.  Probably neither works.”

Vincent van Gogh — “Our days pass in working, working all the time, in the evening we are dead beat and go off to the cafe, and after that, early to bed!  Such is our life.”

John Updike — “I try to write in the morning then into the afternoon.  I’m a later riser; fortunately, my wife is also a late riser.  We get up in unison and fight for the newspaper for half an hour.  Then I rush into my office around 9:30 and try to put the creative project first.  I have late lunch, and then the rest of the day somehow gets squandered.  There is a great deal of busywork to a writer’s life, as to a professor’s life, a great deal of work that matters only in that, if you don’t do it, your desk becomes very full of papers.  So, there is a lot of letter answering and a certain amount of speaking, though I try to keep that at a minimum.  But I’ve never been a night writer, unlike some of my colleagues, and I’ve never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.  So, I try to be a regular sort of fellow — much like a dentist drilling his teeth every morning — except Sunday, I don’t work on Sunday, and there are of course some holidays I take.”

Willa Cather — “For me the morning is the best time to write.  During the other hours of the day I attend to my housekeeping, take walks in Central Park, go to concerts, and see something of my friends.  I try to keep myself fit, fresh; one has to be in as good form to write as to sing.  When not working, I shut work from my mind.”

Acumen: Creating and Persevering

Sometimes, when one is working, it is difficult to really see the forest through the trees.  Therefore,  I thought that I would share some inspiring words from artists I have interviewed here on the blog about creating and persevering, which I hope you find helpful and encouraging.


IMG_1538 2


“Follow your passion, even if you do not know what lies on the other side.  Passion is infectious to people; and passion is at the root of creating art.  Keep believing in your work and use your passion to help you push through and keep going.  The right thing(s) happen when it is supposed to happen.  Most importantly, put your work on the line and keep pushing your boundaries.”  — Deborah Samuel


“Create what you love and create it consistently, even if you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.  Share what you make with the world so people can find it and enjoy it.  Enjoy the process, and don’t get discouraged.  I don’t believe that there are things any particular person can’t do.  It’s just a matter of putting enough time into it to gain the skill, and asking questions when you don’t know how to do something.  And if you are already talented in your area but have fear of putting yourself out there, or fear of failure, or any fear (and we all do), know that ‘inaction breeds doubt and fear (Dale Carnegie),’ so move forward, make things happen, and ‘always do what you’re afraid to do (Emerson).’  If you do that, soon enough nothing will stop you.  I didn’t always believe it, but yes you can absolutely make a career doing what you love… so go for it.”   — Laura Johnson


“Don’t do what I did and just feel your way through the woods.  Either find a way to make a living that is somehow compatible with your art, and gives you the time and energy to do your work, or get an MFA or PhD and find a job teaching in a university.  High school second best.  Then you have summers and vacations, and if you teach in a university you will even have time in your working schedule to paint or sculpt or write.  Making a living in the commercial arts is fine, but it is not conducive to expressing yourself artistically in a deeper more fulfilling way.”  — Anna Dibble


“It’s easy, especially when just starting out, to get hung up on what kind of work you think you ‘should’ be making, or what others tell you you’re best at – disregard this.  Your best work will happen when you focus on that which you know and love, and your most valuable audience will follow that work.  Not sure you really know how to visualize what you know and love?  Just keep ‘making’, and let each step, each project, lead to the next.  Momentum is HUGE and you never know where the sparks are hiding until you hit them.” — Natalya Zahn


“Don’t give up.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you love.  If you truly love it, there’s always a way to make it happen.”  — Helen Greenstein


“Do not second guess yourself.  You need to question what you are doing, but you also need to follow your instincts.  Often times, what you are working on will lead to something else as well.  It is also very important to appreciate the process.  Additionally, it is important to be confident and to develop your own work.  When you are not as concerned about what others think, you will create stronger work.  It is also important to be playful and be committed to the process of making art.  Finally, for me, it has been very helpful to have a spiritual practice to help understand yourself more deeply and knowing that we are all connected.”  — Valerie Shaff


“Be true to yourself and in it for the love of doing it.  When the phone isn’t ringing, your inbox is empty and you feel like no one loves you or your work, you will have that to keep you going.”  — Andrew Pinkham


“Find your niche and then commit to that.  Since I found the Animal Studies community, I feel more ‘at home’ as a photographer than I ever have before.  I get a lot of support from other scholars and artists interested in the same things I am, and I always have a direction to point myself in when I am working.”   — Julia Scholar


“Don’t ape other people’s styles.  Draw like no one is watching and see what comes out.  Reflect, refine, and repeat.  Be yourself and draw what you know, not what you think you should know.”  — Bee Johnson


“My passion for making images keeps me going.  It makes me feel alive.  I think being creative means a commitment to continually challenging yourself.”  — Shannon Johnstone


“Keep taking photographs and assess what you are trying to say.”  — Rory Carnegie


“Stay true to your own heart — be who you are!  It sounds cheesy but it’s not.  Every single person has an absolutely unique quality that only they can bring to the world.  The world needs authentic beings to have the courage to be who they are.”  — Brigette Bloom


“Be stubborn and keep going.  And don’t overthink it in the beginning and work hard.”  — Eleonor Bosström


“Don’t let anything get in your way.  People love creativity and there are more channels to make your work known than ever before.  No excuses.  The difference between an ‘aspiring artist’ and a true artist is action.  Talent comes through practice.”  — Elias Weiss Friedman


“Nothing happens overnight so it’s important to keep plugging away and doing what you love.  Entering competitions is essential, it’s really important to keep putting yourself out there.  Don’t let yourself get knocked backed if you aren’t successful with a submission – your work may have not been right for them.  Art and photography is very subjective.  If you don’t try you’ll never know.”  — Lorna Evans


“It’s hard work but, if you have to do it, very rewarding.  Go for it.  But be prepared to be your own engine.  You don’t have anyone else pushing you and you have to often deal with self-doubt.”  — Martin Usborne


“Have a good work ethic; be able to take criticism; don’t be embarrassed as I was of what you love; practice social and writing skills; and, above all else, be persistent about working.”  — Robin Schwartz


“I think when you are starting out it is really important to focus on issues or ideas that are important to you.  It is very easy to become mixed up in producing work that others would like to see or that you think will be successful but your best work will always come from a genuine vested interest.”  — Sam Edmonds


“Keep practicing.  And showing up.  Your work will evolve and grow even if you can’t see it happening.  I promise!!”  — Heidi Lender


“Find what you enjoy doing and get extremely good at it.  Keep creating even if you think the idea isn’t going anywhere and stay happy.”  — Josh Bryant


“Know yourself.  Don’t worry about being cool and on trend. ‘Coolness is a strait-jacket for creativity.’  Also, it is important to always put in the hours.”  — Lauren Sheldon

Thoughts from Artists



I have been working steadily to finally finish my long-term photography project, and I found the quotes shown below very thoughtful and timely.  Hopefully, it provides you with some insights as well!

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” —Pablo Picasso

“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” —Diane Arbus

“An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.” —J.D. Salinger

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are.  If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” —Oscar Wilde

“You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.” —Maya Angelou

“Creativity takes courage.” —Henri Matisse

“It’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary…it never occurred to me to leave home to make art.” —Sally Mann

“An artist is always beginning.  Any work of art which is not a beginning, and invention, a discovery is of little worth.” —Ezra Pound

“The artist’s world is limitless.  It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away.  It is always on his doorstep.” —Paul Strand

“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” —Edward Hopper

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” —Edgar Degas

“Photography is an art of observation.  It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” —Elliott Erwitt

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.” —Andy Warhol

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.  So do it.” —Kurt Vonnegut

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” —Ansel Adams

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” —Salvador Dali

“If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.” —Seth Godin

“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion…the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.” —Dorothea Lange

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” —Emile Zola

“One must go on working silently, trusting the result to the future.” —Vincent Van Gogh

Productivity: Finding the Time



It is already near the end of January.  I have been working on finishing my long-term photography project for what feels like a really long time — almost four years this spring.  I am getting close to finally finishing!  However, the hardest part, for me, is finding enough time to finish this project.  Beginning this year, I have made a few changes, outlined below, which has helped me to complete this endeavor.

1. Identifying your most productive time: Everyone has a time of day where they are most productive and alert.  Figure out what this time is for you, as it is best to carve out time during these optimal times and leverage these times accordingly.

2. Getting up earlier: Several days a week I am waking up one to two hours earlier than usual.  I am most productive in the mornings and this time provides me with a quiet house, fresh eyes, and a clear mind to work before diving into the day.  It has really helped me, so far.

3.  Scheduling regular dedicated work time:  Often, the time escapes us very easily and, before we know it, the day is almost over.  To avoid this, I consistently schedule ‘work time’ devoted to my photography project, and I select times that will not likely have conflicts in order to make the work time possible.  I have found this scheduling really helps keep me on track.

4. Getting plenty of rest: I am able to do my best work when I have had ample rest, especially since this project requires significant concentration and focus.

5. Getting regular exercise: Exercise provides a reset, which is always helpful and, new, unexpected ideas often flow in during these times.

6. Taking breaks: It is helpful to take breaks when needed.  Breaks are essential and provide space and help provide a new perspective once returning to the work.

7. Avoiding interruptions: I have found it helpful to turn off my phone; email; and social media to prevent distractions.  It is amazing how small interruptions are very disruptive to making progress on a project.

8. Saying “No.”: It is really easy to take on more work and commitments; and then you find that the time that you have carved out for your project is gone.  While I am trying to finish my project, I have found it is best to limit any additional commitments in order to preserve work time.

9. Being Open: While you are working on a long-term project, the work and direction often changes.  It is therefore important to stay open, as these projects take on a life of their own, and this is where the ‘big magic’ happens.

19. Keeping the Faith: Having faith is probably the most important component to wading through any large endeavor.

“You have extraordinary treasures hidden within you.  Bringing forth those treasures takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion.  We simply do not have time anymore to think so small.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

Just 60 Minutes a Day

The biggest hurdle preventing people from getting started on a project or dream is getting started.  Instead of focusing on all of the what ifs, being afraid of where to start, lacking the perfect idea, or being too busy, what if you simply decided to work 60 minutes per day on your project with no strings attached?  What if you are brave enough to simply start?

Ultimately, time is not something you find; it is something that you consciously make.  You can make great strides to creating a creative life by making small changes — simply set your alarm and wake up one hour earlier, reduce the amount of Netflix/television you are watching, and/or reduce your time on social media, for example.  Finally, let go of fear and perfectionism and be present in the moment.   These small changes can lead to a creative life with little sacrifice.

You can simply start by focusing on what you are curious about, while following your intuition.  We spend too much time being fearful of the small things that we never get around to doing anything about the really important things.  Taking action is the only way to make progress towards the things we desire.  You just have to keep taking the very next step that is in front of you, trusting that the one after that will become clear when you choose to step out in faith.

The world is waiting for you to share your special gifts!



Get Curious



Why should you get curious?  Well, the short answer is that curiosity makes life more interesting.  Curiosity also provides important information and clues in one’s life.  I have always been a curious person and I have always asked a lot of questions.  In fact, my curiosity has led me on an adventure with a project that I have been working on for nearly four years, which I am getting close to finishing!  Some of my best ideas have come from places where I was willing to get more curious.  Curiosity and creativity are inherently linked.  At the very least, your curiosity may surprise you.

Below are some of my favorite quotes by Elizabeth Gilbert concerning the pursuit of curiosity.

“The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity.  It doesn’t take a massive effort.  Just turn your head an inch.  Pause for an instant.  Respond to what has caught your attention.  Look into it a bit.  Is there something there for you?  A piece of information?”

“Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, ‘Hey, that’s kind of interesting…'”

“I believe that curiosity is the secret.  Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living.  Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.”

“It’s a clue.  It might seem like nothing, but its a clue.  Follow that clue.  Trust it.  See where curiosity will lead you next.  Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. . .Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places.”

“For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity.  Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next.  Small steps.  Keep doing that, and I promise you: The curiosity will eventually lead you to the passion.”

If you are interested in learning more about where your curiosity may lead, you can check out this video and this podcast!

Happy Friday!

Singing Bowls

Have you heard of singing bowls?  My good friend introduced them to me this summer.  Singing bowls produce sounds that invoke relaxation, and it has been said that one’s energy can impact the loudness of the sound one can create with their singing bowl.  Singing bowls come in various shapes and sizes.  A sample of various small singing bowls are shown below.  For beginners, I have been told that it is easier to make the metal bowls “sing” versus starting with a ceramic bowl.  I started with this one, and I really like it.  It has also been said that meditating on the subtle sounds of the singing bowl tunes one into the universal sound within.  Happy practicing, if this is something that interests you!


singing bowls