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Riding the Soul Wave: My Low-Tech, High Vibe, Radically Intuitive Approach To Creativity

One of my favorite things is to listen to is artists of any kind talking about their creative process. We each create so differently. Some of us are very structured, very gear oriented; others are spontaneous and prefer to use as few tools as possible. Some writers still handwrite their first drafts, and some photographers still use film. This entry is my first attempt at articulating my own creative process. For the purposes of this post, I'll stick to photography, but I think the process is similar for me across medium. I'm going to attempt to free-write this, just sort of let it flow, let it perform my process as much as record it. Here we go...

I call my process riding the soul wave, because that's how I feel when I'm in it--sort of like I'm glowing from the inside out, my skin buzzing. I can feel the waves of energy rippling out from me. That's when I know I'm in a good creative space; that's when I know I'm ready to co-create art.

I say co-create, because my art is never really mine. It exists at the intersection of me plus whatever I'm (in the case of photography) shooting. I'm not the photographer who sees a beach and picks up a camera to try to capture it. I don't see a rose growing in a garden and think what I pretty specimen it would make. I have no interest in capturing the thing in itself (not that that's ever really possible anyway. Quantum physics, anyone?). What I'm interested in is the space in which the thing and I co-mingle, dance, talk if you will. Let me give an example:

I get a delivery of a new batch of florals. There's tulips and roses and sunflowers and eucalyptus, etc. I prepare the botanicals and set them around my studio in vases of varying sizes, shapes, and colors. Then I sit down in the middle of the floor, the rest of the house completely quite save the occasional jingle of Edward's collar, and I watch and I listen to the flowers. Inevitably, in time, I get up and move one vase from the desk to the shooting table, another from the windowsill to the floor. I separate the tulips from the mums, I move the white roses in with the ferns. Little by little, they tell me who they want to befriend, where they want to spend their remaining days, and I listen.

Next, I pick up my camera with no intention of snapping a single photo. I just look at them through the lens, and I hear even more whispers, so I accommodate their new requests. The pin flowers feel crowded by the sunflowers. The tulips feels overshadowed by the hydrangea. Once everyone is settled again, I started taking some warm-up shots.

A note on gear: my main photography camera is my Canon 5D Mark IV dslr. I do not shoot mirrorless. Someone will need to pry this camera from my cold, dead hands. With the battery grip installed, it's massive. It feels like a bolder in my hands, and I love that. It feels grounding to me, stable. Its shutter is loud, and I love that, another voice in the fray. My two main lenses for shooting botanicals are the macro 100mm and the 24-105mm, both Canon EF lenses. I prefer to shoot in natural light, but I do have one studio light I can use if I must. The botanicals don't like it. It stresses them. They wilt under its heat, so I try not to use it. I often use candlelight, though, for extra light, they don't see to mind that as much.

Okay, back to the shoot. Once I've taken some practice shots, it's my turn to talk to them. They had preferences of where they'd like to be, and I have preferences of where I'd like them to be. I move them around, I arrange and rearrange as they show signs of comfort or discomfort. What does it mean for a tulip to be uncomfortable you ask? The problem with that question is in the question, the very rationale, logical question. But I'm not working at the level of logic here, this is all an exchange of energy. All I can say is I feel it. I feel it when something's off, when someone, the tulip maybe, is unhappy, and I feel it when everything is singing together. It's a vibe, it's a vibration between me and them and this new space called us. Everything is energy. We can't not interact with the world, but we can numb ourselves to the interaction, and then we miss it.

A big part of my work as an artist is getting my vibe as high and as in tune as possible. That's a central focus of my life in general now. From doing trauma recovery work to healing my physical body, from changing careers to ending a long-term relationship, energy work, that is, working on my own energy, has been the cornerstone of my transformation. I used to start at the level of a task and move through it until it was done. Now I spend 80% of my time getting me into a super high vibrational space (by doing things like pilates, breath work, meditation, sauna, sensory deprivation/ float tank, reiki, dance, being in nature as much as humanly possible, and eating a diet that's about 75% plant-based and 95% whole foods) and only 20% of the time working on the actual task. In the case of the photo shoot for instance, the actual shoot may only last a couple hours, but I will have been preparing for it all day, diligently working to get myself buzzing, naturally high on the vibration of life.

If you're rolling your eyes at this point or thinking what a load of crap this is, I get you. I was there. I spent 35+ years of my life completely unconscious, and it nearly killed me more than once. My body and my mind still bear the scars of that soulless life. I'm not here to defend how I live now, just to describe how I co-create my art.

Back to the flowers. I never know, in advance, what I'm looking for in a shoot. Whether I'm shooting botanicals indoors or landscape or Edward around the house, I do my best to stay open, to be present in the moment, and allow the world to move through me. At the arcade I used to take my daughter to when she was younger, there was this light game where you have to push a buzzer to catch the moving light. If you caught the light between this narrow window of space, you got a ton of tickets to cash in for prizes. That's kind of how I'd describe the vibrational space I get to with my photography subjects. I know it when I feel it, the light caught in that narrow window, the opportune moment, and so I click the shutter. We've made an image together! The whole process is radically intuitive. It calls for a complete surrender on my part. In order for it to work, I have to let go and just be open to receiving other energy. Funny, I was always good at the light game too.

I've tested whether unknowing viewers could pick up on the images I've taken with the process I described above and ones I've taken with a more traditional approach. Every single time, the images chosen as the "better ones" are the ones taken from the intentional space I just shared. It translates. My ex-husband is a great cook, but when he was busy or didn't like what he was making, I could always tell in his food. And after we separated, I got sick one time and he brought me some soup. It was fine but I could tell. I jokingly said to him, "this soup wasn't made with love, was it?" And he answered, "No." He didn't have a lot of time, so he just threw it together and brought it over to me. It translates.

I still only edit with Lightroom. I can count on one hand the number of times I've imaged stacked. I like rough edges and shallow depths of field. I like art that feels like life.

In general, I'm not someone who geeks out about gear. I like it simple and dependable. I love to do astrophotography but just with my dslr and maybe a star tracker. There's a point, for me, where the technology starts to get in the way of my process, too many degrees of separation between me and the flowers, I guess (or the stars or the dog or whatever). I don't use AI anything, for several reasons, but for the sake of this post, I don't use it because I feel like it cheapens the record of my co-creation. Like having an intimate moment with a person only to discover there's someone else in the closet recording. I don't know, it feels intrusive. Plus, as an artist, I'm learning that the slower I can make my art, the better art I make and the better I feel about making it. Slow art for a slow life, that's not just a slogan.

I think I'll revise this process in time, probably write another entry or two working through it more. I'm learning more each day, about myself and about how to be a better partner to the world. And I am still fascinated by questions of where the drive for creativity stems from and why some of us feel and others don't. That's a post for another day, though.

Please feel free to share how you create in the comments. Thanks so much for reading.

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