I wish I were talking about the great polarizing filters I routinely have on my lens. But no. We live in highly polarizing times. Just look at almost any political talk, at least here in the United States that I am familiar with. Or any “discussion” of social values, climate control, animal rights, etc. There seems to be a bimodal distribution on all things. That is just a fancy way of saying everyone is to one extreme or the other with few in the middle – we are polarized.

I actually want to encourage it. Let me explain.


One of my goals is to create a reaction in you with my images. It doesn’t have to be a strong reaction. I don’t shoot for social causes, so you won’t see starving refugees or sex trafficking or such subjects. Congratulations to those who are drawn to exploring such things, but that is not me.

Nor do images need to be graphic and depressing to evoke emotion. One of the side effects of the extreme polarization in most things is that promoters of a cause are extremely “serious” about what they are doing. To the point where, if you don’t agree and support them, you are a worthless human being.

I promise never to deal with you that way. My images look at the world around me, wherever I am. I try to find joy and wonder in even the smallest things. If I can transfer some of that wonder to you, I am successful. We all need more wonder and joy in our lives.

So one metric I look for is that an image needs to be more than just about something. It needs to make you feel something.


I will express my personal opinion that most photography is boring. Including some of mine. Beautiful sunsets get old quick. Technically perfect images aren’t much use unless the subject or composition is also very strong. And selfies – I won’t even go there.

I believe an image should move you in some way. Even if it is just to make you stare at it in disbelief or puzzlement. Ideally it should connect with you in some way. Some way that makes you pause and consider it for a while.

It takes a lot of effort to make an image that is not boring. That is one reason it is fun and creative.


Another trap is making conventional images. That is, subjects and compositions that we expect, that are similar to what most other people do. This is playing it safe. This is a danger of thinking in terms of social media “likes”.

Learn the rules, then decide when to break them. You are an artist. There are really no rules. If we apply our creativity we can probably do better than the average and conventional. Try to look at things differently. Maybe a different position or unconventional lens choice. Spend time thinking about what you want to say.

Being different can easily be abused. I do not care for images that are different in some weird way just for the sake of being different. What makes you think that landscape actually looks better out of focus? Have something to say.


For me, it comes down to trying to keep a sense of wonder and finding out how to convey that to my viewers. It’s easier said than done. Most of us lose our wonder as we mature. That is unfortunate. We are just getting to a place where we can understand enough of the world to actually wonder at it.

I understand. I lose my wonder at times and have to re-discover it. Especially now that I am old cynicism seems to wash the color out of everything. I fight it. Sometimes I win. It feels good to really get interested in something.

Power of art

I’m a hopeless optimist. I believe art is one of the things that can bring people together. It rises above our polarizing differences. There is not conservative or liberal art. No Blue or Red art. Even if we disagree on many things, we can share enjoyment of an image that speaks to us. We can even share dislike of an image.

Maybe agreeing on something we both don’t like can start bringing us together.

Love it or hate it

That brings me back around to my theme for this article. I want my viewers to feel something when they look at my art. Ideally I would like them to love it. But is they don’t, I would prefer them to hate it than to be indifferent.

This is my art. I labored over it to present it to you. Being indifferent is the most terrible outcome I can imagine.

Unlike our divided political climate, I would prefer a polarizing, bimodal response to my art. If you don’t feel anything one way or another I have probably failed. Even if you hate it, perhaps you will at least consider it for a few minutes and decide maybe there is something there to take away.

It’s Messy

Pairs of things

Despite the image some artists try to present, the artistic process is messy. At least, for me. It is not a clear, linear path from inspiration to end result. Sometimes things don’t work. We hit dead ends. We change our minds. Even after arriving at what I thought was the end product, I may decide I don’t like it. When people look at the result, they cannot see the messy way we got there.

Vague goals

I can’t speak for other artists, only myself. Most of the time I only have a vague notion of what I intend to achieve when I start an image. Sure, I may have a general idea, or a theme, or I may be thinking of a project I am working on. But that is a kind of an idea, not a plan. It is definitely not precise.

I hear artists describe having a definite plan from the beginning, with everything sketched out in detail. I sometimes envy them. But most of the time I think that sounds like a boring process. There is no room for inspiration on the spot. When I start pulling a final image together I often let what I see on the screen guide and inspire me to the end. I am glad I work in a medium that is very malleable.

So I guess I’m a bad artist because I don’t know for sure where I am going when I start a work. Or maybe this is the process that works for me. I like to be flexible and adaptive.

Evolving ideas

Another side of my adaptive process is that I am open to exploring new ideas as I go. Ideas tend to build on each other, spawning new ones or modifying what I was thinking. I often end up seeing an image in a completely different way from where I started.

For this to happen, I have to be open and receptive. Being locked into a rigid plan blocks this exploration and learning. I seldom hesitate to change my vision part way through the process. Even to discard an image because it no longer is shaping up the way I now see it.

You could argue that I would be more efficient to do my experimenting and work out my vision before starting to refine an image. Perhaps you are right, but that is what I had to do when I was designing major software projects as an Engineer. The reality is that I am too visual to do that now as an artist. I have to see it, then make modifications.


I freely admit I make mistakes. I don’t plan them, but I don’t necessarily see them as failures.

An “oops” is often followed by a “huh, that’s interesting; I wonder if I could use that?” Sometimes a mistake will open up a new view or thought process. It can make me see new possibilities.

These are often happy accidents. They can lead to a creative new end and maybe even a modification of my “style”. The result of a mistake is often a realization of something I could do but I’ve never thought of it before. It is unlikely the mistake creates a finished work that I love, but it informs a new direction I could explore. It is a growth opportunity.

Seeing new opportunities

Opportunity is a key word in this process. My background is a long history of realism. So it can be hard for me to “loosen up” and take an image in an unexpected direction.

To counter that, I often force myself to spend some time considering unusual processing or unlikely seeming combinations of images. Most of these experiments are failures, in the sense that they seldom make it to the final image. However, they can inform my vision. There may be some aspect of the processing that I like and work in to future images. Or it may encourage me to try something else along the same line that I do end up liking.

We live in great times for exploration. Our image processing tools are the best anyone has ever had. Our high quality digital images have the most detail and potential for post processing that has ever existed. The barriers to our vision are mostly internal. We just can’t see it or give our self permission to go there.

Failure to recognize

Have you ever viewed an image in your editing software and been really undecided about it? It is not what you wanted. Your instinct is to delete it. But something way in the back of your mind says to keep it for a while.

That happens to me. I have said before there is something cathartic about deleting images I don’t want to have around. But sometimes I need to keep them. To let them age a while. Or maybe to let my subconscious work on them a while.

Now realistically, most of the time, when I look at them later, I know there wasn’t really anything of interest there. But sometimes… That is the joy of this. Sometimes there is an undiscovered gem. Very rarely I look at one of these saved images and realize my subconscious was trying to show me something I did not perceive at the time. This particular image may not be great, but there is a realization there that can inform my work going forward.

That is an a-ha moment. A growth opportunity. After I get over beating myself up for not realizing the potential at the time I can add it to my repertoire of situations and patterns to look for. I have grown as an artist. Maybe it can even help me be more receptive while I am shooting.

The image with this article is one of those slow to recognize ones. Look it over and see how many pairs of things you can find. It amazes me. I did not consciously recognize that when I shot it, but I think that is what was drawing me to it.


Flowing abstract

If you describe someone as self-centered, that is probably taken as a negative. It often is, but there is another way to see it. If you are a “fine art” artist, I believe you have to be self-centered to really be true to yourself.

Who do you listen to?

It’s a problem these days that people are so “connected” to social media that it can be hard to maintain our identity. Is all your work instantly posted, tweeted, shared to “the world”? Do you measure your success by the “likes” or lifts or re-tweets you get?

This echo chamber of voices can make it hard to listen to your own. If a significant number of your followers don’t like something you post, is it bad? As with any criticism, you have to try to be objective.

These people giving you feedback – what do they know of your intent, your feelings, the direction you feel your art should go? What do they know about the process you followed to get there?

Most pictures on the internet don’t get more than 1-2 seconds of attention. When someone hits the “thumbs down”, what does that mean? Is that a well reasoned, critical evaluation based on objective knowledge?

Likewise, when most people gush over your post and give you glowing praise, what does that mean? Unless they are an artist who takes the time to look more deeply, probably very little. If they follow the praise with “and I will contact you to buy it,” that carries weight.

Who should you listen to?

The feedback of random people on the internet probably will not take you to where you need to go as an artist.

Do you have a small set of trusted friends who will give you reasoned and honest feedback? If so, you are lucky. I desperately wish I did. Try to build such a group. If they really are good friends their honesty will be valuable for you, even when it hurts. If they really are good friends, they will hurt you occasionally.

Do you work with one or more galleries? Ask them for evaluations, especially of your new work. I haven’t tried it, but I understand portfolio reviews can be good. Your mileage may vary, depending on which ones you choose. I know of successful artists who still go to them for the feedback. Read Cole Thompson’s portfolio review by Mr. X that changed his art.

Are there artists in your area who you trust? Your style may be totally different and you may not even like what they do, but that is not the point. Can they give you objective and well reasoned feedback? Try to put a group together. I am looking to collect such a group in my area.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to having to trust your own instinct. You are you. You are the artist. No one else can answer for you or decide what your style or theme or subject is.

Can you be objective about your own work? Some people can, some can’t. Learn to. Since you are the only one responsible for your work, you have to be able to make your own decisions.


Sean Tucker used the term unashamed in a discussion of this problem in his book The Meaning in the Making. I think it is a good word choice. This is where the self-centered aspect comes in. It is understanding who we are and what we are trying to do, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Not arrogance but confidence. We have to realize that only we own our results and are responsible for our decisions.

Anyone who does anything publicly will be criticized for it. That is true for us when we present our art to the world. A lot of people will hate it. Some will love it. The ones who don’t like it will be quick to tell us what is wrong and how to fix it or why we should quit. As an artist, we must be able to say “thank you for the feedback, but I am going in this other direction.” We have to believe it and in our self.

Do you believe in you? Are you confident to the point of seeming self-centered? Good. Your opinion of your art is ultimately what matters. That doesn’t mean you will get rich or famous. But you will be at peace with yourself.

Finding Inspiration

Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear

Are you empty sometimes? Are there times when you don’t have any ideas or new projects? We tend to desperately put pressure on ourselves to find something creative and new, but this is often counter-productive. So how do we go about finding inspiration?


Ouch. This can be hard. Our art is important to us. We need to be proactive and driven to produce. But first. relax.

If you are in a slump creatively, just go with it. You will come out of it. But the more pressure you put yourself under the harder it sometimes is. It is very hard to force ourselves out of a slump. Our subconscious will eventually get re-engaged and start pumping out the great ideas. Give it time to rest and rejuvenate.,

Take a walk

Really. “Waste” the time. Carry your camera or not, it’s up to you, but don’t require yourself to take any pictures.

When you walk, go slow. This is not mainly for the exercise. It is for your head. Look around. Look at everything. See things as it for the first time. Play the game that you just teleported to [your favorite exotic destination] and you are looking around in wonder at everything. Try to see how many things around your neighborhood you never really “saw” before.

None of these may be in your “style” or preferred subjects, but learning to see new things is good.

Read a book

I have heard it said that most adults never read another book after they graduate from school. Maybe that is just males. 🙂 Even so, I hope that is a false statement. Books are one of the most important inventions in history.

Reading something new will expand your thinking. Studying something related to your art will give you a new appreciation of different styles and ideas. It may teach you something you can apply to improve your images and refresh your creativity.

Even if not, you will still be better off mentally for exercising your brain. Books are a major repository of the collected wisdom of centuries.

Watch an educational video

I can say to watch videos because I do not produce any videos. I’m not selling anything.

The good thing about the internet is that there is a wealth of information there, free or for relatively low cost. There is probably no aspect of our art that someone doesn’t have a video about.

That being said, the “signal to noise ratio” (the percentage of useful information) is fairly low. Be careful of who and what you take in. Even so, it is not too hard to find good stuff.

If you are up to it, it can even be healthy to watch bad videos. That sounds weird, but do you find, as you get more mature and confident in your craft that you can sift the good from the bad? If you watch a bad video, or one you disagree with, it can be empowering to be able to refute the presenter and know why you believe they are wrong, at least for you. It can help bolster your confidence.

Read other artist’s blogs

You are reading mine. Thank you! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Probably thousands of blogs are written every week. Pick a few new ones to add to your list. They do not have to be leaders in your field. Look around and find artists in other fields whose work you admire, who influence you, whose style you admire. Follow them. This is another great source of wisdom and inspiration.

I follow a few people. Not many. But I am constantly amazed at the wisdom they give away.

Be open

None of these suggestions will do much good unless you open yourself to receiving what they might give. Openness is an attitude. Our attitudes are under our control.

Are you totally focused on one subject? Why? Widen your view. Have you become cynical? As you learn to look around more, re-awaken your wonder and joy. Find new things that excite you. Cast a wider net. Get enthused about something. Give yourself permission to try new things.

Inspiration sneaks up on us when we aren’t expecting it. The more we can be open and receptive, the more often we will find it. I find that stimulating my mind with new thoughts and learning new things helps keep me open to inspiration. Try it!

About the image here

I can’t claim this is super creative as such, but I am very happy I made this image. This is the epitome of depressing conditions: way out in the midwest, nothing around anywhere, temperature was 108F, winds blowing so hard I had to hold the tripod, totally clear blue sky – what to shoot? I decided the interest was the wind. How to capture the effect of it? I think, by being open to exploring new ideas, I made something good out of it. At least, I’m happy with it.

This image is part of a series I am working on, tentatively called “Maria”. It is not published yet.